FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky sent a clear message of its commitment to track down human traffickers with a sting operation that rescued 21 victims and netted 46 arrests, state leaders said Wednesday.
Results of the crackdown were highlighted by Gov. Andy Beshear, Attorney General Daniel Cameron and state police Commissioner Phillip Burnett Jr. They pointed to participating roles by various organizations to provide support services aimed at helping victims restart their lives.
Kentucky law enforcement made the most arrests and rescued the most victims last week as part of the 12-state effort to combat human trafficking, Beshear said. In the Bluegrass State, operations occurred simultaneously in northern Kentucky, Bowling Green, Elizabethtown and McCracken County, the governor said. Two of the rescued victims in Kentucky are minors, he said.
Beshear called human trafficking “one of the worst evils imaginable,” and said the state won't "back down until we ensure that all victims are given a voice and the offenders are held accountable.”
Kentucky State Police worked with numerous local law enforcement agencies in the sting, Burnett said. The results will give rescued victims a chance to “start their lives over again,” he said.
Burnett said there is “more to do” in the fight against human trafficking, and he offered a glimpse into the undercover operations. Officers often arrange meetings with suspected victims to rescue them or pose as victims to arrest traffickers or customers, he said.
“Kentucky law enforcement has sent a message to those involved in human trafficking, that we will not tolerate such and we will be vigilant in finding those who prey upon our most vulnerable, especially our children,” Burnett said at the statehouse news conference.
Detective Rugina Lunce, who leads the state police Human Trafficking Task Force, highlighted the operation's “victim-centered” approach. Those services include medical care, food and housing.
“There is so much more to these cases," Lunce said. "Yes, it’s important to make arrests and eliminate human trafficking. But for many, it is the empowerment we have to give them to leave terrible conditions for a chance at a new start.”
Beshear, a Democrat, made the fight against human trafficking a priority during his term as attorney general. Cameron, a Republican, has kept up the aggressive efforts.
Cameron, whose office participated in the sting operation, said the latest arrests are a “significant step in the right direction” in efforts to eradicate human trafficking.
“There are parents who can sleep better tonight knowing that some predator is not trying to exploit their child," Cameron said. "And teenagers can go online with a little more confidence that they won’t be harassed in a chat room. Simply put, because of these arrests made during this operation, there are fewer traffickers preying on our families and our communities.”
Earlier this year, Cameron's office launched a statewide campaign, called “Your Eyes Save Lives," that encourages Kentuckians to recognize common signs of human trafficking and report it.