Feb. 14–A Senate resolution aimed at curbing sex trafficking in Kentucky hotels and motels received broad support Tuesday when the bill was presented before a legislative tourism committee.
The resolution sailed unanimously through the Senate's economic development, tourism and labor committee, with senators saying the measure was needed and important. The resolution, SR 149, was brought by committee chairwoman Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Lexington Republican.
Kerr said her goal with SR 149 was to educate people about the issue of child sex trafficking. Although the bill passed unanimously, Kerr asked that the resolution not be put on the "consent calendar," where bills are passed without discussion on the Senate floor, so she could talk about the issue again.
"I do want us to be able to educate ourselves on this issue," Kerr said. Kerr's resolution cites statistics that say 59 percent of all human trafficking victims in Kentucky are minors
The resolution asks state residents to only stay at hotels or use travel agencies that have signed the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct is voluntary, with businesses that sign agreeing to train employees on how to recognize signs of sex trafficking and to report trafficking activity.
"We need to discuss it on the (Senate) floor and bring it to more people," Kerr said.
Committee members heard stories from people who had been trafficked as juveniles in hotels. Ken Gilbert, of the Kentucky Council of Churches, said the different denominations in the Council are united in preventing child sex trafficking.
"It's incumbent we not let (Kentucky's) greatness become a vehicle for exploitation," Gilbert said. "… These are heart-breaking, life-rending problems that occur. It occurs all too often."
Kerr said training is needed because people may not recognize the signs of sex trafficking. Some signs that a hotel or motel is being used to traffic a juvenile for sex include a large numbers of people visiting a particular room, or a young person checking into a room, alone at first, with cash.
Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, said the resolution was "important," and said victims of child sex trafficking "do not recover from this sexual abuse."
"It is a horrible blight on our society," Clark said.
Karla Ward, executive director of New Beginnings Sexual Assault Support Services in Owensboro, said the organization has helped victims of sex trafficking.
"We are seeing a trend of it" occurring, Ward said. "It's not a significant number in Owensboro, but we know it exists here."
Ward said trafficked people "come from all kinds of situations."
"I do think it's a great idea to have people trained to look" for signs of sex trafficking, Ward said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse