SPECIAL REPORT: Human trafficking knows no boundaries

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(WBKO) -- The horrific crime is becoming extremely relevant in the community and state of Kentucky.

The average age of human trafficking victims is 14-16 years old.

Well over ten million people human trafficking victims worldwide this year alone.

"If you have a heart, they're not property, they're people," says Missy Cunningham, Board President of Phoenix Rising, a local nonprofit dedicating to helping victims.

"It's the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, and it's in every single community," says Andy Beshear, Attorney General of Kentucky.

Some may not realize that this crime is taking place closer than you think.

"It happens within blocks of this church, within block of your church, or within blocks of your school," says Cunningham.

The heinous crime consists of many different components.

"Human trafficking not only has to be sex crimes, but it can be labor," says John Moberly, Commissioner of the Department of Criminal Investigation.

Essentially creating modern-day slaves. The problem is the ratio of victims to convictions does not even compare. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report conducted by the Department of State, there have been fewer than ten thousand reports in 2016 because of limited funding and poor training.

In Kentucky, many key players in government have recently taken initiative.

"Over the last year, I'm really proud of where Kentucky has come in addressing human trafficking. I believe we've moved from behind the curve to even leading the nation in a couple of areas,” says Beshear.

Using several different strategies.

"I believed we moved from behind the curve, to even leading the nation in a couple of areas," says Andy Beshear.

One, a free software exclusively offered to law enforcement called Spotlight.

"Basically it collects data off the internet, it helps us find potential human trafficking victims. it shows where men or women are moving across the state advertising or across the country advertising," says Moberly.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that 73% percent of all child trafficking reports it receives, involve Backpage- an online classified site, but a popular tool for sex trafficking.

"Backpage is horrific," explains Beshear, "they are basically engaging in a marketplace for child sexual slavery, and they need to be shut down."

The second strategy the state is initiating is education.

"We're working with the Department of Criminal Justice training to develop education in the future for law enforcement. We do training at the law enforcement conferences, and I truly think that we're making a difference," says Moberly.

Even this past summer, Moberly spent time across the state training local law enforcement for identifying victims along with the crime.

"Whether it's law enforcement, our Department of Criminal Investigations… [Kentucky] has more investigations going on in human trafficking right now, then I think we ever have in the state," says Beshear.

A local nonprofit is also doing what it can to help.

"The ultimate goal is an eight bed facility, it would house juvenile girls," says Cunningham.

Phoenix Rising plans to help to survivors in a number of ways.

"Education, we will also have counseling services, we will have Life skills," explains Cunningham.

Both the state and Phoenix Rising aim to create survivors.

"To realize that they can come out of the things that they've been through, and survive, and not just survive, but to thrive," says Cunningham, reflecting on her victim’s stories.

Nonprofits and efforts from the state have increased in raising awareness, educating, prosecuting and lending a hand to victims. Together, combating human trafficking one day at a time.

"We can make Kentucky safer," says Beshear.

Signs of human trafficking victims include anxiety, avoidance of eye contact, signs of physical abuse, rarely alone- among other signs. To report human trafficking call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Department of Justice Human Trafficking Office: 888-428-7581

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