The Kentucky Derby will draw in millions of viewers, and thousands of people will travel to Churchill Downs to watch the race. But the Derby also brings in human traffickers, ready to cash in on visitors.
There is an underground sex trade, where children and women are sold for sex that gains in popularity during big events like the Kentucky Derby.
“We must open our eyes and realize it is an issue,” said Allison Martin, spokesperson for Kentucky’s attorney general. “You would expect to see more incidents of human trafficking during those types of events because of opportunity, and people are there.”
A spokeswoman with Louisville Metro Police said their task-force will be active this weekend. But she said police could not discuss details until after Derby weekend.
According to Dr. Theresa Hayden, a professor at the University of Louisville, traffic increases on Backpage.com, a classifieds website, during Derby for commercial sex.
Hayden, who teaches a class on human trafficking, recently finished a study of the website during big Louisville events like the Derby.
“When I started to analyze it, I definitely saw that the ads peaked on particular events.”
During a 15-month study, Hayden said there were 53 advertisements. On Derby Day, the number of ads more than doubled to 120 ads.
“These events draw in people with a lot of disposable income and this is part of their fun,” she said. “So the traffickers that supply the women know where the sales are going to be. They know who’s got the money and where they are going to be.”
Margeaux Gray knows the system all too well. She lived it for more than a decade.
“I was first exposed to trafficking, or sold into slavery, when I was 5-years-old,” she told WKYT’s Miranda Combs.
By the time Gray escaped, the trauma had left visible scars. She’s now legally blind, the effects of bulimia. She said she was sold for sex by someone she trusted, over and over again.
“By nine years old, I knew how to do things that no child should ever know how to do. No one. It’s unacceptable,” she said.
Gray doesn’t share details. She said the person who sold her for sex was never charged because prosecution was too painful for her.
“It’s all about control and controlling the victim so they can stay quiet. So I was brainwashed into believing a lot of things, and it worked.”
Gray copes with the past by trying to help others in similar situations. She is now a speaker and advocate for stopping human trafficking. She also has inside knowledge for those trying to fight human trafficking.
“This is a business in that they want to keep their business going,” she said.
“It’s a hugely profitable business for the trafficker, not so for the women that are caught in it,” she said.