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Kentucky H.O.P.E. Initiative targets illicit massage businesses engaging in human trafficking

Kate Howard, WFPL

Kentucky is experiencing an increase in the number of illicit massage businesses in the state. According to The Network, a counterintelligence agency, these businesses are the second largest growing type of human trafficking in the country.

Heather Wagers is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Human Trafficking and Abuse Prevention and Awareness. Wagers said the Commonwealth has seen a 71 percent increase in the number of illicit massage businesses over the last four years.

“And it’s startling because you would think that it’s only going to happen in large cities or urban areas, but it happens all along Kentucky’s highways and rural and urban locations,” said Wagers.

The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office has been implementing a program that works with landlords to identify these renters and terminate their leases.

Wagers called the H.O.P.E. Initiative another tool in the box.

“And it is focused on disrupting the core key drivers of that business. If they don’t have a store front to operate out of, then they cannot operate. And so, eventually we want to make it such an inhospitable environment in Kentucky that they choose to go elsewhere,” said Wagers.

Wagers explained as other states adopt similar practices, the aim is to push human trafficking out of the country entirely.

Since October of last year, the H.O.P.E. Initiative has contacted landlords in at least four Kentucky counties about businesses that may be engaging in human trafficking.

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Samantha was a reporter and All Things Considered Host from 2019 to 2023. Sam is also a graduate of Morehead State University and worked for MSU's Public Radio Station.
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