Stopping Traffick PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sara Celi   
Friday, 28 May 2010 08:43

Stopping Traffick
A Northern Kentucky woman lifts the veil on human trafficking one case at a time, and she works to give a voice to victims she says are often ignored.

Northern Kentucky native Mary Richie is used to the incredulous looks she gets when people discover what she does for a living. She's just learned to ignore it.


"The awareness is just not there," she says about her line of work. Working at the Women's Crises Center (WCC) in Covington, Richie is an advocate for victims of human trafficking, which includes the illegal recruiting, transportation and harboring of people for exploitative purposes. This local lady often has people ask her if human trafficking is a real problem in Northern Kentucky.


"To the people we work with, it's a big problem," she says. "It shouldn't happen anywhere, and it definitely shouldn't happen here."


While all human trafficking is illegal, trafficking mostly falls into two categories: labor and sex. Sex trafficking gets more media attention, but labor trafficking is far more common, Richie says.


"We're becoming more educated in identifying it," Richie says of both major types, and she focuses on advocacy and education. "We are the partners of survivors of trafficking."


Since Richie began working at the WCC full time in the summer of 2008, she says she's dealt with roughly 20 victims of human trafficking in Northern Kentucky. She says she's helped victims get out of the cycle of abuse, compiled cases against their abusers, and worked to help them regain their dignity. That number of cases does not include "potential" human trafficking victims she is currently working with at the WCC, she says.


"I know that is a low number, but I know there are more," Richie says of the victims.


In 2007, Kentucky lawmakers enacted legislation to embolden the search for and prosecution of human traffickers. Since that time, Richie says there have been 39 documented cases of human trafficking statewide. The bill makes anyone convicted of human trafficking guilty of a felony charge. At the time Kentucky lawmakers joined the fight, 27 other states had enacted similar legislation.


"It's a very dark part of humanity," Richie says, but the prosecution of human trafficking offenders even under laws is challenging, she says.


To date, Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders only has brought human trafficking charges against offenders for one case in the county. Part of the problem is that victims are often afraid to admit to advocates, law enforcement and emergency responders the truth about what has happened to them, Richie says.


"If you go up to someone in sex trafficking, they'll most likely lie to you because they are protecting themselves or someone else," Richie says. "The ability to leave in each case is different. Sometimes they [victims] are brought to us, sometimes they'll present as domestic violence."


When she's not identifying and working with human trafficking victims, Richie's efforts turn to Northern Kentucky's Partnership Against the Trafficking of Humans (PATH). This task force takes a multi-pronged approach: victim advocacy, legal advocacy, law enforcement advocacy, education, outreach, and emergency response. PATH's efforts are important because human trafficking is often misidentified by law enforcement and other agencies, Richie says.


"Smuggling is a crime against a border. Trafficking is a crime against a person," she says. And Richie hopes that running training seminars will help make PATH more effective in the community.


She majored in developmental geography and minored in biology at the University of Kentucky before traveling the globe after college. While in Latin America, she honed her Spanish skills and worked with trafficking and domestic violence victims. Her travels and work took her to Bolivia, Peru, Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador. Then in 2008, the WCC hired her after Richie signed up for an advocacy training session at their Covington office.


"It's a community issue," Richie says of human trafficking and her fight against it. "If we work on one victim of it, then we work on all of it."


For this unlikely hero, success and professional satisfaction come one case at a time.




Photo courtesy of Mary Richie


Sara Celi -

Sara Celi is a contributor to Cincy Chic and a reporter for FOX19. Send her an e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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