Gretchen Hunt is the staff attorney at the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, the coalition of 13 rape crisis centers in the state. She has been working in the field of violence against women for 15 years, with an emphasis on immigrant victims and human trafficking. She created the first human trafficking task force in Kentucky and helped the state secure federal funding to begin comprehensive services to victims of trafficking. She worked hand in hand with legislators to craft Kentucky's Human Trafficking Victims Rights Act, which has been hailed as a model “safe harbor” law. She trains law enforcement officers, attorneys, and advocates on human trafficking and co-chairs the Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force. Her articles on human trafficking have been published in the Kentucky Bar Review and in Trauma, Violence, and Abuse. She is a recipient of the Leadership Award of the Kentucky Women's Law Enforcement Network and the Liberation Award from Kentucky Rescue and Restore for her work on human trafficking. She has taught courses on gender and the law and domestic violence at the University of Louisville and the Brandeis School of Law.
Describe a typical day (if there is such a thing) in your job.
Working for a statewide coalition is never boring, and every day is different. Today I fielded calls about how to shut down a shady motel known for child trafficking, prepared materials to serve as an expert witness in a civil suit on trafficking, brainstormed ways to improve our hospital advocacy on behalf of rape victims, and prepared a presentation on women’s human rights. I travel across Kentucky almost weekly to train law enforcement, attorneys, and victim advocates on laws impacting victims of rape and trafficking. As a statewide coalition, we play a large role in building collaborations to address systemic problems such as prison rape, campus sexual assault, and human trafficking. So I spend a lot of time building relationships and chairing task forces so that when a problem arises, trusted partners are in place to respond. Lastly, during the legislative session, I eat, sleep, and breathe legislation.
On interstates through rural areas, women and children are sold for sex at truck stops and 'spas,' which are fronts for prostitution.
You cover the entire state of Kentucky. What does human trafficking look like in the rural parts of the state?
Kentucky sees many of the same national trends of trafficking, where vulnerable people are exploited due to root causes of poverty, lack of affordable housing, and lack of employment. We also rank very low in terms of health, child welfare, and poverty, so it is not a surprise to me that many of our citizens are pushed into trafficking. Our state’s child welfare agency has reported child sex trafficking in every region of Kentucky, from Pikeville to Paducah. The pill/meth/heroin drug epidemic has led to many children being traded for drugs by their parents or caregivers. On interstates through rural areas, women and children are sold for sex at truck stops and “spas,” which are fronts for prostitution. Undocumented immigrants are also trafficked in horse farms, tobacco farms, restaurants, and in domestic servitude.
If you could give a high five to one of your legal heroes (living or dead), who would get it and why?
I am going to cheat and pick three. First, I so admire Gail Pendleton for being a tireless and fierce advocate for immigrant victims. She has made an indelible mark on the field of VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] immigration and never stops fighting for those who are most vulnerable. Second, I choose my Boston College Law School classmate Kasey Coredini. He has made huge strides in Massachusetts and across the nation advocating LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning] rights. Finally, I have to pick a good Kentucky lawyer, Judge Colin Lindsay, who was the first in our state to file a civil suit on behalf of a labor trafficking victim. He has also made a huge impact in increasing diversity among the Bar in Kentucky. I am proud to count these three as friends and am continually inspired by their work, passion, and tenacity.
What’s a case or client or piece of advocacy that comes to mind as giving you particular personal satisfaction? Why?
Working closely with Rep. Sannie Overly and Rep. Addia Wuchner to gain passage of Kentucky’s Human Trafficking Victims Rights Act in 2013 was incredibly rewarding. We are proud that it is one of the strongest safe harbor statutes in the nation. Over 100 children have been identified and given services as a result of the legislation.
What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
University of Kentucky basketball. I am a recent convert and love all things about the Big Blue Nation.