By Eric Matthews–   

The seventh Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Conference brought students, faculty and community members together to discuss a largely invisible social issue.

Hosted by the Women4Women Student Board in the SAC multipurpose room, the Feb. 8 conference aimed to raise awareness of the horror of human trafficking in Louisville, including unpaid labor and prostitution. Conference organizers said they hope to enlist community members to help end trafficking.

The conference featured presentations by two survivors who founded charitable organizations to combat the illicit trade and help those affected by it.

Amy Leenerts, founder and director of the Free2Hope Foundation, described the causes and effects of human trafficking. She outlined the increased demand for trafficked sex workers during events like the Kentucky Derby and the Farm Machinery Show and how to identify potential victims and intervene to help them.

“We need to get better at recognizing when someone is being abused in one way or another,” Leenerts said.

Angela Renfro, founder of the Kristy Love Foundation, said her organization rehabilitates women who have been trafficked by helping them find employment, build life skills and get addictgion treatment.

“I am grateful for everything that happened to me,” Renfro said. “If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to reach out to you all.”

Renfro said donations are greatly appreciated, and that the foundation can always use more garbage bags and toilet paper.

A resource fair was available to attendees after presentations concluded.  The LGBT center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Engage Lead Serve Board and Maryhurst were among the organizations. Concerned students who missed the conference still have the opportunity to get involved.

“The average student can use social media platforms to raise awareness. They can host a hygiene products drive. They can host a fundraiser and they can get in contact with community groups and volunteer,” said Rebecca Lepovsky, chair of the conference committee. “They love to have students help and teach them how to fight the fight.”

If you believe someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or 911 if the person is a minor.