Billboards aim to raise awareness of child sex trafficking

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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“SEE IT. STOP IT.” reads one of many billboards around Northern Kentucky that seek to bring awareness to child sex trafficking.

The University of Kentucky placed billboards across the state for a project focused on reducing child sex trafficking.

The project is a mass media intervention and prevention that will take a bystander-based approach; therefore, the university is not revealing the locations of the billboards so as not to impact the study. 

One of the principal investigators in the study, Ann Coker, said their study would focus on middle school-aged children because they are at the highest risk of sexual abuse. Further, the project is taking place in Kentucky because, according to Coker, the state is second in the nation regarding child abuse, including child sex trafficking and sexual abuse. 

“One of the reasons that we have a higher rate of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking specifically is a link between opioid use and now other forms of substance use and having a family member, a child, that’s in a prepubescent time period,” Coker said. 

Of Kentucky’s 50 counties, half were randomly selected to receive billboards. Coker said that if the billboards worked well over time, they would provide them to the control counties. 

The hope behind the billboards is to increase awareness and then bring individuals to the project’s website, which has strategies around preventing child sex trafficking, more information about the study, and other links to resources within Kentucky and nationally.

LINK nky located one of the two billboards placed in Northern Kentucky in Covington. 

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University of Kentucky billboard for child sex trafficking prevention study. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky

“Seeing the billboards lets us know how well we’re doing in terms of where we place it and the attention that the billboards gathered in terms of learning how to see it, stop it, and help us prevent child sex trafficking,” Coker said. 

The link between substance use and the at-risk population of child sex abuse could occur in any situation or environment, including rural and urban, Coker said.

“A lot of what we’re doing with our bystander intervention is really helping to identify and to reduce the stigma around child sex trafficking,” Coker said. “That’s true for middle school staff, that’s the focus of our intervention, but it’s really for all of us because the idea of bystander interventions keeps all of us safe.”

According to its website, the project expands the definition of “bystander” to include middle school staff, who are often the most stable presence for children apart from parents. 

Aside from the billboard study, the project also provides training in middle schools to help staff better understand child sex trafficking. 

The project’s logo branded on the billboards is “CSTOP Now.”

“The idea then is that when we know how to see it, we can stop it, which is the words behind the billboard,” Coker said.

She estimates approximately 100 billboards across the state and said you are likely to spot them if you travel from county to county. 

The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached at 1-888-373-7888.

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