Human Trafficking: Not Just a Foreign Issue

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By Ray Wilbur
Listen Up, Lansing

Imagine being treated as a slave and being manipulated into thinking there is no way out. Imagine not knowing who to turn to, or where to go for help.

Human trafficking reaches small corners of the earth, and is a problem that agencies and people are fighting to eliminate in Lansing and Michigan as a whole on a daily basis.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, and Sen. Bill Cassidy introduced a bi-partisan bill known as the Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act of 2015 that could change the lives of human trafficking victims in America.

The bill intends to assist health care professionals in better recognizing possible signs of human trafficking in patients by awarding grants to schools of medicine that teach the signs of human trafficking and creating a training program for health care professionals to better identify victims.

Peters has been vocal about human trafficking issues in Michigan and has worked alongside the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force to learn more about the broader issue.

“People tend to think human trafficking is an issue somewhere else in the world, but it’s a growing problem in every county and community in Michigan,” Sen. Peters said.

The first ever reported case of human trafficking in Michigan was in a tiny town in the Upper Peninsula, director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force Jane White said.

The Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force was founded in 2007 and is a part of MSU’s School of criminal justice and works directly with local facilities and legislators to assist victims, and to fight the issue of human trafficking in Michigan, and in Lansing.

“We connect agencies and other facilities with social workers and then with victims and their families so that the victims have a chance of getting out of the situation their in,” White said.

One of those facilities is the mid-Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force or the Underground Railroad Inc., which works directly with human trafficking victims in the mid-Michigan area.

“We assist mainly mid-Michigan counties, but have found that Lansing is an area where victims need help, and there are outlets there to help them,” program director Dawn Hessell said.

Unfortunately, the exact number of human trafficking cases in Michigan is not known, because the first federal law regarding human trafficking was introduced in 2000 and so there is no system in place to keep track of them on a state level, White said.

That means not many people are aware of the issue, White said.

“If you told me that human trafficking was a serious issue around here, I probably wouldn’t believe you,” Lansing resident Norm Samuels said.

There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today and 80 percent of people trafficked across international boarders each year are women and half are children, according to the U.S. State Department.

Victims are confronted with two different forms of human trafficking, White said, sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

White said that victims of human trafficking are not forced into their position, rather are exploited or taken advantage of in order to restrict their ability to leave.

“A victim most-likely willingly walks into the situation, but then their ability to get away from it is restricted by force, fraud, and coercion,” White said.

Although White and Hessell see the issue as on-going and far-reaching, they do believe Peters’ legislation will help victims receive better treatment, and to live without fear of being judged.

“I can’t say that any law will end human trafficking, but it is the first step of many that is being taken to seriously address this issue on a national level,” Hessell said.

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