By Rev. Dr. Jim Holley
Human Trafficking, simply defined, is the undertaking of criminal action to coerce and force people into unwanted situations of unpaid labor and/or commercial sex activities of exploitation amid slave-like conditions.
Across America and beyond, human trafficking, also called modern-day slavery, has become a billion-dollar criminal enterprise, with some estimates placed at $150 billion world-wide. It makes me sick to think about the massive numbers of children, teens, women and even men of all ethnicities subjected to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual and/or labor exploitation.
While you may think human trafficking doesn’t impact Detroit or other large and small sectors of Michigan, think again. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Michigan is a top-ten state when it comes to human trafficking. And, according to FBI statistics, Metro Detroit has seen a 300 to 400 percent jump in human trafficking over the past few years.
Many believe that metro Detroit’s geographical position is a factor, especially when one considers that Canada is just across the Detroit River making it easy to bring and take victims across the border where connective paths to other international locales are available. And Ohio is less than 60 miles from Detroit, with I-75 serving as a major thoroughfare to the Buckeye State and the Deep South for traffickers to use.
Yet, the perception of young girls and women, some as young as 12, being snatched off the streets, pulled into vans, transported and forced into prostitution in another state or country is not the total story. The Michigan State Police and other law enforcement agencies in the state and across the country agree the internet is the greatest risk for luring young people into the multiple traps of human traffickers.
With the advent and evolution of the internet and social media, human traffickers are able to communicate and bait these digital traps and wait for vulnerable people to follow up on the enticing messaging. The digital bait may be misrepresented messages to young people as the chance to make money modeling, acting, singing, attending free concerts, and dozens of other ways for the bad people to lure young people into trafficking. Even close peers of young people have been paid to identify and set up teen girls and young women for the devious and illegal actions of traffickers. And the growing number of homeless youth is a target that traffickers go after, offering gifts and money based on a false foundation of love, caring and providing a better life.
Enough! The question is how do we fight human trafficking? The answer is…with everything that we got.
The churches must do more to educate members and the surrounding communities of the traps and danger posed by human traffickers, because it’s not just a Baptist thing, or a Catholic thing, or a Protestant thing. Human trafficking doesn’t care about religion, and can root itself with all ethnicities and socioeconomic levels.
We also have to do a better job of consistently talking to and educating our children about how to protect themselves from becoming victims. We must also amplify and expand the slogan: see something…say something.
Truckers are now being asked to look out for something that doesn’t look right when they are on the highways of America, i.e., young girls/boys traveling with men, entering or leaving hotels or motels, and other places that don’t look right. Motel and hotel personnel are also been asked to be vigilant and report human trafficking activities. We must be on the lookout ourselves.
No one is asking you to be “Captain Save–A–Person” right on the spot if you see something, but one can report things to law enforcement agencies when something doesn’t seem right. People can also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1–888–373–7888.
I don’t have all of the answers to totally eradicate human trafficking. Yet, we have to find viable ways to fight it, to take away its money-making appeal. I do know that we need to be in constant contact with our councilmembers, mayor, governor, senators and congresspersons and find out what are they doing to combat human trafficking in Detroit and throughout Michigan and beyond. It’s a fair question to ask our presidential candidates who vow to fight for a better America for its people, if elected. At least that’s what they say to get our vote.
In essence, human trafficking must be a front-burner issue, talked about and addressed the same way that illegal drugs, mass shootings, and other hot-button human issues should be approached and fixed.
We can’t shut our eyes on human trafficking, because when we decide to open them, someone who we know and love may be a victim of this heinous and unconscionable crime.
And that my friends…is the gospel truth!