Human trafficking is no longer Michigan’s unbridled secret

Michigan is a beautiful state. Surrounded by gorgeous forests, the Great Lakes, regal wildlife and eye-catching landmarks, over 10 million people call the Wolverine state home. Ask anyone from Michigan about things they dislike, and you’ll probably hear, “The roads are terrible,” “The people are rude,” or “The weather is unpredictable.” One issue, rather an epidemic that has caused literal hell on earth for thousands of women and children, is the act of human trafficking. And just like the five lakes, human trafficking has surrounded Michigan for years, unearthing lives in its destructive path. 

The Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force defines Human Trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery. It is a crime under international law, federal and the State of Michigan, as well as each state in the United States. The term “severe forms of trafficking in persons” is the statement reflecting how serious it is for it to be slavery and includes both sex and labor trafficking. Michigan currently ranks number two in human trafficking across the nation. 

Trafficking often takes place in these types of settings and locations:

  • Strip club work
  • Restaurant work
  • Pornography including filming, distribution, and site performance
  • Construction, maintenance, landscape labor
  • Sweatshops, such as manufacture, sewing, and distribution of clothing
  • Debt bondage
  • Internet-based exploitation
  • Massage parlors
  • Nail salons
  • Casino presence

On January 17, State Representative Tenisha Yancey held a town hall meeting at Harper Woods High School to discuss ways to combat human trafficking. The crowd, mostly women, were eager and willing to learn the information presented to them. “At some point, this has to end,” said Yancey. “We must do our part to end human trafficking.” The event ended with a self-defense class taught by Mark Mitchell from the Noah Group. Many women showed appreciation for the town hall meeting on social media. “I walked away with some very valuable information to share with others,” said Mia Reid. “The self-defense class was a bonus.”

Women learning self-defense methods from Mark Mitchell. PHOTO: Tenisha Yancey

Recently, Yancey, along with fellow state representatives Sherry Gay-Dagnogo and Mary Whiteford, met at the Michigan State Capitol to discuss human trafficking. A powerful declaration was made, now recognizing January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, January 8 as Human Trafficking Day, and January 8-11 as Human Trafficking Week. “More must be done statewide to combat this growing trend,” said Dagnogo. “State and local law enforcement agencies must work to demonstrate a proactive approach to increase awareness, and protocol through establishing community outreach efforts to keep citizens safe.” “The unfortunate reality is that thousands of cases remain unreported due to numerous barriers that survivors have to take,” said Yancey. “While there’s been progress made to raise awareness on human trafficking and holding traffickers accountable, this problem persists nevertheless and remains a prevalent and serious public safety concern.”

In 2019, we saw the public reacting to alleged cases of sex trafficking crimes occurring in Detroit. Social media users took on the role of law enforcement by pointing out white vans that were seen at inconspicuous locations such as shopping centers, gas stations, and more. Even though some of the speculation surrounding specific stories were false, everyone’s intentions were in the right place.

Organizations such as Detroit Phoenix Center and RAWS (Raising Awareness With Students) understand the plight of human trafficking. Both organizations work with youth who are directly affected by human trafficking. “More and more people are putting in the work to take care of their bodies and their minds so they can live a long and healthy life,” said Kady Cox, founder of RAWS. “For this work to go in vain due to human trafficking is simply unjust. While Raising Awareness with Students focuses on preventive measures, this should not be the route we are taking with human trafficking because it should not exist.” “Youth experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to human trafficking,” said Courtney Smith, founder of the Detroit Phoneix Center. “No young person should ever be placed in a position where their body is used as a means to an end. We have to work to ensure that all youth are safe, cared for, and valued.”

In 2018, Detroit Police Chief James Craig announced that he intends to spend $1.5 million to create a task force devoted to combating human trafficking. This announcement came during last year’s North American International Auto Show, which is a hotbed for sex trafficking. “Certainly, it’s no secret that during the auto show, there’s much more activity,” Craig said. There are sex traffickers that come from all across this country.”

Human trafficking can no longer thrive in secrecy. Millions of lives are affected every time we turn our heads to suspicious activity that we see daily. We must protect our women and children (especially black women) from this reoccurring pandemic. 

For resources regarding Human Trafficking, visit MDHHS.org

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