We in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, live in small communities which we think of as fairly safe. Most of us in no way think there is human trafficking going on in our communities. We are wrong. This is not a tragedy that’s happening in another country or state. According to a 2015 quote by U.S. Senator Gary Peters, Human trafficking is “a growing problem in every county and community in Michigan”. Michigan as a whole is one of the top five states in the country where trafficking is exploding. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
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. This past year saw a case of human trafficking prosecuted in Dickinson County. Human traffickers are drawn to rural areas and small towns. There is often a smaller police presence and isolated areas, and these criminals feel they have much less chance of getting caught.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain. The most common form in the United States is commercial sex.
Indicators of Human Trafficking
Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Here are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking:
- Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
- Has a child stopped attending school?
- Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
- Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
- Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
- Is the person accompanied by someone who insists on telling a story all the time…they are a student, they are a tourist, they are here on a visa and there are a lot of inconsistencies.
- Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
- Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
- Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
- Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
- Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
- Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
- Does the person lack access to personal identification documents?
- Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
- Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?
Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking. For your safety and the safety of possible victims, do not confront someone you suspect may be a human trafficker or a victim, report the information you have to the police.
Traffickers look for vulnerable people. People who are emotionally or psychologically at risk, people who are economically at risk, and people who are isolated. Trafficking victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Trafficking victims can be men or women, young or old, American or from abroad, with or without legal status. Sometimes these criminals have specific victim requests by their clients…example, blond haired, blue eyed boy around 12 years old. They use threats, force and false promises to lure their victims in.
Human trafficking is usually a hidden crime. The victims don’t come forward because they are afraid of their traffickers or even law enforcement. The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.