Human Trafficking in Suburban Michigan

“The reality is that in the suburban areas of Michigan, including Oakland County, it is happening. In the majority of cases in Michigan, the girl is the victim. It’s just that the laws haven’t caught up with reality,” said Bridgette Carr, director of the Human Trafficking Clinic, noting girls are being forced and trapped into forced labor and sexual servitude, and then if they are caught, they are charged as criminals. “It is both happening to individuals from other countries as well as here in the United States with U.S. girls and boys.”

“Human traffickers are luring Michigan children into dangerous situations where they will be sexually exploited,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. “As a father and husband, it turns my stomach. It could be anyone’s daughter or neighbor. Our daughters, friends, and neighbors are forced into prostitution, domestic servitude and other forced labor by criminals who take advantage of them. Recruiting children to work as prostitutes is illegal, reprehensible, and we will not tolerate it.”

Child pornography, sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking, and labor trafficking are among the the crimes the Southeast Michigan Crimes Against Children (SEMCAC) Task Force works to combat. The SEMCAC Task Force works to recover juveniles and arrest pimps and those utilizing the services of the youths.

The Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking, convened in March by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette focuses on legislative initiatives and the need to review Michigan’s legal framework governing human trafficking and determining if new legislation is needed; the need to increase public awareness of human trafficking; the need to develop and provide greater victim assistance at the state and local levels, including coordinating public and private sectors; reviewing the strategies of statewide data collection so that law enforcement and policymakers can accurately gauge progress; professional training for those who regularly deal with victims of human trafficking, from law enforcement, health care providers, social workers, hospitals, those in code enforcement and regulatory agencies in order to look for and identify victims; and victim recognition.

That recognition is a key point, all participants point out, changing the viewpoint of everyone involved from seeing women and girls who have been forced into a life of prostitution, not as criminals, but as victims.

Representative Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake, Waterford) said it’s critical to assess what is available to these victims. “There is proof that the prolonged trauma they undergo causes their brains to stop developing. They can see that on brain scans,” she said. “They have real problems with cognitive issues. Often they have real psychosis, so that it can take months for them to admit they’ve been victims. We’re trying to develop protocols in dealing with them, because we have to deal with them carefully – they’re emotionally and psychologically very fragile.” Kowall also pointed out that rarely can these girls go back to their families, because often “that’s where the problems started.” Further, most have lost their education, skills and have become drug abusers, “so they have to be taught basic skills.”

A key point is that theses victims can’t be helped until they’re ready to be helped, and to accept that they have been victimized. “It takes a lot to get them through, and often they go back to that life because it’s easier and it’s what they know,” Kowall said. “Emotionally, it’s too big a hurdle for some of them to break free of.”

“We all want the Lifetime movie ending when the cops walk in and everyone claps, and the girls go to college, but that’s not what happens,” Carr said. “We do victims a terrible disservice by perpetuating that myth because until we understand the power and coercive control these traffickers have over these girls, they can’t get help.”

Learn more at Lisa Brody’s Downtown Birmingham Bloomfield article: Human Trafficking.

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