Human trafficking industry in Michigan
This story is continued from A1 in this week's issue
April 4, 2011 —
Slavery is no longer just a term from the past. There are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide, a number that surpasses the number trafficked during the transatlantic slave trade.
The week of March 28 was Human Trafficking Awareness Week. Students and faculty participated in a three day event about this worldwide issue.
Ann Coburn-Collins, the moderator of the events, said she wants to increase awareness so that people knew exactly what has been going on.
“We don’t really acknowledge that human trafficking still goes on today,” she said. “That’s why I titled this program Modern-day Slavery, Right in My Own Backyard.”
Collins said that she wanted everyone to be aware that this was happening in other countries as well as the U.S., a destination point for trafficking.
The first event was a screening of the film “Very Young Girls,” which focused on tween sex trafficking in Brooklyn, N.Y. The film highlighted girls who were tricked by men twice their age into selling their bodies for money.
Silence is not golden and the word slavery is no longer just a term from the past. There are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide, a number that surpasses those trafficked during the transatlantic slave trade.
The week of March 28 was Human Trafficking Awareness Week. Students and faculty participated in a three day event informing them of this worldwide issue.
Ann Coburn-Collins, the moderator of these events, set out to increase the awareness of human trafficking so that people knew exactly what has been going on.
“We don’t really acknowledge that human trafficking still goes on today. That’s why I titled this program Modern-day Slavery, Right in My Own Backyard,” she said.
Collins said she wanted everyone to be aware that this was happening in other countries as well as the U.S., a destination point for trafficking.
The first event was a screening of the film “Very Young Girls,” which focused on tween sex trafficking in Brooklyn, N.Y. The film highlighted girls who were tricked by men twice their age into selling their bodies for money. These girls were trapped by these men through use of threats, beatings, and this captivating feeling of love that they felt for them.
The Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS) saved most of the girls in this film. GEMS was founded by Rachel Lloyd, a young woman who had been sexually exploited as a teenager.
Following the film, there was a brief discussion of how to recognize victims of trafficking along with where they could be found.
On Tuesday was a panel discussion that included Miss Michigan, Bay City native Katie LaRoche. She was joined by Jennifer Fopma, executive director of the Safe Place Shelter; Meredith Weill, a fellow at the Human Trafficking Law Clinic at the University of Michigan; and Jane P. White, director of the State of Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.
At the beginning of the event, White asked for the participation of all attendees. Her objective was to inform the audience of the difference between prostitution and trafficking.
The mission of the Michigan’s Human Trafficking Task Force is to facilitate a collaborative effort to prevent trafficking of persons within the state, prosecute perpetrators and to protect and rehabilitate trafficking victims.
“We want to build awareness in Michigan communities on issues directly or indirectly relating to human trafficking,” White said.
Speaker Meredith Weill explained of the legal aspects. Immigrants who are trafficked and get caught face deportation. Those sent back face the danger of being killed back in their own country if the trafficker has connections. The Human Trafficking Clinic she works for, however, is able to help them qualify for visas to block their return.
The students in this clinic also run a community outreach and education initiatives and conduct research about laws relating to human trafficking.
“Awareness is incredibly important because human trafficking is not completely understood. There are a lot of misconceptions,” Weill said.
Jennifer Fopma, Executive Director of S.A.F.E. Place, stressed that it is tough to recognize the victim. Many trafficking victims will not readily volunteer information about their status because of fear and abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of their trafficker. They may also be reluctant to come forward because of despair, discouragement, and a sense that there are no viable options to escape their situation. They might even fear retribution to themselves or family members.
“We look for non verbal signs as well as verbal when mentioning law enforcement, their reaction usually says it all,” Fompa said.
S.A.F.E. Place provides shelter, court advocacy, referrals and comprehensive counseling programs for victims of domestic violence.
While discussing how people get trapped into trafficking, Fompa explained that first the victim must be separated from their possible trafficker and made to feel safe before questioning by authorities.
“If leaving made them safe everyone would, but it doesn’t make them safer,” Fompa said. Miss Michigan Katie La Roche started by having everyone closing their eyes and picturing themselves in the shoes of those being trafficked.
“If we allow ourselves to walk in the shoes of those who are being exploited we will no longer be able to look away from it,” said LaRoche, the founder of the non-profit One World One Future. The organization is a female-led organization dedicated to saving victims of human trafficking.
“The number one approach is awareness,” LaRoche said.
Not everyone participates in Fair Trade, which is an exchange system that is focused on empowering producers by providing them with resources and opportunities, and ensuring their basic rights.
Fair Trade is a movement that promotes companies that only do businesses with other companies in countries who agree to protect human rights. Without the agreement, there is a greater chance that the goods the company buys were made by workers who may have been trafficked.
LaRoche encouraged attendees to send a letters to Hershey, Target and other companies not participating in Fair Trade. These companies were mentioned in the showing of the documentary “The Day My God Died,” a documentary about the experiences of young girls in the child sex trade.
“If we do nothing, we are condoning it,” Fopma said, “We are saying these people are expendable.”