Metro DetroitJune 19, 2013
Human trafficking is second fastest growing crime in United States
By Mark Vest
C & G Staff Writer
The subject of human trafficking seems to have gained more attention in recent years. In fact, the issue has even become a focal point of Hollywood movies, as well as television shows.
But according to Rebecca McDonald, who is the president and founder of Women At Risk, International (WAR), which, according to its website, has a mission to “unite and educate women and children in areas of human trafficking and sexual slavery,” the sex-slave business is a real nightmare for women and children around the world.
When people hear about human trafficking, many may think of it as something that only happens in other parts of the world. But not so, according to McDonald. She said it is a threat that is touching communities across the United States.
“In the land of the free, we sell our babies,” she said. “In fact, in the United States of America, the FBI estimates up to 300,000 children a year are at risk of being trafficked. I turned my attention on the United States of America, and discovered that the face of trafficking in America is a child. Of course, there are others trafficked here, too, but as a mother, as a human being, as a woman, it just ripped my heart out.
“And so, this is really a cry from a mother’s heart to the United States to help me circle the cradle, because we’re selling our future in this country, and it’s happening all around us, in middle- and upper-class communities, as well.”
McDonald’s assessment is one that is shared by Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant Edward Price, who is part of the Southeast Michigan Crimes Against Children (SEMCAC) task force.
“It’s very prevalent,” he said. “It’s everywhere you look. It’s occurring a lot in the suburban area. On the task force, our main goal is sex trafficking of children. We work the adult cases, as well, and we probably spend 80 percent of our time outside the city of Detroit. We spend a lot of time in the city of Southfield.”
The issue has also gained the attention of Lansing, as Attorney General Bill Schuette created Michigan’s first Human Trafficking unit, which according to a release, is designed to “expose and prosecute trafficking, which victimizes men, women and children.” The first charges were filed under the new law in 2011, with the first conviction coming in 2012 for a man accused of enslaving two girls.
Aside from the misconception that human trafficking is not an American problem, there are other misconceptions McDonald believes people have, as well, including that all traffickers are men.
“Women are trafficking women,” she said. “In fact, most traffickers are women. So this is not a male-versus-female problem; this is a human problem. The newest face of trafficking in the United States is 15 to 18 year old girls, popular girls, recruiting 9, 10, 11, 12 year old girls in our schools, our playgrounds, at sleepovers, in the mall, at a party and on the football field — all these places where our guard is down as parents.”
McDonald equates traffickers with bullies, in that she believes they look for easy targets. On WAR's website is an interview McDonald conducted with someone from homeland security, where she got an indication as to what could make someone more likely to be a victim.
"When they interview perpetrators, they say if a girl in a mall doesn't talk to them or fights back, they'll dump her," McDonald said. "If she shows any interest, if she smiles at them, they'll stalk her and follow her... And that's the girl that's being kidnapped."
And while law enforcement can play a big role in helping to rescue victims of human trafficking, McDonald said she believes everyday citizens can play an even bigger part. WAR developed Civilian First Responder (CFR) to help equip citizens with the proper knowledge to help look for signs of somebody who may be a victim of human trafficking.
"No woman or girl in that situation is (going to) run to an authority figure for help, because she’s being made to do disgusting things," she said. "She knows she’s breaking the law against her will, (through) coercion, force or fraud. She’s not going to run to the cop or go to the school principal.
“But a civilian — a mom at a sleepover, a social worker, a health care professional, a youth worker, a bus driver, a school teacher, a cosmetologist, a plumber or electrician at a house and sees things … those people she might tell her story to because her guard is down.”
According to Price, aside from drugs, human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the United States, and said he has encountered victims as young as 11 years old and as old as 45. And although it is an issue people have become more familiar with in recent years, Price said it’s a crime that has been going on for “decades.”
He believes that the most effective way for people to avoid becoming a victim of human trafficking is to become more educated about the subject.
“The biggest thing is making (themselves) aware,” Price said. “There’s different sites out there, like the Polaris Project. They have a website that gives indicators and different things. When you see something that doesn’t look right, call the police.”
While there are various ways to participate in the fight against human trafficking, McDonald has a suggestion which can help simplify the process.
“It’s not rocket science,” she said. “What would you do if it was your daughter? We can give a lot of tips, but I know from experience that once you open people’s eyes, (and) you rip the blinders off, they know instinctively what to do, if they’re decent people. If they would do for (victims) what they would want done for their own, they will know instinctively. Just think like, ‘This is my sister, (or) this is my friend’s sister,’ and you’ll do the right thing.”
Resources for help:
Price suggested that people who want to anonymously report a tip dial the toll-free National Human Trafficking Hotline number at 888-373-7888. The same number can also be dialed for those who would like to be connected with anti-trafficking services in the area.
Anybody who wishes to learn more about how to fight human trafficking can visit polarisproject.org. Michigan.gov/humantrafficking is the Attorney General’s website for reporting and identifying human trafficking.
To contact Women At Risk, International, click on www.warinternational.org, or call 1-877-endslavery.