Community forum to discuss human trafficking and stalking

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 11, 2019


MADISON HEIGHTS — An upcoming forum in Madison Heights will discuss the issues of human trafficking and stalking, featuring a panel of survivors, experts, elected officials and police.

The event takes place at a church, but organizers emphasize that it is strictly nonreligious, and all are encouraged to attend. The forum is set for Thursday, Jan. 17, inside the United Methodist Church of Madison Heights, located at 246 E. 11 Mile Road, starting with a light dinner at 6 p.m.

The forum then starts promptly at 7 p.m., discussing both the problem and possible solutions. The forum and dinner are both free.

Deliza Lee, a member of the church who serves on the Madison Heights Crime Commission, said that human trafficking and stalking hit closer to home than people may think.

“We live in a small, quiet community, and many aren’t aware of the problem,” Lee said. “This is a conversation to have with our surrounding communities to let everyone know that these aren’t isolated issues.”

January is National Stalking and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking is defined as a crime in which force, fraud or coercion is used to compel a person to perform labor, services or commercial sex.

No demographic is safe, but children are especially at risk. In 2017, Michigan cases increased, with 7,255 victims of sex trafficking and nearly 2,000 victims of labor trafficking identified, according to data released by Polaris.

As for stalking, more than 7.5 million people are stalked each year in the United States, according to the Stalking Resource Center. The stalker is usually someone whom the victim knows, and stalking by an intimate partner is the most common and dangerous type.

The forum is a collaboration between the church and Margaret Hall, of the Southfield Domestic Violence Group. One of the guests will be Edee Franklin, founder of Sanctum House, a Michigan shelter that helps human trafficking survivors rebuild their lives.

Other panelists will include a representative from the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office; Oakland County District 21 Commissioner Janet Jackson, of the Human Trafficking Task Force; actual survivors of human trafficking and stalking; and members of law enforcement and the courts.

“Principals often call me and ask me to come and do a presentation,” Hall said. “Our children and communities need to be safe, and I felt this is one of the ways to keep them safe. We want to educate people and bring awareness, and not just talk about it privately, but include the community and share information.”

She noted that Michigan is one of the top 10 states for human trafficking, with victims in every ZIP code, and about 10 percent of them younger than 18. The target demographic are girls between the ages of 12 and 16.

“When the Southfield Domestic Violence Group gets a call about a missing child or teenager, we immediately get the police involved and look at all the variables,” Hall said. “Some parents don’t even know that human trafficking is a problem here. … Some parents ask, ‘Why here?’ And we explain to them that we’re near the Canadian border, several interstates, and we are surrounded by the Great Lakes, and human trafficking earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers.”

Brian Hartwell, the mayor of Madison Heights, is another guest panelist.

“Public service is full of surprises. One surprise was the surge in prostitution in our hotels after previous City Councils closed the Police Department’s undercover unit in response to declining tax revenues during the recession. As a former police chief told me, ‘Investigating prostitution is like sweeping water: If you stop sweeping, it pours back in.’ That’s why, when I was first elected mayor in 2015, at my first meeting as the chair, City Council authorized the MHPD to collaborate with an undercover team from the Troy Police Department,” Hartwell said. “Which leads us to this year, when City Council finally balanced the budget to allow the full restoration of our city’s own undercover Special Investigations Unit.

“The sickest feeling I have had in my adult life is when I read the reports of human trafficking bringing victims to our hotels. Modern-day slavery,” Hartwell said. “I’ve consulted with officials from all levels of government … to better understand how we can save the victims, punish the traffickers and prevent future victimization. I believe strongly in our police chief’s leadership on fighting organized crime. Now that our city administration and council have become versed in the policies surrounding trafficking, it is our moral obligation to spread the knowledge to others.”