Members of the Roseville Community Schools district on Feb. 21 learn more  about human trafficking and how to identify the signs of it.

Members of the Roseville Community Schools district on Feb. 21 learn more about human trafficking and how to identify the signs of it.

Photo by Sean Work


Roseville school district teaches community to spot human trafficking

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 25, 2019

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ROSEVILLE — A teen from a troubled home runs away. The teen is scared, alone and lacks basic necessities like food or shelter. Then the teen meets someone who offers them a place to stay.

After some time passes, that individual tells the teen they have to have sex with them or land back out on the street. Soon, that individual is getting paid for allowing others to have sex with the teenager. The teen wants to leave, but even if they had someplace else to go, the teen lives in fear of their captor.

The teen has become a victim of human trafficking.

It is a chilling story, but one all too common in the United States today. It was one such story shared by Heidi Wilt, the executive director of the Alabaster Gift, a recovery center in Macomb County for those who have been victimized by human traffickers.

Wilt gave a presentation on the subject for the Roseville school district community Feb. 21. The presentation for Roseville Community Schools was in large part thanks to parent Denise Brun. She had seen Wilt speak at a previous engagement, and she believed that such information should be more available to those in the school district.

“I was invited to a parenting conference being done by CARE of Southeastern Michigan last year, and Heidi gave a presentation,” said Brun. “There’s so much more to learn than what you see on TV. I was floored. I thought it was important parents and educators have this information; they are the ones on the front line.”

Wilt said modern-day human trafficking can be divided into two kinds of slavery: labor and sex slavery. While people often think of slavery as being a result of a kidnapping situation, Wilt said it is far more often a case of a predator taking advantage of a vulnerable and desperate individual — usually a minor.

“What many people don’t realize is that human trafficking is often in a boyfriend-girlfriend scenario,” Wilt said. “Everyone thinks of human trafficking as being kidnapping situations, but in the United States, having a vulnerable person who is being used by someone they trust or rely on is far more common.”

Wilt said 1.68 million children run away from home each year in America, and at least 100,000 children are exploited by prostitution each year.

“People should look for young people — particularly young people who are with a boyfriend or girlfriend much older than them,” Wilt explained. “Look for signs of physical abuse. … Look out if they are hanging around with new groups of people. … Look for changes in behavior or dress. Minors forced into adult sexual acts will often adopt other ‘adult’ activities, like drinking or smoking. They will often have a sense of fearfulness. They are in incredibly tense, dangerous situations virtually all of the time, and it can show.”

While unusual or surprising behavior from teenagers is not uncommon, Wilt said people still need to look for the warning signs in young people who may be getting taken advantage of right under their noses.

“It could just be teenage rebellion, but it might not be, and parents have to have that conversation,” she added.

It is usually very difficult for an individual, particularly if they are still a minor, to leave a situation where they are being exploited. They often have no safe place to return to, have no money or identification, are isolated from anyone except those exploiting them, or are being threatened by their abuser — or the safety of a friend or family member is threatened should they try to leave. Drug addiction also is used as a common tool by traffickers to better maintain control over their victims.

Even when someone escapes such a situation, they can have difficulty adjusting to a “normal life,” particularly if they were victimized from a young age or victimized by a family member. Wilt said that was why centers like the Alabaster Gift are so important: They are places where such victims can ease back into a healthy life surrounded by experts who are familiar with the challenges they face.

The Roseville community responded positively to Wilt’s presentation, and many expressed their gratitude toward her for educating them on the topic.

“I hope (because of this presentation) people gain more awareness, more knowledge and a desire to do something,” said Brun. “I was shocked at how ingrained human trafficking is in our culture. It can be happening right in front of you without realizing it.”

For safety reasons, does not give out its address or phone number. The group gives out business cards to fake businesses with the Alabaster Gift’s number on it, which goes to an unlisted disposable cellphone to ensure that a victim’s contact with the group remains secret. However, more information on the organization, including ways to donate or volunteer, can be found at www.thealabastergift.org.

Wilt also advised people to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888. People can anonymously contact the group if human trafficking is suspected.

“It often goes under the radar because we’re not looking for it,” said Wilt. “No one wants to be in their neighbor’s business. No one wants this to be happening in their neighborhood. It’s always easier to stick your head in the sand, but it’s out there.”

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