Troy church to host presentation by human trafficking expert

‘Parents don’t realize one of the most dangerous places for a kid is in their own room with the door closed’

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published October 14, 2023

 Heidi Wilt, a member of the True North to Freedom nonprofit, will host a presentation on human trafficking at SALT church in Troy Saturday, Oct. 21.

Heidi Wilt, a member of the True North to Freedom nonprofit, will host a presentation on human trafficking at SALT church in Troy Saturday, Oct. 21.

Photo provided by Heidi Wilt


TROY — The St. Augustine Lutheran Troy church, called SALT Church, is welcoming the public to join them for an informative discussion on the topic of human trafficking Saturday, Oct. 21.

The event will feature anti-human-trafficking advocate Heidi Wilt, of the True North to Freedom nonprofit. She will speak on human trafficking awareness, how to recognize it, and what people can do about it.

“In my presentation, I give real-life examples of how trafficking has happened in our state,” said Wilt. “Oftentimes, people just know what is on social media. They only know what Hollywood shows us or rumors online. While those are kinds of trafficking, that’s not the majority of real-world trafficking. If you’re not looking in that direction, you could miss a lot and miss an opportunity to help someone in a trafficking situation.”

The program will take place 9 a.m.-noon, at SALT Church, 5475 Livernois in Troy. Reservations are strongly encouraged and can be obtained by calling (248) 879-6400. There is no cost for this event – coffee and a light snack will be provided.

“It’s happening in your neighborhood, possibly to someone you know,” said Wilt. “Don’t you want to know how to recognize it and what to do about it? Everyone thinks it’s only happening far away in another country or another city, but it can be happening down the street.”

Paul Monson, one of the pastors of SALT Church, said it was a topic they have wanted to address for a while.

“We had a human trafficking event some years ago, so it’s been on our radar,” he explained. “It comes down to ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ A neighbor doesn’t just mean someone who lives next to you. We need to do all we can for them.”

Both noted that the recent film “Sound of Freedom” has raised awareness of the subject of human trafficking, but both hope the public will recognize that the topic is far more complex and tragic than any film can portray.

“Some people probably have seen the recent movie that deals with human trafficking that deals with the topic; I have not,” said Monson. “I think people should hear from the experts; I think people should care for their fellow human beings.”

“What trauma does is another thing I talk about. I discuss what it does to the brain and why it is difficult to move on,” added Wilt. “That’s another thing Hollywood usually doesn’t get right; (the portrayal is generally) that once you are released, you can just move on. In reality, there is a long recovery process. They have a lot to deal with.”

Wilt stressed that human trafficking can take many forms that people may not be expecting or looking for.

“There’s a lot of forms of trafficking that people don’t consider: child brides, forced begging, organ harvesting, etc.,” she said. “I also want to talk about how we label people. If we label people, we start not seeing them as people; we see them as just a prostitute or just a drug addict.”

She went on to say that the most common method of traffickers are not abductions, as is often shown in popular media, but through online contact.

“There’s grooming. A lot of times, traffickers are seeking children online through social media. Now all kids have a phone or tablet, and people don’t realize how easily traffickers can friend a kid through social media outlets or while they’re playing a game,” Wilt said. “A lot of parents don’t realize one of the most dangerous places for a kid is in their own room with the door closed. It’s usually not kidnapping. It’s more about the trafficker developing a relationship with them and then they start making the child feel they ‘owe’ the trafficker.”

She added that the biggest change to look for in a loved one if they are being groomed is sudden differences in their actions or personality.

“Look for changes in interest or attitude,” said Wilt. “They might not show up to things they once loved. If they are being controlled by someone, their personality can change.”

True North to Freedom focuses on transitioning survivors back into a normal life as well as raising awareness of the issue.

“We work with survivors in addition to awareness. We try to help them come to a better future and a more hopeful place,” said Wilt. Her presentation at SALT church “will consist of a PowerPoint presentation with some graphs and images; nothing graphic. It will be followed by a Q&A.”

Currently, Michigan is one of the top five areas in the country for human trafficking. Those organizing the presentation hope the public will gain a better understanding and a more robust awareness of an issue that can be difficult to detect and even harder to confront.

“I want people to walk away with an awareness of the problem,” said Monson. “When I first heard about the problem some years ago, I was skeptical, because it’s hard to imagine something like this happening in America today, yet it is very much a reality.”