Human Trafficking: Raising awareness and prevention on a form of 'modern slavery' in Michigan

Posted at 11:52 AM, Jan 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-11 12:05:54-05

It is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and it is second only to drug trafficking. Human Trafficking has many sides, and it is not only happening in other countries, but could be happening next door.

While that is a scary thought, the reality is it is sometimes hard to say what human trafficking can look like. It can look abusive and violent, or it can be a young person walking uncomfortably with an older man through the mall.

“It is a pretty frightening crime, and it can be hard to spot,” said Communication Director and Press Secretary for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, Andrea Bitely. “It can look like anything. It can look like prostitution, or it could look like an everyday man and woman who doesn’t show any signs of being trafficked.

“You can’t always tell who they are.”

January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and January is Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention month.

Human trafficking is defined as the use of force, fraud or coercion to get someone to either prostitute themselves, or work with minimal or no pay to make money for somebody, or benefit someone else. 

Over the past several years, the Attorney Generals Office, the FBI and local law enforcement agencies and organizations have been teaming together to bring human trafficking to a halt.

In 2011, Attorney General Bill Schuette launched the first Human Trafficking Unit, to prosecute human traffickers under state law. Since then, 11 people have been charged with human trafficking by the department of the Attorney General.

In 2016, there were major incidents and arrests made in Michigan due to the vigilance of human trafficking investigations, including one that led to the arrest and conviction of the now former Ingham County Prosecutor, Stuart Dunning III, for the use of prostitutes in several Lansing-area counties.

The Attorney General’s Office also charged and convicted several traffickers in 2016, including a Sterling Heights man who allegedly recruited a 17-year-old for sex trafficking. A Bronx, NY man was charged with multiple felonies, including Human Trafficking, Transporting for Prostitution, Accepting the Earnings of a Prostitute and Conducting a Criminal Enterprise in Oakland and Macomb counties.

In April, an Inkster man was sentenced to 20-40 years in prison following his conviction on five felonies for running a prostitution ring across Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. Jahan Satati Green, 38, was arrested in 2015 by the Human Trafficking Unit.

Also in 2016, several bills were passed that helped strengthen the fight against human trafficking, and help the victims of the crime.

These bills included allowing local ordinance violations to be expunged after a conviction if it was discovered the crime was due to being a victim of human trafficking.

“(If they are discovered) to be a victim of human trafficking, that (crime) could be pulled out of their record, so they can get a student loan, or clean up their personal history and get a job and move past the really horrible experience they had in their life,” said Bitely.

Another was increasing the prison time for someone who is convicted of being a trafficker from up to 5 years in prison to 15 years.

While it may be difficult to truly spot a victim of human trafficking, Bitely said there are some ways people can help, and signs that somebody may be a victim.

She explained that if someone seems to be slipping away from friends and family, hiding or showing signs of abuse, to contact local law enforcement. Or victims can also call the Attorney General’s Office, local police agency or the national trafficking hotline.

The AG’s Office has teamed up with local law enforcement and the FBI over the last several years to perform raids across Michigan to rescue those involved in human trafficking.

“It’s really an all hands on deck situation, and it can be really hard to spot,” said Bitely. “All of us working together are going to have more luck, and not just with law enforcement. Teachers, hairdressers, people who work at gyms, anyone who has a lot of human contact can help a victim.”

On Jan. 25, there will be a Human Trafficking Commission meeting, which is open to the public. During these, residents can learn more about human trafficking, and how it affects the community and people.

For more information on human trafficking, click here.