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The Horror of Human Trafficking in our Neighborhoods

Kathy Bruins

Article originally from The Horror of Human Trafficking in our Neighborhoods

Living in Southwest Michigan gives one the feeling of being in a protective bubble against such worldly evils like human trafficking, but that is living a lie. There is evil amongst us that many can not imagine … and it’s happening to not only women and men, but to children. Both boys and girls are being sold for labor or sex as young as infants up into late teens. How does this happen right under our noses?

 Schools are believed to be safe havens for children, but the truth is that administrators try to make it safe, but they’re not. Homes are supposed to be safe … but in many trafficking cases, it is shown home wasn’t a safe place. One out of three runaways is approached by a trafficker. They hang out at schools, youth centers, or any other area where kids gather. There are parties given by older high school or college-age kids that invite younger ones. The parents think that their child is doing well and is popular so they are okay with their child going to the party. Their guard is down. They don’t suspect that a trafficker will be there offering them money or expensive gifts in exchange for a 15-20 minute act. Materialism is a big draw for kids. They feel they need to have certain items to fit in with their peers.

 There are no economic boundaries when it comes to human trafficking. Every level is affected. It’s seen in areas of poverty, but also in the suburbs.

 Traffickers are highly relational. They discover the need of the woman or child and become the perceived answer to their dilemma. One in three runaways is approached at the average age of 10. A trafficker may pretend to be a boyfriend that will take care of them. If they are in a rural area, traffickers may promise to get them out and into modeling or acting. Traffickers look for a hook to drag their victims in. Once they have them, they use any means to keep them. The victim becomes their property to do with what they wish.

 It’s a business

Human trafficking is a business. It’s not about the sex and labor that happens, but about the money that changes hands. That is what makes trafficking so attractive to those with money on their minds. It’s a huge financial business. Consider all that goes into it: the customers, hotels, taxis, stores, massage parlors, and more. It is industrially profitable.

 You may question what the difference is between prostitution and human trafficking? There isn’t a lot of difference because when deep-seated reasons are revealed, it is found that the individual felt they didn’t have a choice. It is mainly for survival reasons and not to make extra money on the side. Looking at the person’s background, there is always a need in their life that wasn’t filled. Many times abuse or other dysfunctional family aspects become issues of self-worth. The only value the individual feels they have is in selling their body.

 Homeland Security in Detroit was coming to Grand Rapids three times a week for human trafficking cases. Now they have a full-time permanent office in Grand Rapids because the problem is growing so quickly.

 Victim stories

A two-year-old girl was rescued four years ago in Grand Rapids after being sold by her mother. The child is now safe in a loving home.

Homeland security was searching for the perpetrator of a live pay per view advertised as one on which you could watch an anal rape of a six month old out of Florida.

 A young man was being regularly sold for sex by his mom, and when he wasn’t being sold by his mom, he was a pickpocket in Grand Rapids. He was eight years old and being bought. The kid is having a difficult time working through the pain. His trauma is very serious.

 What are the numbers?

Numbers from the Trafficking and Persons Report came out this year with worldwide numbers just under 21 million slaves – both sex and labor. West Michigan estimates 1.8 people for every 1,000 of population are sold for both labor and/or sex. That’s about 2,400.

 Websites similar to Craigslist show advertising for sex. They are somewhat graphic. Clicking on “escorts” brings up 25 listed advertisements for sex with pictures attached. You can pay by credit card. Pimps are blogging and have ratings for those that work for them. Legal guidelines are not protecting women at all. These sexual predators are blatant in what they say they do with them or to them.

 Children are targeted online. One in five children is sent sexual advances on the internet. We assume they are just spam so our guard goes down.

 Individuals need to be aware of what is going on in regards to human trafficking. It takes an alert population to protect the women and children of our community.

 *This is part one of a four part series