Although it’s the 21st century, the age-old problem of human trafficking still exists. In fact, it’s a thriving billion-dollar business worldwide, bringing in $87 million a day and $32 billion a year. But what’s most alarming is that it is occurring not just in Third World countries but in both rural and urban areas, including our own backyard.
Modern-day slavery takes a much different form than its predecessor. The Internet is among the high-tech tools human traffickers use to entrap victims.
Michigan has human trafficking laws, but they need considerable updating and revision to address the complex issues of the crime today.
Attorney General Bill Schuette recently co-chaired with Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, the first Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking.
Formed in March, the commission’s detailed report to the governor in November includes more than 20 recommendations.
As a result, 19 state Senate and 15 House bills have been introduced. Lawmakers expect the bipartisan legislation to begin moving to the governor in December.
The large number of bills illustrates how complicated the problem has become but, generally, the legislation strives to accomplish several specific goals.
They include decriminalizing the victim, who may be forced to do illegal acts, such as prostitution.
“Safe harbor” laws would automatically classify anyone under 17 as a victim and not an offender.
Some bills would eliminate the statute of limitations on human trafficking. Senate Bill 584 is known as the Theresa Flores bill and shows that the problem is local.
Flores, originally from Birmingham, was lured into captivity as a 15-year-old by a man who purported to be her boyfriend. She was trapped for two years because she was afraid to tell her parents what was happening to her.
Often, experts note, victims are kept in a psychological bondage, afraid to reveal their plight because of blackmail and threats to themselves or family members.
Another example of how the problem surfaces in Michigan is legislation named after Stephanie Brown, a southeast Michigan woman who was working at a nightclub when she was drugged and dragged into sex trafficking.
She died from a drug overdose as her captors tried to keep her sedated. These bills would allow local communities to pass laws that control nightclub activities.
There is also legislation dealing with the “johns,” those who solicit sex from children.
All the bills are aimed at giving law enforcement agencies the tools to attack the problem and prosecute the human traffickers.
Public awareness is also a critical issue, notes Jane P. White, director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, based in East Lansing. She says local communities, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies all must work together and coordinate efforts to fight the crime.
“It’s imperative, based on the demographics of Michigan, we understand the crime of human trafficking is here, whether it’s labor or sexual exploitation,” says White, who endorses the commission’s recommendations.
There’s obviously much work to be done in Michigan.
The efforts of the attorney general’s commission and all of the other stakeholders, such as the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, should be commended and supported.
The Detroit News