TAWAS CITY – “One person – one voice speaking out can make a difference,” Rebecca Schirrick of the Human Trafficking Community Group in West Branch stated while introducing the Michigan-made documentary film “Break the Chain” at Tawas United Methodist Church in Tawas City last Saturday.
Noting that human trafficking is modern-day slavery, her group seeks to raise awareness in the community that this activity is not limited to large urban areas, but is, in fact, happening in northeastern Michigan, and is widespread throughout the United States, Schirrick said. The organization’s brochure declares that “Michigan’s proximity to the Canadian border and waterways increases the likelihood of trafficking in the state.”
Schirrick also noted that the problem is so widespread that nurses and medical professionals are now required by the State of Michigan to receive at least one hour of continuing education units pertaining to human trafficking – learning to recognize suspected victims, asking pertinent questions to confirm their situations, and proper reporting procedures - in order to retain their health care licenses and certifications.
While sex trafficking comprises as much as 80 percent of the human trafficking industry, labor trafficking – using force, fraud, or coercion to recruit, harbor, transport, obtain, or employ a person for labor or services – is also prevalent, she said. While farm workers, restaurant workers, and domestic employees are often victims of labor trafficking, other victims can be found in factories, construction sites, fisheries, hotels and motels, and in janitorial services.
Included in the human trafficking facts listed in the group’s brochure, “Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. You can sell a package of cocaine once. You can sell a girl or boy over and over again.”
The documentary noted that human trafficking is so profitable that drug dealers are switching into that criminal enterprise. Guest speakers Mel and Twyla Baggett, founders of Night Angels, a faith-based Christian anti-trafficking group in Detroit, work primarily with victims of sex trafficking in their city. Emphasizing that prostitutes are victims, not criminals, they explained that street prostitutes are at the lowest level of the sex trafficking hierarchy, and as such, are “just a few steps away from death.” The Night Angels work to rescue victims through awareness, assistance, advocacy, and apostleship, according to Mel Baggett.
He said human traffickers prey on the vulnerable members of society to recruit them as victims. Abused and neglected children are especially attractive targets.
Twyla Baggett said, “Traffickers know what to look for, and how to attract them.”
Farmers, said Mel Baggett, often unknowingly participate in labor trafficking. Domestic labor is also an area of unwitting abuse.
Deborah Williams of the Human Trafficking Community Group shared the experience of one of her friends who very nearly lost a child to human traffickers. Her friend’s daughter went to use the restroom at one of the outlet centers at Birch Run while her mom waited in the car. Concerned that her daughter had not returned in a normal time, her mom left her car to find her daughter unconscious and being carried away by two women who had apparently drugged her. The women, not knowing that they were facing the child’s mother, tried to explain that their “friend” had too much to drink, and they were helping her to their car. The perpetrators dropped the girl and fled when mom identified herself and threatened to call 911.
According to officials, victims of human trafficking are at greater risk for serious health problems, including sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy resulting from rape or prostitution, physical abuse and torture, substance abuse and infectious diseases. Long-term psychological trauma, including depression, stress-related disorders, and panic attacks are also common, they said.
Officials also said the internet also plays a role in the recruitment of victims. Parents are cautioned to establish rules for internet usage, talk about the risks of meeting online “friends” in person, and track online activity through their internet provider.
Schirrick cautioned, “We have got to talk to our kids.” Twyla Baggett added, “If we overprotect our kids, we’re not doing them any favors.”
For further information, contact the Human Trafficking Community Group in West Branch by calling 989-387-2203, or follow them on Facebook/Human Trafficking Community Group. The Night Angels group also needs donations to support their work. They can be reached at 586-247-2027, on the internet at nightangelsdetroit.com, and via Facebook: nightangelsdetroit.