Raising awareness for human trafficking

The Marquette Branch of the American Association of University of Women hosted a meeting to raise awareness about human trafficking Thursday night.

There have been reports of human trafficking in the Upper Peninsula, including Ironwood.  One of the reason the U.P. has seen reports is because it’s so isolated.

Michigan as a whole is one of the top five states in the country where trafficking is exploding.  Michigan borders Canada and has a large tourism industry, two factors that increase the abundance of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery,” Sexual Assault Advocate at the Women’s Center Kelly Laakso said.  “We tell people that slavery never really ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, it really just transformed itself moving on into today.”

“Human trafficking is basically someone–a trafficker–exploiting somebody else–the victim– for some sort of service or some sort of benefit.  Whether that’s labor trafficking or as popular culture would have popularized it, sex trafficking,” Youth Advocate for Harbor House Amy Kordus said.

One of the first steps to prevent human trafficking is to learn to identify the victim.

“Looking for (for example) if someone doesn’t have access to their identification, if they don’t have possessions that are in their control, if they’re accompanied by somebody who insists on telling a story all the time, if they’re telling you a story all the time that they’re a student or that they’re here on a visa or a tourist and there’s a lot of inconsistencies in their stories,” Kordus said.

“If you’re falling under the myths and misconceptions that it’s not here, then we don’t know to look for the victims of trafficking,” Laakso said.  “And really, stopping human trafficking starts with victim identification.”

“A lot times, these crimes are happening behind more obvious crimes you might think about,” Kordus said.  “If there’s a situation with zone ordinance or kidnapping or all sorts of criminal charges that people are more familiar with, there could be elements of human trafficking.”

“If there’s more of an awareness in the community we can push behind and look behind those crimes to look and see what’s happening.”

Kordus and Laakso say if people see anything suspicious or think they see a victim of human trafficking, people should call their local law enforcement agency.

For more information on human trafficking awareness, visit the Women’s Center website, or the Office of the Administration for Children & Families website.