Sen. Emmons, national advocacy group raise awareness about human trafficking

LANSING — Sen. Judy Emmons hosted a Human Trafficking 101 Forum on Thursday to raise awareness about human trafficking in Michigan and discuss state, national and international efforts to crack down on the crime.

The forum was presented by the Polaris Project, a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

“Human Trafficking is the second-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry in the world – and it’s happening right here in Michigan,” said Emmons, R-Sheridan. “Our border with Canada increases the likelihood of trafficking in our state. In fact, it is estimated that in Michigan up to 150 girls under the age of 18 are sold into the world of sex trafficking every month. This isn’t only about ending this slavery overseas; it’s about freeing young girls and boys in Michigan hometowns like Grand Rapids, Detroit and Battle Creek.”

The forum focused on education and action, including outlining what “human trafficking” is, how to identify the signs and discussing actions that can be taken to stop the crime.

“Human trafficking does not require moving a victim from one location to another. It is the victim’s exploitation that defines the crime,” said Mary Ellison, Polaris Project director of policy. “At its most basic level, trafficking is committed when someone compels another to provide labor or a service against their will. Any child under the age of 18 who is provided for commercial sex acts is a child trafficking victim.”

The presenters noted that traffickers use various techniques to control and enslave their victims, including starvation, rape, beatings, confinement and threats against the victim or their families. The techniques result in isolation, fear and shame in victims, making them unlikely to understand they are victims and self-report the crime.

“This global criminal enterprise devastates the lives of thousands of women and children every year,” said Emmons, chair of the Senate Families, Seniors and Human Services Committee. “Alarmingly, 80 percent of human trafficking victims are exploited sexually, and every 30 seconds a child becomes a victim of sexual exploitation. As a mother and grandmother, I have made it my personal mission to ensure we do all we can to end this deplorable crime.”

Emmons noted that Senate Bills 215-216 have been introduced to strengthen the punishment for soliciting a 16- or 17-year-old to commit prostitution, making the crime a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of not more than $10,000 or both.

“These measures to target the individuals who solicit under-age prostitutes will be part of a comprehensive crackdown on human trafficking in Michigan,” Emmons said. “Michigan has the chance to take a leading role in protecting our children, but ending this modern-day slavery begins with ensuring that every resident realizes that human trafficking is happening here and teaching them about how to identify the crime.

“I appreciate the Polaris Project for their outstanding efforts to fight this crime and thank them for coming to Michigan to help raise awareness about human trafficking in our state.”

Emmons said she is planning to host additional educational events this spring to promote awareness, gather information from experts and advocacy groups and discuss solutions.

Information about the Polaris Project is available on their website at www.polarisproject.org.

“The Polaris Project is about hope,” Ellison said. “We are trying to give trafficking victims a real sense of hope.”

For more resources, information, referrals or to report a potential case of human trafficking, residents are asked to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline toll-free, 24-hours-a-day at 1-888-3737-888.

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Editor’s Note: Print-quality photographs are available by visiting Sen. Emmons’ website at www.SenatorJudyEmmons.com. Click on “Photowire.”

Video and audio comments by Sen. Emmons are also available on the website under “Podcasts” and “Video.”