County and Local Officials Learn About Human Trafficking Prevention

County and Local Officials Learn About Human Trafficking Prevention

(Sam Gurwin, Sept. 5, 2018)

Farmington Hills, MI- Theresa Rich & Samantha Steckloff of the Farmington HIlls City Council were sparked to educate the public on the local level on the challenge of stopping Human Trafficking after they attended a panel on the subject and noticed a lack of strategy on the local level. Theresa says they wanted “to have a conversation about what is Human Trafficking and as local electeds what’s in our control to do about it”

About 12 Representatives from various Oakland County Districts along with the general public showed up to this event. The main question of the night was: What is the role of local elected officials?

By the end of the meeting it seemed that education, things to do as an individual, and things to do as groups were the answers. “Dialogue is power,” Rich said.

Lt. Wendy Reys of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department was a featured speaker. “This crime is a fight against bad public knowledge of what human trafficking is, and even victims thinking they are doing something wrong,” Reys said.

Human Trafficking is defined as “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

From labor slaves to sex slaves, the supply chain runs that supports these crimes are just as complicit as the handlers. “These crimes,” Reys said, “happen anywhere from run-down hotels to even the possibility of a suburban neighboring homes.”

The hurdles continue with these crimes usually not reported to the police, even by the victims. Brainwashing of the victims into believing the police will arrest them is a huge barrier to people coming forward.

Myths abound around the crime of trafficking, and these myths are hurdles to enforcement.

For example, malls are not typically the places were kidnappings happen, yet rumors of shopping center snatchings and suspicions of strangers spread like wildfire. Kids may get snatched from public places, but often it happens more slowly with someone they know or someone who gets to know them and builds their trust. There is also danger in walking alone or in groups without adults.

Even still, kidnapping and even adult abduction does happen in the US and in other countries.

County Commissioner Janet Jackson serves on the Oakland County Human Trafficking Task Force.

She said that as a youth in Detroit and Southfield she saw people victimized, and now as a County Commissioner she wants to do what she can to stop it.  In 2013 she and other commissioners created the Human Trafficking Task Force to research and address the problem.

Jackson stated that people may not realize that tourist events, conferences, and hotels in general can be centers for human trafficking.  Part of the Task Force’s roles is educating hotel workers to spot the signs of trafficking, and to report it.

She also said there needs to be more outreach and support for those affected, and for Oakland County and other local law enforcement agencies to be clear that victims are not treated like criminals when forced to act against their will.

“This crime happens right under our noses,” Jackson said.  “People need to be more aware.”

Edee Franklin of Sanctum House talked about the shortage of support for victims of human trafficking.  Sanctum House is a group home that helps women transition from being victims to being empowered.  Franklin said that before Sanctum House there were less than 20 spaces available for women recovering from trafficking.  This trama-focused home helps get the mostly woman victims back on their feet through job training, family re-unifaction, drug addiction treatment and related help. Soon 56 women will be graduating from the program.

Rich and Steckloff talked about efforts made in Houston Texas where mounted information cards in multiple languages at places like jails, hotels and restaurants let workers know that there is help.

After the discussion, officials broke into groups and came up with ideas for how to help.  Some ideas included forming local task forces, identifying safe businesses and safe homes where victims can turn, and using social media to identify criminals and suspects, as well as to spread the word about resources.

The idea that “compliance is not consent,” was a theme of the evening.  “They stay because of fear and violence,” Jackson said. “Changing the public perception of the victims can help people come forward.”

For more information about the Human Trafficking Task Force, and other resources, visit https://www.oakgov.com/health/humantrafficking

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