Thursday, January 22, 2015


If one thinks of art only as something beautiful, or something that creates pleasing patterns in paint, or sound, or graceful movements in dance, or a gripping movie, or a song one likes to sing - one might find it hard to imagine art addressing human trafficking.

But there is a long and distinguished history of works of art addressing social problems:  from Picasso’s Guernica addressing the savagery of the fascist war, to Billie Holiday’s performance of “Strange Fruit, addressing the horrors of lynching”, to the movie “Hearts and Minds” that moved many to reconsider the Vietnam War - there is a consistent history of works that address issues just as horrific and important as trafficking.

And beyond the task of making people aware of these problems, and getting them to be conscious of the many complex dimensions to them, there is another aspect to consider.  Art helps people heal, and overcome their problems, it creates empathy – even the empathy to understand what drives people to dehumanize and exploit others, the empathy needed to understand who does harm and why.  In the case of trafficking, it helps get survivors stories out to the world, in ways that protect them from retaliation, and that lets the world know how they see themselves and the situations they have overcome – no matter whether sex trafficking or labor trafficking.

And so, it is not so strange to look for art that plays these roles in relation to the complex set of issues related to labor and sex trafficking.  And sure enough, there are more and more artists turning their attention to this issue.

Discussions are beginning about forming a national organization of artists, art and cultural groups, and community art organizations that want to play a role in ending human trafficking.  Toward that end, I have been collecting references to already existing works in a wide range of artistic media that relate to opposing trafficking and empowering survivors of trafficking – both labor and sex trafficking.  Of course, there are more coming, and we need to keep an eye on crowd-sourced projects looking for funding, local exhibitions, educational programs in schools – there are more and more ways art is getting into the mix.

But for now, just to get started, here are links to several trailers or reviews of films, reviews or websites relation to musicals and operas, reviews or websites with reproductions of photographs, paintings, and other forms of visual art, and reviews of theater productions.  Contact information is included when known.

Here is a portrait of an initial sample (for more examples go to Learn More on the left side of the page):

The Men of Atalissa – documentary 





 I would welcome any suggestions of works to be added to the list, especially in the areas of poetry, fiction, and would also welcome references to articles and reviews about works that relate to human trafficking.  I am a photographer and music composer, and have taught courses on music composition, photography, and art and social change at MSU for several decades.  I am co-director of the MSU Consortium Against Human Trafficking, and am currently working on a number of pieces that incorporates photography and music to address a range of issues connected to human trafficking.  I am also working to support artists, and connect artists, working to stop trafficking.  Please send suggestion to:   Mark Valentine Sullivan (

Mark V. Sullivan is associate professor and director of the computer music studios at the Michigan State University College of Music.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery in which people profit from the control and exploitation of others.  It is a criminal act that includes being forced to labor with inadequate or no pay or forced into prostitution.  It can include the movement across borders but it can also happen in one place without any movement at all.  It is a crime that affects people all over the world, including the state of Michigan.

Officially, the US government defines human trafficking as the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

  •  Force  can include: physical violence including beatings and sexual assault; rape or gang rape; torture; confinement or other similar practices
  • Fraud  can include: making false promises; withholding wages and documents; lying about working conditions or the promise of a better life; blackmail and extortion.
  • Coercion  can include; threats of serious harm to victim or others; intimidation; humiliation; emotional abuse; controlling daily life; and modeling abusive behavior and the like.

There are 2 primary forms of human trafficking.
  1.   Labor trafficking refers to being trafficked into an exploitative work situation or forced to labor. Forced labor practices include but are not limited to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, or slavery.  Victims of labor trafficking frequently are forced into domestic service, factory or agricultural work or into dangerous industries.  The practice includes the recruitment of child soldiers.   
  2.   Sex trafficking refers to the exploitation of a person for sex or sexual acts for money or anything of value using force, fraud or coercion or any person induced to perform sex acts who is under the age of 18.

Often, Americans think of human trafficking as a practice that happens to foreigners in other countries around the world.  YES, human trafficking is an international problem.  But human trafficking also happens here in the United States to US citizens in every state.  It happens in Michigan.

Why Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a business. There are low start-up costs, minimal risks, high profits and a large demand. A human being can be sold many times over, making it one of the most profitable and growing criminal enterprises in the world today. 

Who are the Victims?

Human trafficking victims come from diverse backgrounds and span all demographics.  Victims are of all ages, races, genders, ethnicities, religions, cultures, citizenship, nationality, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.  What they have in common is their vulnerability.  Women and girls are disproportionately the victims of human trafficking because they are disproportionately affected by poverty, lack of access to education, chronic unemployment and lack of economic opportunities. Runaway and homeless youth and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, war or conflict or social discrimination are frequently targeted by traffickers. 

Take Action: To learn more about human trafficking in the state of Michigan visit the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force .

Carrie Booth Walling is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Albion College where she teaches courses on international politics and human rights.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Welcome to the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) new BLOG, Voices of Change. My understanding is that every one-half of a second a new blog is created in the world which means in excess of millions. This blog is intended to share opinions, interests, and experiences about the myriad of issues surrounding the anti-trafficking movement written by those who have something they just want to share. It could take the form of dissemination of breaking news, a passionate point of view, meaning for the writer conversing as though in a chat, navigating between different areas using links, commenting on subjects that are not commonly addressed that may spur alternative discussion, and the willingness to contemplate different and non-traditional ways of working in a field full of questions with few available answers.

MHTTF has three ways that we disseminate information over the Internet. The function of our Task ForceWeb Page is to share about information on the law, mission, membership, and resources.  Our Facebook page exhibits continuous coverage and updates on news releases globally, nationally, and within Michigan.  Voices of Change will be our third social media format that speaks to the heart in examining, seeking and giving opinions, and airing clarifying questions to allow for meaningful discourse not always addressed. 

I have the privilege of not only writing a welcome for this blog but the first official posting.  So read below, I want to dedicate my first post to those of you who are working in anti-trafficking.  It is to you about you and to all who work in any way in the anti-trafficking movement.

Jane P. White is the Director and Founder of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University.


I believe in learning lessons that are daily reminders of something that either one has not contemplated or a lesson that has been ignored and needs to be re-framed, re-examined and put to use. At a presentation a few days ago I was speaking to a group of people, men, women, and even children, who actually came out on a Saturday evening to discuss what trafficking would mean in their world.  As I spoke about vulnerabilities, I observed a woman and her adolescent daughter sitting next to each other.  They simultaneously reached out to one another, raised their hands ever so slightly, and then held on …ever so comfortably. This happened three other times and the message was strong. Safety.

My thoughts almost instantly were about how safety is a fundamental and persistent need for re-assurance that victims have both a physical and psychological need to continually be shown, talked to about, and be reassured of this for a long time.

As I watched the mother and daughter, I knew right away that there was another lesson to be learned. 

I immediately started to think about those working in anti- trafficking.  A field where human trafficking is ill defined and thought to exist only in a third World County, where support systems are often non-existent and unavailable, and where public attitudes confuse the victim with the offender.  

I thought of the workers and volunteers who inwardly share an extraordinary compassionate point of view.  Yet, their depth of compassion makes them more vulnerable to emotional exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and even isolation from those around you not in this particular field.   I was reminded again that those of us working in this field also need a safety net.  We need access to a strong support system and need to be reminded about such things as vicarious trauma and the importance of taking time for ourselves.

Vicarious trauma means that there needs to be attention to the trauma triggers that each of us share from situations and stories that even those closest to us will never know or maybe even hear. We know that the vivid stories we hear are recessed somewhere in our subconscious brain.  Yet, we usually don’t take time to think about how they may be affecting our lives and the self-care practices we should be doing.

We need to revisit those self-care practices that we probably have neglected and discarded.  I call those “I USED TO…” practices, probably borrowed from a police counselor who would ask the questions, “What do you like to do, outside of work?”  It is easy enough to list activities such as exercise, read, meditate, self-reflection, journal, golf, fish, etc.   The problem occurs when asked when was the last time you actually did these on a regular basis?  Most of our responses would be “I used to….” Those activities, which had such meaning at one time maybe, are parked in the back place. No longer in the ballpark, you know, the place where we used to love to go and pay attention to a GAME.
As organizations we need to ask ourselves if we are providing a support system for anti-trafficking workers and volunteers.  Are we offering continuing education?  Are we initiating opportunities for collaboration, because we are more powerful when we work together as a team?   Are we documenting best practices and putting them into writing?  Do we have strategies in place that focus on the well being of our workers and volunteers? Including free counseling, because “no one gets to take a vacation from the reality of working in the human trafficking field.”  Sometimes we just need someone to listen to help convince us that the whole world is not one of really horrible things happening everywhere.  

For myself, this learning lesson caught this time around.  I want to keep it alive on the agenda of the Task Force and find ways to seek out relief and support for those in the movement for the “long haul”. I will remember the visualization of the hands joining together and the unspoken words implying safety.  

Jane P. White is the Director and Founder of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University.