Thursday, April 30, 2015


We all want good things for our children, families, friends, and ourselves.  American Indian Alaska Native (AIAN) individuals share these sentiments as well.  Unfortunately, sentiment only goes so far when it comes to living a life of quality and purpose for many people.

American Indian Alaska Native (AIAN) persons are at a higher risk of victimization in the United States and Canada compared to all other races:

  • In comparison to other racial and ethnic groups, AIAN women remain the most frequent victims of physical and sexual violence in the United States and Canada.
  • American Indians experience violence at a rate of more than twice that of all races in the United States and Canada.
  • Studies indicate that AIAN youth experience bullying at rates higher than youth of other races.
  • The risk factors for trafficking of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Pacific Islanders are the same for victims of trafficking in other parts of the world.  Risk factors include poverty, poor education, inequality and the movement from rural to urban environments.  Compounding these issues in the United States are the disproportionate number of American Indian Alaska Natives (AIAN) in the foster care system and an increased number of AIAN women who are victims of violent crimes, such as domestic abuse, rape, and generational violence.
  • American Indian, Alaska Native and Pacific Islanders have a heightened risk for being victims of sex trafficking.
  • Decades of official government exploitation have created a psychological, socio-economic and legal dynamic in American Indian communities that facilitates the sexual exploitation of AIAN women and girls at the hands of private actors.  Unfortunately, current anti-trafficking efforts have been implemented in a way that overlooks this legacy and perpetuates the factors that make AIAN women vulnerable to sex trafficking.
  • Aboriginal women are disproportionately represented among prostituted women.
  • There are 225 unsolved cases of either missing or murdered Aboriginal females in Canada, a disproportionately high number among racial groups in the country. 

As alarming as these findings are, there are many AIAN programs to assist victims and train professionals working with AIAN people to create a healthy and balanced lifestyle for victims and future generations.  These programs include culturally relevant counseling and traditional healing services.

Take Action: If you want to know more, learn how you may help these causes or seek assistance, comprehensive information and research are available at the following sites:
·       Shattered Hearts Report (Minnesota) 
·       Garden of Truth Report (Minnesota)
·       National Online Resource Center on Violence AgainstWomen
·       Departmentof Justice 
·       OLWEUS BullyingPrevention 
·       Administration for Children and Families 
·       Columbia Human Rights Law Review 
·       Royal Canadian Mounted PoliceReport 
·       Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) database of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls 

In addition, you will find specific resources for AmericanIndians/Alaska Natives in Michigan.

Stacey Tadgerson is director of Native American Affairs for the Michigan Department of Human Services.  She holds a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Michigan University.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I never saw Philadelphia Story but when I adopted my daughter Lidia my mother would sing, “Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia? Lydia The Tattooed Lad.  She has eyes that folks adore so, and a torso even more so.  Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia? Lydia The Tattooed Lady. 

I don’t even know the rest of the words, but for some reason that stuck and I would belt out those lyrics randomly and my baby girl would smile, run to me and give me a hug.  Good times.  Then she became a tween.  Parents who had or currently have tweens - I just heard you exhale.  You know what I mean - moods that are subject to change without notice and eyes that roll at you sometimes just because you entered the room.  Do I hear an “amen”?!  Now when I sing the song no one runs and hugs me.  Instead I hear a voice from another room yell “That’s just stupid!”  It wasn’t very long ago that she thought “stupid” was a bad word.  *sigh*

Still, she is my baby girl.  And still, it is simply impossible to love her more than I do – even on the days I don’t necessarily enjoy being around her.  As an adoptive parent I am thankful every single day for the selfless sacrifice that a birth mother makes to hand her child to a stranger in the hope that the baby will have the life that she dreams for her, the life that for a number of reasons she can’t provide.  For the last few years I have been saying this gratitude out loud.  I think it is in the hope that if I say it often enough and loud enough it will actually be true.  It probably is…I have to believe it is.  The alternative is just too horrible.

My daughter is a Mayan Indian from Guatemala.  After a successful domestic adoption and two failed ones I decided to adopt internationally.  I researched my options and selected Guatemala.  At the time it was the only country that utilized foster homes instead of orphanages.  I knew that if a baby was able to emotionally bond they would be more likely to be able to transfer that bond.  That was important to me.   I wanted to do everything I could to avoid reactive attachment and all of the other scary things that they tell you about when adopting.  But what I later learned was far more terrifying than any attachment issues. 

In 2012 I read an article that stated that Guatemala's adoption system had been the most corrupt in the world for over a decade. News organizations reported in detail, repeatedly, that the country's babies were systematically being bought, coerced, or even kidnapped away from families that wanted to raise them.  I used a legitimate adoption agency, I read the social worker’s report on the birth mother, and I still have contact with the foster mother.  How could this be true?  It couldn’t be true for my Lidia…could it?

I wish I knew then what I know now.  And I wish that I could “unknow” that in every human endeavor, there is a chance for abuse.  For every legitimate agency and every mother in Guatemala who desperately wants a better life for their baby, there are also nefarious practices and families are deceived or coerced into giving their children up for adoption.  Traffickers target the most vulnerable – children, those living in poverty, refugees and migrants – because they are often desperate.  In Guatemala around 60 percent of children live in poverty. Criminals know that parents who are poor will have less resources and money to search for their missing children.  In a related story, just this month the news reported that a 12-year-old boy was trafficked to England to harvest his organs.

Take Action: It is important to know that trafficking exists.  It is important to know that there are those who are willing to hurt even babies and children for a profit.  It is even more important to do something.  Not sure what?  The U.S.Department of State has 20 suggestions to get you started on your path to helping end modern day slavery:   If those suggestions don’t work for you then give the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force a call and ask what you can do.  But do something.  Because I have to believe that the only thing worse than imagining that your child was taken from a mother who wanted to raise her is actually being that mother.

Jennifer Fopma, LMSW, is the Executive Director of S.A.F.E. Place, a multi-county domestic violence service organization and a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


We all have a story; mine is a story of how I moved beyond my own disastrous background to serving those who have been trafficked. 
How did a nice young Jewish girl, from the suburbs end up in a place like this? Well to tell you the truth it was not an easy task. Feeling like a misfit who wanted to blend in with everyone, I worked very hard at being noticed and looked for love…. in all the wrong places.

Early on, I felt like I was living an out of sync life, filled with guilt, shame, and no value.  My feeling of alienation was intensified when in the mid 50’s I became one of three Jews in elementary school – once again different. From all appearances I came from a perfect family, but my father and mother were both alcoholics. I started my drinking career early. When I was six I became drunk from wine I found in the basement bar and became a serious drinker in Junior High School.  By 18, I had my first “puff” of a joint. During high school I made myself available to the boys…looking for someone to really love me.

Back then if you didn’t get married by the time you were 20, you were going to be an “old maid.”  So I married at 19, divorced by 25 with a 3-year-old son!  That’s when I found the love of my life – heroin.  It helped me to escape my unhappy marriage, the guilt and shame of my behavior, my family background, and all the pain and frustration of my life.  In reality I found a substance that was controlling and ruining my life. For 10 years I was a woman who would sell her soul for “a fix.” 

But I did find a way out!  I am living proof that women can move beyond horrific events in their lives, can learn to be whole, empowered and lead a successful life. I have been in recovery from addiction for 27 years and also have earned a Master’s Degree in Education, become an Entrepreneur and now a successful Realtor.

When you overcome a horrific start in life, it is only natural to try to look for ways that you can help other women who have found themselves in dire situations.

Through my studies, I learned about a horrific problem in Michigan, the USA and the World.  HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND SLAVERY STILL EXISTS.  I also learned that there were no safe houses in Southeastern Michigan, specifically for women over 18 years of age that are victims of sexual exploitation due to human trafficking.  In 2012, the Polaris Project estimated that only 678 beds were specified nationally for human trafficking survivors, with 2173 beds available if they are placed in non-specific shelters.

At this point, I realized I had to do something.  I decided to establish a home for women who had been trafficked. A place where women can learn to feel whole, empowered and live independent lives of their own choosing.  A place called Sanctum House.

The mission and vision of Sanctum House is to provide a sanctuary for women survivors of sex trafficking and to empower them with life skills to achieve a sustainable and independent lifestyle.

I am just one woman who had a notion, took action and it is now in motion. We hope to open by the end of this year.

Take Action:  Be aware of what is happening in your community to fight human trafficking and volunteer to help and/or donate money.  Visit Sanctum’s House website and volunteer to help.

Edee Franklin is Executive Director and Founder of Sanctum House, Associate Broker at Max Broock Realtors-Birmingham and a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


In last week’s blog, There Is such A Thing as Bad Publicity (see below), I wrote about the media’s use of language that often leads to misconceptions about human trafficking.  This week I continue this focus by looking at the media outlets common use of sensationalized text, because in our society sex sells. It is no surprise that sex trafficking cases triumphs labor trafficking cases in the media, since the appeal of sex is much stronger.

A great example that demonstrates the detrimental effects on sensationalizing human trafficking is the Super Bowl. A very common misconception is that the Super Bowl is the biggest event for human trafficking in the United States; and that is something that is widely acknowledged by not only the media but also certain professionals and advocates. It seems reasonable to claim that the Super Bowl is the biggest hot spot for trafficking because hypothetically it makes sense. The idea that thousands of football fans, mostly men, are traveling to a city for the biggest sporting event of the year with a lot of money to spend, that naturally, they will seek out strip clubs and prostitutes. This then causes pimps and johns to supply more trafficked women and girls to meet the growing demand. However, that is not the case. In reality, there is NO single largest incident of human trafficking because each year there is no evidence or statistics to support such claims. Nonetheless, news outlets try to sensationalize sex trafficking but the problem is so dire that there is no need for it to be amplified. Even though the Super Bowl brings a lot of attention to the issue of human trafficking, it does so at the expense of the truth. The media attention hinders the credibility of the campaign against human trafficking and limits long-term resources necessary for victims to recover.

The primary way individuals and communities will be able to combat trafficking is if they are informed and educated about its realities. It is important to understand that language and imagery play an influential role in perpetuating misconceptions. The media’s selection of language is strategic and helps create a misinformed public, which prevents necessary efforts from being examined.

Take Action:  One of the reasons that I like being a part of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) is because the MHTTF Director and the task force members want to focus on truth and not sensationalism.  I encourage the readers of this blog to continue addressing these common misconceptions that are often perpetuated by the media and to inform others of the reality of human trafficking.  Accurate information enables us to effectively use our resources, time and effort to help all victims of human trafficking.

Sona Movsisyan is a senior at Michigan State University, studying in the James Madison College. Her aspiration is to be a human rights attorney and an advocate for victims of human trafficking. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015


We have all heard of the phrase, ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity,’ which is accredited to Phineas T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner. However, the idea that publicity can do no harm is very disputable.

During my immigration policy senior seminar last semester, I researched four common human trafficking misconceptions to analyze how the media perpetuated these false beliefs. The four common misconceptions I focused on for Michigan included that human trafficking only:
1.   Involves sex trafficking,
2.   Happens across international borders and not in the U.S.,
3.   Involves powerful gangster or strangers that randomly kidnap individuals, and
4.   Affects women and not men.

As a result of my research, I discovered that media coverage of human trafficking contradicts Barnum’s phrase, because in reality there is such a thing as bad publicity, which leads to common misconceptions.
In today’s post and then again next week, I will be sharing some of the information I learned about how media coverage can be misleading about human trafficking.

Journalists use several techniques to perpetuate common misconceptions and to shape public opinion. A necessary goal for media outlets is to receive high ratings and make a profit, even if the information they are relaying is not completely accurate. Contrary to academic researchers who write for very specialized journals with a professional audience, news writers adjust their work to capture the attention of the general public.

Newspaper journalists have the capacity to shape social agendas because the public uses news stories to attach meaning to certain events and groups of people. This is largely accomplished through the language that is used because reporters are able to steer the readers in whichever direction they wish and encourage the sort of reaction they want. Certain patterns I noticed throughout my research were the:
·      Us verses them dichotomy, which illustrates how reporters categorize victims as either criminals or innocent targets;
·      Willing and unwilling victims;
·      Illegal verses undocumented or irregular migrants;
·      Strangers verses familiar traffickers; and
·      Sensationalized text (more on this next week).

Take Action:  In this fast paced world most of us quickly read an article or listen to a reporter without analyzing the language and questioning what is being said.  As individuals who are concerned that the publicly receives the correct information about human trafficking, let’s continue to pay close attention to the language media uses and point out to others how it is often misleading.

Next weeks topic will be Sensationalizing Sex

Sona Movsisyan is a senior at Michigan State University, studying in the James Madison College. Her aspiration is to be a human rights attorney and an advocate for victims of human trafficking.