Thursday, June 25, 2015

No Excuses - We Now Know Better!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not some sheltered upper middleclass woman that was protected from the evils of this world. I practiced medicine for decades, traveled and provided medical care in some of the poorest areas in the world but it was my experience as the Medical Director of the Juvenile Justice Department during the 1980s-1990s in Michigan where I saw ignorant miscarriage of justice in young victims-the victims of human trafficking. In the 1980s we had just started learning about HIV and AIDS. The data was pretty plain at that time that male-male sex and IV drug use were the two main high-risk behaviors. It soon became clear to me that many females were soon going to be at risk even if they were not using IV drugs.

Around 1987 a 16 year old female was remanded to a correctional facility for committing a “crime” when the health clinic staff found her to be infected with three sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). She was tested subsequently for HIV and found to be positive for her 4th STD. This child now had a death sentence as no treatment was available at that time. Now, the real story of her “crime” – prostitution – was ascertained!  Her story was sad but not uncommon then or even now. Her “boyfriend” - who was twice her age and bi-sexual - had trafficked her and was the likely source of her HIV infection. This story began to be repeated as we saw other HIV positive females. They were young and always with older “boyfriends” and some young males were being trafficked as well.

But it’s 2015 and we know better and do better now than we did in 1987. Those under 18 years of age are juveniles, children, and they are understood to be victims. Right? So, we don’t lock them up in jails and prisons anymore. I hope. They do not have felonies and misdemeanors relating to being trafficked put on their records forever anymore. Right? They get multi-modality and specialized treatment for their health, mental health, and addiction issues by trained professionals. They get individualized education, employment training, appropriate housing, and mentoring services. Yes? Clearly, we have made some progress in the last 30 years. Recent Michigan legislation is having an immediate impact on what is happening in the courts.  Courts are now viewing these children as victims even though the youth do not see themselves as being victimized. This is a great accomplishment but more needs to be done.

We need more effort in the prevention arena and that must be done at home and reinforced in the schools. Many parents need help in effective parenting and information about the easy access predators have to their children through internet sites like “backpage”. Sadly though, many of the youngest victims are trafficked by a relative. While we say that any youth is at risk, the data is clear that runaways, foster care youth and gay/ bi-sexual and transgender youth are more at risk. All the factors that may lead to the higher risk of LGBT youth are not clear to me but many are without stable housing and more easily preyed upon.

The laws in Michigan are being quickly updated and police officers are being trained but much remains to be done in prevention, detection (especially by healthcare personnel) and the treatment of our traumatized youth. My personal crusade is that all health care providers be trained to recognize the victims! No excuses for missing the victims that come into ERs and clinics. I am working to develop a screening tool that may “flag” likely trafficking victims when they seek health care. No excuses! We know that we need more safe houses for victims. The perpetrators are ruthless and have been known to track down their “property” across the country. No excuses! As we become better at detection, we need appropriate supportive services in place to ensure healing for victims.

Take Action: During your next health care visit ask your health care professional to post the national human trafficking resource hotline number in the office (1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BEFREE (233733). Invite them to attend a human trafficking training geared toward health professionals so that they can learn the warning signs of trafficking.  

Dr. LaClaire Bouknight M.D., is the director of Eaglevision Ministries and the International Dreamcenter of Lansing. She heads the Capital Area Anti-Trafficking Alliance, a part of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. Dr. Bouknight who practiced for several years adult and adolescent Medicine for the Juvenile Justice system for the State of Michigan, is certificed in Addiction Medicine and in the last ten years has administered employment services for youth /adults with barriers to employment.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Silent Tears

Silent Tears
By Amanda Smith

shh...listen don’t you hear
I’m crying but they are silent tears
I’m crying on the inside so you can’t see
All the pain running through me
I cry for you I cry for me
I cry for the times I can’t
so if you listen you may hear my silent tears.

In a Charleston church almost 200 years old, destroyed often in years of hatred, where nine African-Americans at a prayer meeting, secure in their faith and in refuge, died in a violent act of racism by a young white man so full of hatred and bias for those who actually welcomed him that evening to join with them…  right now, today, I can only react with grief for all of us.  Tomorrow, what then? 

Jane P. White is the Director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.  She served as a member of a team of law enforcement trainers in developing and working with police agencies in “Recognizing and Investigating Hate Crimes” with racism listed as the largest number of reported cases.  These numbers still continue.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Human trafficking is not just an issue faced outside of the USA.  Unfortunately, it is a real issue in our own communities.
Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project began shortly after professional staff at Wedgwood Christian Services helplessly watched as a child they knew and had cared for was trafficked and exploited in Grand Rapids. Despite all our efforts to find her and offer aid, we were unable and ill equipped at the time to address her needs and trauma.

Unwilling to have this happen again, we began to research the issue of Sex Trafficking, both globally and locally, while developing relationships with anti-trafficking organizations and law enforcement agencies in West Michigan, and from there, Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project began.

To address this growing trend in West Michigan, Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project was developed to both aid victims and to educate the community on human trafficking. Providing awareness and education around this topic is one of the many steps necessary to ending sexual exploitation of children.   

Our public awareness strategy has 3 components:

1.  We educate social workers, and educators, and members of the judicial system (judges, probation officers, police officers, etc.), on this issue. We see these public servants as first responders.

2.   We empower our youth to recognize sex trafficking in their community through education on this issue, thus reducing their risk for victimization. We also focus on educating high-risk populations through special groups.

3.  We invite churches, local social groups, organizations, institutions of higher learning, and businesses to raise awareness and funding for anti-sex trafficking programming and we collaborate with these groups to find solutions for our community.

Take Action: Help us Stop This Traffic in one of the following ways:

1. To report a trafficking victim, please call the National Trafficking In Persons Hotline at: 
888-373-7888 or Text "Be Free" to 233733

2. For more resources and information on this topic, or to offer your support, visit the Manasseh Project

3. To request a speaker/workshop or to volunteer in the Grand Rapids area, please contact: Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project Coordinator Nikeidra DeBarge

Nikedira DeBarge is the Project Coordinator for the Manasseh Project of Wedgwood Christian Services in Grand Rapids.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Yes, I'm Interested...

Handing me the newspaper, my husband said, “You are going to want to read this.”  The article was about the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF).  He was right – I was interested.
I had just completed a three-year teaching commitment at a university in Africa. Now back in Michigan, I was reordering my life and looking for a way that I could be involved in my community.

I always have had a passion for women’s issues and after working in Asia and Africa it only intensified.  During my time in developing countries, I often observed women being treated as second-class citizens.   For example, I found women reticent in voicing their opinions because they knew they wouldn’t be valued.  I learned that it was common for people to turn their heads when a husband was beating his wife in public because it was no one else’s business.  Students shared with me that female teachers looking for jobs would often have to earn their positions by first having sexual relationships with the principal.  The list goes on, but needless to say in many of these communities the devaluing of a woman began at her birth and ended only at her death.

I suppose that none of this should surprise me.  In many developing countries, where most people live in poverty, the boy child is often viewed as the most valuable resource for the family. Investing in the boy child is seen as the best use of money and time, because more than likely the girl will one day marry and leave the family, while the boy stays.  So boys often receive special treatment, while the girl is seen as a commodity to be used.   

Due to this mindset, girls in my estimation were frequently vulnerable to human trafficking by both fathers and mothers.  When a family needed money or when a girl wanted money to be able to go to school, a parent would often tell the girl, “It is time for you to get into this man’s business” (a euphemism for prostitution).  Having few options, the girl would sell her body to earn money or would find a “sugar daddy,” with whom she would live based on the promise that he would send her to school.  In some communities, even the school system wasn’t a safe place for girls; a male teacher could tell a female student if you want a good grade you have to “love me.”   Girls often were used as commodities to earn money with little thought of the negative effect it had on them and the community.

“Yes,” I said to my husband, “I am interested in the article about MHTTF, and I am going to contact them to see if I can get involved.” 

I joined MHTTF as a concerned citizen motivated by what I had observed happening around the world.  However, as I have served on the task force my thinking has expanded. I now understand that labor trafficking is just as important of an issue as sexual trafficking and boys also are victims.

TAKE ACTION:  Even though I am not directly affiliated with an agency fighting human trafficking, as an individual there are still things that I can do to help make a difference.  The good news is so can you!   I encourage you to contact the task force and find a way that you can get involved at either the local or state level.

Vicki Kloosterhouse, Ph.D. is a concerned citizen who lives in Oakland County.