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.