Thursday, July 23, 2015

At A Crossroads: The Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force

The Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force is at a crossroads today. It's been in existence, formally meeting as a group, for almost three years.  In that time, we've developed a five year plan with a vision, milestones and strategic priorities. We've established a dues structure. We have committees and officers, a facebook page and a number of activities in place. We meet monthly and we have quarterly educational programs open to the general public. We've had enough discussions to know what we agree on and where we still have differences of opinion.

But there are two main challenges right now, probably inter-related: 1) sustaining our energy level to maintain and even ramp up that work; and 2) getting resources in place for victims and for sustaining the work of the task force.

Fortunately, several individuals and/or organizations have really stepped up and moved ahead with innovative ideas. One member of the Task Force, who is also a court referee, has worked with a local judge to form a Girls Court for adolescents at high risk of trafficking. They've figured out the procedures, developed partnerships, have found some resources and are really making progress. It is the first such court in Michigan.

Another founding member of the Task Force, and a member of several statewide groups has led an amazing public awareness and community outreach committee, reaching thousands of people over the past three years. The committee brings in national, state and local speakers and has focused on key target audiences from medical professionals to schools and law enforcement. 

The University of Michigan-Flint's Women's Center has really embraced trafficking issues and has held numerous presentations and educational sessions for students and the community. A local pastor, also a member of the Task Force, has held several educational workshops, bringing in national speakers to raise awareness about trafficking. A new Task Force committee is working on developing a county-wide protocol for suspected trafficking victims, similar to the inter-agency agreement in place for child abuse investigations and interventions. 

Several organizations have been planning how they can ramp up the services they have and offer more for victims.  These include winning grants for street outreach, ministries in strip clubs, more overnight short-term beds in shelters, case management, and building a new residential program from the ground up.

These are just some of the examples of the great work going on in Genesee County.  But all of this is being done by volunteers and that means that other priorities from their "day jobs" may take them away from focusing on trafficking issues, or they just may have other personal priorities that change. One key agency partner of the Task Force recently closed although most of its programs have found new homes. The next focus for Task Force leadership is finding resources, ensuring focus on all forms of trafficking and making sure that there are places to refer victims, as awareness builds and victims are identified. What we have is still a long way from the vision but we are decidedly making progress to fulfilling our vising of having an effective, unified community response to human trafficking in Genesee County by 2019.

TAKE ACTION: To learn more about the GCHTTF, visit our facebook page or contact Polly Sheppard, Task Force Secretary, to be added to our email list at or 810-938-3020.

Polly Sheppard is an independent consultant focused on building capacity in the nonprofit sector. She represents the Weiss Child Advocacy Center Board of Directors on the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force and has served as Secretary of the Task Force since its inception.