Friday, October 21, 2016

It Happened to My Family - It can Happen to Any of Us

The worst phone call that any parent can receive is that their child is missing.  This is the call that I received in the Fall of 2011 from a relative that I had entrusted to care for my child.  The call went like this, "Your daughter did not come home yesterday. She left and got in a car with a man who was parked down the street.  She was very disrespectful." My immediate response was to ask whether or not the police had been called.  Instead of a yes, I received an explanation as to why the police had not been called and why they did not go looking for her.

At that moment, 5 hours and 300 miles away, my body went numb and my vision blurred.  How do I call my partner and share that our daughter is missing from my relative's home? How do I share that they are not looking for her? That they have not called the police? I think my heart stopped beating. I have never been so terrified in all of my life. I had to call my partner.

My partner and I immediately called the police at which time they informed us that because she had left the house voluntarily, we needed to call back in 24 hours if she had not returned home. At this point, she had already been gone for 18 hours; a point that fell flat as the police were not willing to search for her.  Again, I went numb.  We made a "missing person poster" and headed to Ohio.

Once in Ohio, we contacted the police again. They still were not helpful so we created our own search team consisting of other family members and began looking for her ourselves. After 5 days of not hearing from her, my daughter finally called her older sister from an unknown number. Her sister informed her that we were looking for her and my daughter gave approximate directions to her location.

When we got her in the car, upon looking at her, my soul shattered.  I knew what had happened to her without her saying a word.  She possessed a bag that only contained baby oil, a razor and shaving cream, lingerie type underwear and a disposable minute phone. She was dressed in clothing that I had not purchased. She was wearing makeup that I had not purchased. She was being sex trafficked.

My child had only been sixteen for 2 days before she went missing. She went willingly with this strange man because he said that he would be her friend. She had met him at a gas station where he was employed. During the time that she was gone, her address had been changed, she had been issued an Ohio ID, and had been held captive in a place she did not know. The man threatened to harm both her and our family. She was only supposed to be going to a carryout when she reached out for help.

I took her to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program to receive confidential and expert care. This is where I learned the details of her assault. Her points of vulnerability were exploited. She was a young female of color, with a history of being a runaway, mental helath issues and a past victim of sexual assault in a city that was unfamiliar.  All of these things that I knew about her should have alerted me to not let her stay with relatives; not even temporarily.  After all, I train and facilitate on these issues for a living.

My daughter was one of the fortunate ones. She had supportive people who were actively looking for her. It is essential for families to remain a viable option of unconditional support for a victimized child as she may be told that no one cares and that the perpetrator is the only person who "cares".

When a child is victimized, the family is victimized as well. It is imperative to provide the family with the tools and resources necessary to provide a supportive environment to the child who was victimized. So what can you do to help? Find out what programs exist in your area. Volunteer at an organization that is providing services. Donate to an organization. Becomce equipped to recognize vulnerability and become an educator in your community.  There is something we can all do.

TAKE ACTION: Learn how to end child sex trafficking in your community. Help to raise awareness. Read, share and post this fact sheet about child victims of human trafficking through your social media, personal and professional networks.  We must work together to protect our children.

Chéree Thomas is Program Director at the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Friday, September 9, 2016

An A-MAZE-ing Race to Fight Human Trafficking

You are invited to the 2nd Annual "Shine A Light on Human Trafficking A-MAZE-ing 5K" - Michigan's 1st Corn Maze 5K

Thursday, October 6 at 6:15pm
Barbott Farms Greenhouse
7155 Cleveland Avenue, Stevensville, MI.

This is a fall family friendly activity.  The 5K walk/run is not a timed race and costumes and strollers are welcome.  All of the proceeds from the event go to anti-trafficking efforts in southwest Michigan and state-wide.  This includes professional training and community awareness outreach.

You can register for the event here. Pre-registered participants will receive a NiteBeams LED glow cap.

$25 early registration on or before September 29
$30 late registration
$35 race day registration
$15 for children 12 and under
strollers (and their riders) are free.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A New Tool in the Fight Against Bad Data on Human Trafficking

When information on human trafficking is only a mouse click away, it is easy to get directed to bad data and harmful stereotypes that hurt rather than help anti-trafficking efforts.  The Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force is pleased to unveil its newwebsite which it hopes will be a useful resource for individuals and agencies seeking to break the silence about human trafficking. 

The mission of the MHTTF is to facilitate a collaborative effort to prevent trafficking of persons within the State of Michigan, to pursue prosecution of perpetrators, and to protect and actively support rehabilitation efforts for trafficking victims. 

The website explains who we are and what we do. The MHTTF engages more than 100 agencies to work together for the collaborative impact of awareness, support prosecution of offenders, and identifying victims and putting forth every effort to assist them to become survivors.

Features of the website include: clear definitions of whathuman trafficking includes as well as the warning sides and venues were it occurs, information on Michigan and Federal anti-trafficking laws, information on how to get involved in the fight against trafficking in Michigan, and usefulresources for learning more about human trafficking including videos, films, articles and books.

TAKE ACTION: Please visit the MHTTF website. Use it in your work and join us in the fight against human trafficking in Michigan.  Together we can break the silence.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Act Now to Fight Human Trafficking in Michigan

Act Fast!  We need your voice!

Senator Judy Emmons (33rd District) will be holding several focus group meetings for phase 2 of a bill package that she and others will introduce this session on human trafficking.

Your input is important! If you want to be part of the focus group and share your thoughts on combating human trafficking in our state, please choose a date and time you'd like to come to Lansing to meet.

Monday, August 1 from 10:00am-12:00pm
Tuesday, August 2 from 12:00pm-2:00pm or 2:00pm-4:00pm
Wednesday, August 3 from 12:00pm-2:00pm or 2:00pm-4:00pm

Due to limited space, please rsvp by Wednesday July 28 by 4:00pm.  Contact Gina at 248-986-5348 or

Please provide your name and your organization, if you represent one, and the date and time of your desired participation.

The focus groups will take place at Farnum Senate Office Building on the 8th floor, 520 W. Allegan St., Lansing, MI 48933.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How Can I Help?

Are you reading current news articles and getting upset about the stories you've read about innocent people being lured and/or forced into sex and labor trafficking industries? Have you often wondered what you can do but don't know where to start? Here are some recommendations:

  • The first, and most important, thing you can do is educate yourself about human trafficking. Find out the truth about this terrible crime - know the facts. Then you can educate the people around you. A couple weeks ago I was driving with my daughter and son-in-law. We were talking when my son-in-law said,"Hey, did you hear that Michigan is number 2 in human trafficking?" Having participated in several trainings on human trafficking, I knew that this was a bad statistic. I explained to him that there is no way to know how many victims there are because of the secretive nature of the crime. Also, with the movement of victims around the country it makes it very difficult to track accurately.
  • Read Kevin Bales book, Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World.
  • Look for agencies in your community that provide either direct or indirect services to human trafficking victims. You can help them by becoming directly involved or by supporting them financially.
  • Volunteer with the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force or make a donation to support its important work.
  • Watch for potential human trafficking situations around you. If you see something, report it.

Even if the only thing you do is to educate yourself and turn around and educate others, you are providing a valuable service to human trafficking victims.  You can be their voice when theirs has been taken away.

Take Action:
  • If you suspect a situation of human trafficking, report it to the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BEFREE (233733).  The national toll free hotline is available to answer calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year in more than 200 languages.
  • To contribute to the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, you can mail a check to MHTTF, 717 US 27 North, Marshall, MI 49068.

Roberta J. Haney-Jones, MS, CT, CA is a Victims Rights Program Director for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Task Force Members Tackle "Bad Data and Bad Guys"

Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force members Bridgette Carr and Jane White (Executive Director) are featured in this month's Bridge Magazine. In an article titled, "Human Trafficking fight plagued by bad data, as well as bad guys" Carr and White address the scope of human trafficking in Michigan and misconceptions about the crime.

Explore the excerpts below and then read the entire article here

More common than a young woman being kidnapped from airport taxi stand or shopping malls, a more common sex trade victim according to Carr, "would be a woman of any age, living a full life of poor choices or simple bad luck, stuck with a pimp who may beat her, control her access to the drugs she's addicted to, or simply string her along with a bunch of empty promises. She may not even realize she's been trafficked, and she may return to her trafficker after she's been freed."

"Something bigger or scarier happens in the trafficking world when stories like (the "Taken" myth) are told, Carr said. If you don't match that origin story - if you're poor, black, made bad choices, used drugs, are homeless etc. - then you are just a prostitute. (The kidnapped young woman from the movies) is a victim, (but the more common, often less sympathetic women) are a prostitute. That translates into how law enforcement treats my clients.

The result: when a woman as a criminal rather than a victim, she is less likely to be offered shelter or other resources to help her exit a life she may not have freely chosen, Carr said."

According to Jane White, "the three magic words of human trafficking are simple: Want A Job...It's enough to attract both the ambitious and desperate, followed by the promise of some gain down the road - money, usually, but sometimes more ambiguous promises of love, commitment, family. Activists say that trafficking happens when the promise isn't fulfilled."

"White, at MSU, wishes the conversation around trafficking was less about sex and more about what she sees as the complicity of the rest of the world in forced or unfair labor. 

When you buy five blouses for $60 what does that tell you about the people who made them? The chocolate industry uses child slave labor. Does the global issue impact me? Yes, it does, White said. These are supply-chain issues. They should be taught in business schools."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Protecting the Safety and Confidentiality of Survivors

Collaborating with the media can be a very effective outlet for increasing public awareness about human trafficking, but it also comes with specific risks for survivors that must be considered by organizations. These include the possibility of sensationalism, misunderstanding, increasing danger for the client, re-traumatization of the client and jeopardizing the case.

What follows are a set of Guidelines adopted by the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force for Maintaining the Safety and Confidentiality of Survivors Who Participate in Outreach, Public Speaking, Advocacy and Media Work.

1. Survivors should have a network of both peer and agency support available to them when considering public speaking, advocacy, and media work.

2. Survivors whose criminal and/or civil cases are open should not speak to the media or share details of their case in public.

3. Survivors should receive proper and adequate media and public speaking training and have adequate time, preparation, and support before, during, and after the speaking engagement. This should include a discussion of the relative control survivors will have over how their stories will be presented in various settings.

4. If the survivor wishes, nonprofit organizations working with survivors should screen public speaking requests and should serve as a point of contact for survivors.

5. Survivors should not be pressured in any way to speak publicly about their ordeal and event organizers should leave room for survivors to change their mind about speaking publicly, even on the day of the event.

6. For public speaking events and panels, a speaker stipend for the survivor should be requested to help off-set the cost of travel, time off work, child care, etc., and to demonstrate respect for the survivor's time and energy.

7. To the extent possible, special conditions or requests made by a survivor (for example, using an alias, not interviewing on camera, avoiding certain questions) should be documented and communicated with event organizers/media in advance. If the survivor is represented by an attorney, the attorney may be best suited to negotiate special conditions or requests.

8. Social service or advocacy staff should debrief with survivors after the event to assess how they are feeling and if they need additional support to process any feelings or memories; peer support should be encourage.

9. Provide opportunities for mentorship between survivors, where experienced public speakers and presenters are available for those with less experience.

10. Do not assume that survivors will be more interested or comfortable speaking publicly in their native language or to individuals or groups that share the same cultural community of background.

11. Work with survivors to identify their own goals for public speaking, advocacy, and media work.

Caution: Avoid Sensationalism and Other Risks

These guidelines were adopted in August 2015 by the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. Original Source: Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (2012).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Are your Children Safe Online?

June is internet safety month. Are your children safe while online? Michigan families, especially minors, are becoming inundated with advertisements from alcohol, tobacco, pornography and gambling marketers through different internet and cell phone in-boxes. Texting their advertisements is the newest marketing effort that many of these companies are using. Thankfully the State of Michigan offers a free program to stop adult advertisements from reaching emails, mobile phones (text messaging ads) and instant messenger IDs. The Michigan Child Protection Registry, like the federal Do Not Call list, is a free do-not-contact service for Michigan's families and can be located at

As a strong supporter of this registry, I would like to encourage you to sign your entire family up for the registry and inform your friends and colleagues about how they can protect children and families from unwanted adult advertising. Just go to to and keep your loved ones safe.

Alisha Meneely, ProtectMiChild.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Join the Fight against Trafficking in Genesee County

I became involved in the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force (GCHTTF) because of the work that I was doing with disconnected youth ages 16 to 24 and homeless clients at the time through the organization, Resource Genesee. Both of these populations are vulnerable to being trafficked and joining the task force was a logical extension of my work. 

The fight against human trafficking is important to me because no one has the right to own or control another human being and because I feel called as a Christian "to set captives free". I am very proud of what we have accomplished as a task force, particularly our collaborative work with community partners, and the ways that we are growing. I invite you to learn more about our work and hope you will partner with us or your own regional task force in anti-trafficking efforts.

Our Mission: A community working together to end human trafficking. Thus your presence to accomplish the work to end human trafficking brings new life to "community".

Our Vision: By the end of 2019, Genesee County will have an effective unified community response to human trafficking.

To that end we have established and are working on the following goals:

The Task Force Organizational Structure - The Task Force has been successful in establishing a working organizational structure with formalized membership, effective committees and strong communication.

Our 5 committees include:

  • Public Awareness and Community Outreach - creating opportunities for presentations to many sectors of our community.
  • Advocacy - working to influence our local, state and national legislatures to enact legislation to protect human trafficking survivors and to stand up for victims everywhere, but most especially in Genesee County.
  • Communications - social media including Facebook emails, and the website.
  • Resources - cataloging the services available to survivors, identifying needed resources in the community, and disseminating the information to the community.
    • We are also working on developing a country-wide protocol for all agencies involved in responding to trafficking victims, similar to the collective response to child abuse.
  • Fund Development - developing a fund-raising plan to meet the Task Force needs and to raise funds to enable the Task Force to hire a full-time staff person.
Education - Task force members will be informed and educated to a common level, local inventory of resources completed, including gaps, and Task Force members will understand the local system and how to maximize current responses.

  • None of us on the Task Force realized quite how gargantuan a task this goal would be. We find that education and review of resources in our community continues to be a part of every meeting. The more we know, the more we know we don't know. However, we are in contact with one another continually to assist individual survivors who are experiencing an immediate crisis by providing local resources.
Partnerships - based on local resources and needs, determine needed and appropriate partnerships, pursue those partnerships and create relationships. We have an extensive membership in the Task Force including members from diverse organizations, agencies, and public entities in all fields. Our membership, however, will not be complete until everyone in Genesee County is a member.

Recruitment - identify partners to participate in Committee work as well as to serve on the Task Force. 

While our progress as a Task Force may seem fairly low key compared to survivor's stories, there is no way to assist survivors of human trafficking without a structure and process in place. This structure supports the work to end human trafficking.

Here in Genesee County while we believe that we have come a long way, we also believe that we have a long way to go to accomplish our ultimate goal - ending human trafficking period!

Take Action:

  • If a Committee's work seems especially appealing to you or the work of the Task Force piques your interest, please visit our Facebook page - Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force - for postings of pertinent articles, information and up-coming events.  Please get involved!

Lindsey Younger is Charperson of the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Farmworkers in Michigan Risk Being Exploited - Take Action!

Farmworkers Legal Services is a legal aid office that protects migrant and seasonal farmworkers throughout the state of Michigan.  They have sounded the alarm on a dangerous new precedent in Michigan law which threatens the safety and dignity of piece-rate hand harvesters in Michigan who are at risk of exploitation.  Below is an excerpt from their April issue brief on the new dangers to agricultural employees in Michigan. 

Since 1964, Michigan law has helped protect the most vulnerable of Michigan's workers by ensuring that they receive a fair wage for each hour worked. Michigan's minimum wage law, known as the Workforce Opportunity Act (WOWA), currently sets a minimum wage rate of $8.50 per hour for most Michigan workers. This state wage protection has been a critical tool for combatting "wage theft" against farmworkers who are among the lowest paid and are frequently employed by farmers who are not covered by federal minimum wage law (FLSA).

After decades of enforcing farmworker's rights to the minimum hourly wage, in February 2016, Michigan's Wage and Hour Program (WHP) ruled that a family of five migrant farmworkers were excluded from the protections of WOWA and decline to enforce the workers' minimum wage claims. The agency's determination in this case evidenced a radical, new interpretation of Michigan law which would potentially exclude most of Michigan's nearly 50,000 agricultural workers from the state minimum wage and further depress their already-low wages.

According to the Farmworker Legal Services, The Wage and Hour Program's arbitrary ruling means that thousands of the nearly 50,000 farmworkers, who annually harvest crops such as asparagus, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, berries and cherries, will work without any state minimum wage protection. Farmworker Legal Services insists that the Wage and Hour agency's new interpretation of WOWA is not only incorrect, but it is unlawfully discriminatory because the agency's new enforcement policy disproportionately impacts Hispanic workers. Over 99% of Michigan's agricultural workers identify as Hispanic/Latino.

The Wage and Hour Progam is mandated to interpret the law consistent with its legislative purpose to protect workers. Instead, WHP has relied on a strained, and arguably discriminatory, interpretation of WOWA to withhold minimum wage protections from one of the state's most vulnerable populations of workers.

Take Action:

Carrie Booth Walling is the editor of the Voices of Change blog for the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.  The information summarized in this blog comes directly from Farmworker Legal Services April 1 issue brief, "Agency Decides the Michigan's Minimum Wage Law Exempts Piece-Rate Hand Harvesters" and is posted with the agency's permission.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Dangerous Myths that Misrepresent

This post is the third in a 3 part series that seeks to dispel some common myths about human trafficking that are frequently stated but always wrong.

Myth #7: Average Age of Entry into the Sex Trade

It is often repeated that the average age of entry into the sex trade for girls is between 12-14 years of age.

Truth: There is no nationally representative, comprehensive sample of sex trafficking victims. That means that we cannot know the average age of entry into the trade.

So where does this data come from?

The origin of this statistic is from a 2001 University of Pennsylvania Study led by Dr. Richard Estes who did a comparative study of child sexual exploitation in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Only juveniles were surveyed in this study, not all sex trafficking victims. This means that it can't measure the average age of entry into the sex trade - just the average among the children in his study. Even Dr. Estes warns against drawing conclusions based on his findings stating, "Any numbers you come across, even mine, represent best estimates of the situation. Because of the secretive and hidden nature of the problem it simply is not possible to get an accurate "head count". 

The truth is that sex trafficking victims include boys and girls, women and men. Victims can be younger than age 12 and can also be adults. A 35 year old victim is as much a victim as a 13 year old. Victims are targeted due to their vulnerability, not their age.

Myth #8: Success = Criminal Prosecution

Truth: Many cases of human trafficking (labor and sex trafficking) are not prosecuted and some prosecutions are actually harmful to victims. The top priority should be to support the victims, then pursue the traffickers. What the police know and what the prosecutor can prove in court are two separate things. There are many different ways to measure success and criminal prosecution is not the only way. When we use that word we must be clear about what it means, as successful prosecution of a trafficker can be the result of a victim being threatened with jail or forced to participate in something he or she does not want to.

Myth #9: Sexual Assault only happens in Sex Trafficking Cases

Truth: Many labor trafficking victims are sexually assaulted and harassed. When sexual assaults occur we need to use that language - in all human trafficking cases, but especially in those cases involving commercial sex.

Myth #10: Super Bowl = More Sex Trafficking

Truth: There is little to no evidence to support the claim that sex trafficking spikes during the Super Bowl. We do not have baseline data on any city's level of sex trafficking; and if we don't know the prevalence of sex trafficking in a community, we cannot measure a "spike" in trafficking. The problem with this myth is that it feeds into a dangerous ideology that sex trafficking is only a problem on certain days in a community, and that buyers of sex aren't our neighbors and friends but rather outsiders that come into our community.  

The truth is that people we know buy sex and that sex and labor trafficking are daily problems in communities across the United States. 

We need to fight human trafficking all 365 days of the year - focusing on one day, takes the focus off of the other 364 days of human trafficking.

Take Action:

  • Now that you know these myths be sure that you don't perpetuate them.
  • Share these myths with other caring individuals who are working to fight human trafficking.
  • Get acquainted with the "Perfect Victim" and other myths and "Statistical Shortcomings: Bad Data Hurts Victims".

This blog was written by Carrie Booth Walling (MHTTF) based on the work of Bridgette Carr, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the University of Michigan Law School's Human Trafficking Clinic.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Statistical Shortcomings: Our Bad Data Hurts Victims

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better do better." 
                                                 - Maya Angelou

These words by poet Maya Angelou should be a source of inspiration for the anti-trafficking movement. While we have tried to convey the importance of human trafficking using statistics and numbers, the truth is that we do not have reliable data to support many of the "conventional wisdoms" that have developed about human trafficking.

This post is the second of a 3 part series that seeks to dispel some common myths about human trafficking that are frequently stated but always wrong.

Myth #4: We Know the Global Prevalence of Human Trafficking

Everywhere we turn we see a different statistic about the prevalence of human trafficking globally. As just a sample, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated in 2009 that 4 million people are trafficked each year. Kevin Bales, author of several books on human trafficking, estimated in 2011 that the number was closer to 27 million. The International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2015 estimated the number of people engaged in forced labor to be 21 million. The U.S. State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) relies on ILO data and is generally assumed to be the most accurate data available - but it is still flawed.

Truth: The truth is that we don't know how many people are being trafficked globally. The data just doesn't exist so it is impossible to count data that we do not have. If we don't have underlying baseline data, then we can't say much else about local prevalence, hot spots or hubs either. Bottom line: we know that human trafficking is common and occurs in all countries throughout the world. Isn't that enough?

Myth #5: We are a "Hub" for Human Trafficking or We Rank #3 in the Nation

We've all read the statistics: "Houston ranks No. 1 among U.S. cities for human trafficking," "Chicago is a national hub of human trafficking," "Michigan ranks third in the country for human trafficking," "The I-75 corridor is a hub for human trafficking."

Truth: The truth is that we don't know how many people are being trafficked in the United States. Currently, we do not have a systematic way to count human trafficking cases. There are no reliable rankings of U.S. cities. Frequently, rankings come from the number of total calls made to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center tip line or from measuring recovery rates from sporadic law enforcement actions. The problem is that we know that this crime is severely under reported. We cannot rely on calls to tip lines or successful FBI raids to determine the size and location of the problem. 

What we do know is that human trafficking is a problem in every state and every city in the United States. We also know that human trafficking is a problem in the suburbs and rural communities as well. Focusing on "hubs" perpetuates the dangerous myth that it is a big city problem, or that it happens elsewhere and not in the community that I am living in.

Myth #6: We Know the Economic Impact

You may have read that human trafficking is the third most profitable business for organized crime or that it is the second most profitable form of organized  criminal activity alongside drug trafficking and arms dealing.

Truth: The truth is that the economic impact of human trafficking is unknown. If we don't have data on prevalence, we can't have data on profits. Organizations who used to rely on economic impact data have started to shy away from using it based on its unreliability. 

What we do know is that human trafficking is a profitable business for traffickers with low start-up costs, an unlimited supply of vulnerable human beings to exploit, a strong consumer demand to purchase human beings, and high profit margins for traffickers who sell and resell their "human product" numerous times.

We don't need mythical numbers to convey the importance of human trafficking. The purchase and sale of human beings is wrong. Every life is valuable and the trafficking of a single person is serious enough to warrant our action.

Take Action: 

  • Now that you know the myths be sure that you don't perpetuate them. 
  • Share these myths with other caring individuals who are working to fight human trafficking. This means correcting the record when you hear myths repeated.
  • Get acquainted with the "Perfect Victim" and other myths from part 1 of the series.

This blog was written by Carrie Booth Walling (MHTTF) based on the research of Bridgette Carr, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the University of Michigan Law School's Human Trafficking Clinic.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The "Perfect Victim" and Other Myths

When we know better we do better. When we perpetuate myths about human trafficking we harm victims.  

This post is the first in a 3 part series that seeks to dispel some common myths about human trafficking that are frequently stated but always wrong.

Myth #1: Human Trafficking = Sex Trafficking

Truth: The phrases "human trafficking" and "sex trafficking" are not synonyms. When you use them synonymously you make labor trafficking victims invisible.  Human Trafficking can take different forms including labor trafficking and/or sex trafficking.

At its core, human trafficking is a form of compelled service. It is the use of force, fraud or coercion to control one person by another. It may entail physical or psychological violence. It may include hard or dangerous labor for little or no pay; and it involves economic exploitation - traffickers profit off of victims.

Myth #2: The "Perfect" Victim

It is a myth that there is such a thing as a "perfect" victim. The myth suggests that real victims always accept help, don't return to their traffickers, and will quickly recognize us as their rescuers. This myth is dangerous because it suggests that victims who don't fit this profile are not real victims, that they made a choice. By continuing to hold this myth, we re-victimize victims by telling them "you are only a victim when you do what we want you to do." 

Truth: All individuals who have been compelled into service are victims. This includes minors in the sex industry and individuals who were forced, coerced or fraudulently tricked to provide labor or sexual services. By definition, victims have been exploited, and it is this exploitation that makes them victims, not their behavior during the exploitation or after. Further, when children are exploited there is never any possibility of consent.

Myth #3: "Our" kids are taken from malls and movie theaters

What do we signal when we add the modifier "our" before kids? Don't ALL children have the right to be safe and free? Don't use "our" carelessly when you talk about kids. It suggests that some kids are not ours. Movie theaters and malls are not uniquely hotbeds of human trafficking and most victims are not kidnapped from public spaces. This idea perpetuates sensationalist media myths and also encourages the "perfect victim" narrative above.

Truth: This does not mean that child trafficking is not a problem. It is a problem that minors are being exploited for labor and sold for sex. We just need real facts and there is no nationally representative, comprehensive sample of what victims look like. Traffickers prey on vulnerability in their victims. These vulnerabilities cross barriers of age, race, sex, class, gender, ethnicity, religion and nationality, as well as other differences. Kids can be victimized by people they know, who pretend to love them and who promise them a better life.

The bottom line about human trafficking is really quite simple: It is wrong to buy people and it is wrong to sell people. We just don't do it and no one should. Anyone who is bought, sold or exploited is a victim. All victims have human dignity and deserve our care, help and respect.

TAKE ACTION: Now that you know these myths, be sure that you don't perpetuate them.  Share these myths with other caring individuals who are working to fight human trafficking.

This blog was written by Carrie Booth Walling (MHTTF) based on the work of Bridgette Carr, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the University of Michigan Law School's Human Trafficking Clinic.

Monday, May 9, 2016

We Have the Power to Break the Chain


BREAK THE CHAIN  is a feature-length documentary film that addresses the often "hidden-in-plain-sight" issue of Human Trafficking within Michigan communities and the United States.  The film chronicles two survivors of Human Trafficking within Michigan communities - providing a detailed look at how trafficking goes unnoticed within our backyards.  Kwami, a child survivor of Labor Trafficking, was enslaved for nearly five years with three other children in Ypsilanti, Michigan before anyone noticed.  Debbie, a survivor of Sex Trafficking, takes us through her experience of being sold for sex around the Detroit-Area between the ages of 13 and 18.

Accompanying the stories of these survivors are nearly 20 interviews with researchers, Senators, non-profit organizations, legal service agencies, law enforcement officers and several artists actively working to raise awareness for this global issue. The film teaches us that what we see in the media about human trafficking is one small sensationalized form - that it occurs anywhere and everywhere within our world.  More importantly, viewers will learn how we are all connected to this extremely profitable business and that we have the power to choose what we support, and ultimately, how we break the chain.


We are a different kind of film.  BREAK THE CHAIN is being developed for the sole purpose of education, awareness and providing a valuable resource for the non-profits, shelters and law enforcement agencies that work to end human trafficking every day.  At it's very core, this is a community film project - we are working directly with so many different organizations and task forces to create a film that is desperately needed for the Human Trafficking community.


 I think I have a knack for subjects that may be incredibly difficult to address or are often misrepresented, and I enjoy the challenge that is using film as a vessel for creating appropriate public discourse.  As I began to think about what my next documentary could be in 2014, I started seeing bits and pieces of “human trafficking” related information popping up in my news stream.  I was honestly confused at first because I thought this was an issue to be discussed regarding other countries such as India, but the articles were talking about trafficking occurring in Lansing, MI.  Reflecting on everything I had ever learned through our current streams of information, I realized I had never seen a film really showcasing Human Trafficking on a local US level and that I really had no clue what human trafficking was myself.  This may sound bizarre, but I could just sense that the same misconceptions surrounding the topic of sexual assault extended to human trafficking as well and I really wanted to learn more about the issue.  I don’t think I ever went back to the drawing board to hash out other possibilities for a documentary, I just zoned in on this.

Of course, when researching this issue within Michigan the first name I came across was Jane White - the director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.  I reached out to set up a meeting with her about the possibility of collaborating on a film, and shortly after that email I was sitting across from her at Hobies in East Lansing eating cheetos.  We spent two or three hours at that place and I learned all about the incredibly complex and exploited issue of human trafficking within our world.  I also learned about how difficult it is for many organizations and survivors to trust filmmakers and the media with this topic because so many often misrepresent the issue and do more harm than good.  That’s when the overall idea for Break the Chain really started to settle in my mind - a documentary that tries its best to accurately spread awareness for the issue of human trafficking, to break the real chain. 

Laura Swanson is a documentary film director and is Co-Director of the Documentary, Break the Chain.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Child Labor, Forced Labor and Chocolate

As the Promoter of Justice for the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids, I am charged with organizing my efforts and those of our Sisters, Associates, and friends around several justice issues including immigration, care of earth, human trafficking and others, while keeping in mind the root causes of racism, poverty, and violence.  As I write this, Earth Day and the Annual Forum of People for a Racism Free Community are the “anchors” of thought and action while other issues float in and out of my consciousness.  As a block of time frees up today, the “floater” is “I promised a blog.  Start writing." But the question is, “On what?”   So in reading recent blogs, I found the item “Closing the Loophole” – discussing a New York Times article that reports new U.S. legislation forbidding imports produced by forced labor has been signed, sealed, and delivered.

My immediate reaction was “Yes – signed and sealed.  But will it be delivered?”

Last January during Trafficking Awareness Month, the Dominican Sisters did displays, workshops, and prayer services around the problem of labor trafficking.  One project was tracing the use of forced and child labor in the chocolate industry with a particular interest in Hershey, Mars, M&M, and Nestlé.  These and other companies have signed pledges and made promises to stop labor trafficking for decades, like the Harkin-Engel Protocol, with little effect.  Of these companies, only Nestlé is bound by a legally binding treaty that prohibits the economic exploitation of children through forced or unsafe labor because Switzerland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the ChildThe U.S. has not ratified the treaty.  Switzerland, however, has chosen NOT to control and regulate the activities of its transnational corporations because the children involved are no Swiss citizens.

Nonetheless, this January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Nestlé with other companies can be held legally accountable for aiding and abetting human rights violations by purchasing cocoa from Cote d'Ivoire in full knowledge of that country's child slavery problem. The companies are being sued for using unpaid children to harvest cocoa. This case probably will return to its original court for trial.  We can only hope the rule of law will protect the children of the cocoa farms.

TAKE ACTION:  While there does not appear to be any current/active boycotts to join, there is no reason why we cannot individually and organizationally refrain from buying chocolates from the most egregious chocolate companies.
  • Check out Green America's Chocolate Scorecard to find the best and worst companies and boycott those that exploit children.
  •  Download the food empowerment project “Chocolate List” mobile app so you can check which chocolates are safe to purchase while grocery shopping.
  • Gather concerned people for a screening of "The Darker Side of Chocolate"
  •  Join us in sending Godiva – who earned the grade of “F” on Green America's Chocolate Scorecard – a message to show support for the workers in its supply chain. Godiva needs to trace its supply chain to prevent child labor and ensure cocoa farmers earn their fair share. 

 Sister Mary Brigid Clingman OP, MSW is a promoter of justice for the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids.  The Sisters and Associates have justice committees on Human Trafficking, Immigration, Peace and Security, Economic Justice and Care of Earth.  They also work on issues of racism and homelessness.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What is $1.25 Worth? Women Prisoners in the Fight against Trafficking

We all know that awareness of human trafficking is increasing. It’s about time. Let’s talk about a population that has long known what Human Trafficking is all about:  inmates at a women’s prison.

I began my career as a corrections officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections in 1989. I worked at Huron Valley Men’s Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Right next door was Huron Valley Women’s facility. I heard all kinds of stories about the women in that prison. When I worked the gun tower and overlooked the yard of Women’s Facility I thought to myself “ There are a lot of mothers and daughters in there- how sad that families are without them. “  I could only imagine what kind of life they had lived that led to imprisonment.

Fast forward to 2016 and I am a field agent for the Department Of Corrections. I serve on a local Human Trafficking Task Force as well as the State Human Trafficking Task Force.  At the State meeting in March 2016 Director Jane White asked me to look at a check from the Department of Treasury and attached to the donation were stacks of donation slips. I quickly realized the slips, called Disbursement Authorization Forms, were from prisoners housed at Huron Valley Women’s facility. Prisoners!   Donating their money to our Human Trafficking Task Force.  

I learned that inmates walked to donate the money.  Much like any other 5K walk to raise money, prisoners are allowed to participate in fundraisers as well; only instead of walking on a rail trail or river walk like you and I would, the women walk on a track surrounded by fence and razor wire.  I also learned that many others prisoners walked in solidarity but did not have the means to donate.

Think about this:  prisoners do have jobs in the prison. They work in the laundry, kitchen, yard detail, as cleaning porters, and so on. The top pay scale per day is less than $1.25.  So, when reviewing the donation amounts, it is possible that a woman prisoner worked for four or five months to make a $ 5.00 donation.  Instead of spending the money on candy, snacks or other items, these women chose to give a donation to us. Think about it - over 50 prisoners donating $ 635.00!  Amazing !

The donation seems like a million dollars to me.  It’s not just the money.  It’s the thought and the time. I am moved by the idea of women walking around and around the track, each lap working toward a goal of raising money, to donate toward a cause that is probably so very personal to them.  Probably some of these women have been trafficked, or know someone who has, or was involved in trafficking somehow.  They include women who were abused, mistreated, drug addicted, did heinous things to pay for their addictions, and who were taken advantage of in every conceivable way. It is these very women who thought of human trafficking as they took each step, trying in their own way to make a difference.   I am beyond touched by the donation and can’t stop thinking about it.

Take Action:  The next time you pay $ 1.25 for something, think about the prisoner, who worked all day to earn that wage. Think about making a donation to the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force or your regional human trafficking task force in the amount of your own day’s wages. Then, think about how your donation and your work on the Task Force may help one victim not end up at Huron Valley Women’s Facility. Donations to support the fight against human trafficking in Michigan, can be mailed to Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, 717 US 27 North, Marshall, MI 49068.

Kimberly Ade has been employed for 27 years with the Michigan Department of Corrections, currently working as a field agent. Ade began her career as a corrections officer at Huron Valley Men’s facility working exclusively in the Self- Mutilation Prevention Unit, then moved to field work where she has supervised adult felons including sex offenders and those on probation, parole, tether, and  alcohol monitoring. In addition to supervision, Ade completes investigative reports for the Circuit Court.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Learning to Follow rather than Lead: What happens when we let youth take charge?

I’m a professor.  I’m used to standing at the front of a classroom full of students and guiding them through the material that I want them to master.  I decide what is important for students to learn, what they will read and how to run the classroom – whether to lecture or have class discussion.  I assign and evaluate work.  Frankly, I’m used to being in charge.  So when my Human Rights students decided to organize an anti-trafficking event for a class advocacy project, I struggled with letting go.  Now don’t get me wrong. I was thrilled that they chose to confront human trafficking and I was excited about the prospect of expanding the circle of anti-trafficking advocates among our youth.  But the assignment required that the students take the lead – it was a real life test to see if they could translate what they have learned about human rights advocacy in the classroom into an effective event in real life.  My job was only to serve as a consultant.  My job is to follow wherever they led. 

So why did I have a knot growing in the pit of my stomach?  Advocates in the fight against human trafficking have been struggling against the problem of misinformation, and especially with the promotion of myths that have become conventional wisdoms – but are wrong.  These myths, when presented as truths, can actually hurt the anti-trafficking movement and human trafficking victims.  I am passionate about the fight against human trafficking in Michigan and so it was important to me for the students to “get it right.”  I couldn’t do the work for them, but left completely on their own they might actually perpetuate some of these myths?  What was a professor to do?

Over the course of several weeks, I fretted.  I watched students search for information online and integrate inaccurate or misleading information into their materials and presentations.  I asked probing questions and challenged source material.  I asked them to corroborate sources.  I gave them advice – they only sometimes followed it.  I offered list of experts – they did not reach out to experts. Honestly, there was a moment when I wondered whether or not I should let them proceed with the event.  After all, our task force is deeply committed to accuracy and we know bad information is counterproductive.  I kept asking hard questions.  It was a slow and sometimes painful process but in the end I followed and they led.  So what happened?

The event titled #NotinMIstate was an overwhelming success. A class of 18 students directly touched more than 100 people and mobilized them to take action.  They produced educational materials that drew attention to BOTH labor and sex trafficking in Michigan.  They personalized and humanized the crime of trafficking and showed participants that it happens everywhere – including in their own communities.  They got participants involved in actually doing something to respond.  They asked participants to dip their hand in red paint and stamp it on a giant map of Michigan to visually show where trafficking happens.  Students took photos of participants holding posters stating “I stand against human trafficking” and asked them to make it their social media profile – people did. They created hashtags -  #Ithappenshere and #NotinMIstate to educate their peers that while human trafficking happens in Michigan, it shouldn’t.  They collected nearly 200 letters addressed to Senator Peters and Senator Stabenow advocating for victim-centered legislation. The students’ efforts had a snowballing effect.  Those they reached spread the message through social media and word of mouth, maximizing the impact.  In short, students and I both learned that they could make an impact and that they didn’t need to wait until they became the experts to do something about human trafficking. 

In sum, students can contribute in creative ways to the anti-trafficking movement.  They bring originality, passion and creative potential to the table. They develop ideas we don’t think of and can reach audiences we can’t reach on our own.  Youth listen to the voices of other youth better than they listen to us and their voices bring a credibility and legitimacy that we won’t achieve with the same audience.  Youth don’t communicate and use media the same way we do.  They have technical skill sets and social media savvy that many of us in a different generation do not.  Finally, they are passionate, have a lot of energy and retain a fair amount of optimism about the world. 


If you are a practitioner in the anti-trafficking movement consider actively seeking students out to involve them in your work.  Hire them as employees and interns.  Brainstorm ways to make them a partner in the conversation about human trafficking and not simply just slot them into your existing work plan.  Consider the contribution students might make to your work if you added them to your Board of Directors or added a youth representative to your regional task force. These actions might mean taking a risk and investing in a student who may only be with you for a short while but I think it is worth it

Carrie Booth Walling is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Albion College and member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force

Friday, April 8, 2016

What I didn't know almost cost me my life

Although I grew up in a community where I was exposed to societal ills, I still had a sense of normalcy. Daily witnessing violence against women and violence against people of color, all while walking past people high and/or drunk on my way to school taught me a lesson that was difficult to unlearn.

The lesson that I had to unlearn was that women and girls are commodities
  • that they can be bought and sold and it's okay;
  • that resistance will only get you hurt; 
  • that the hurt you receive from resistance is deserved; you don't belong to you.

This lesson was taught to me through socialization. It was the water that I was swimming in. This lesson, this lie, almost cost me my life.

I was ten years old when I was first exposed to pornography. It would also be the 1st time that I saw up close and personal violence against women and girls. The world I knew was quickly transforming to a place that was unsafe for me in ways that were unimaginable to me before. Being a female, a girl of color, and impoverished were working against me.

At the age of fourteen, I was living with a man and three women. The women would go out nightly to the truck stops, and also be taken out of state to have sex with men. Two of the three women in my young mind, were addicts who were doing so willingly. The third woman had a baby. The man offered food, clothing, a place to live and protection.  I was taken to truck stops with them. I was bought short skirts and lingerie and told how pretty I was. I was exposed to pictures of his genitalia, pictures of explicit sexual activities, and shown off to his friends.

No one had ever told me that human trafficking was real. No one had ever told me that I was a walking statistic, a living embodiment of risk factors for victimization. No one told me that I had value outside of my body.

One night, the woman with the baby came to me. She said, “You don’t want this. I don’t want this.” She asked me for directions; she wasn’t from the state. I gave her directions. She said, “Take care of my baby. I don’t know when I will return.” Days went by, she never returned. CPS removed the baby.

Weeks later he was arrested for setting one of the women on fire. My ignorance to the danger, to trafficking was almost my undoing.

I still live with the wounds of that time in my life. It is imperative that we assure that all people who are at risk for victimization are given accurate information, early and often. This means everyone must receive accurate and timely information. Perpetrators of trafficking and violence against women and children are predators who are seeking individuals who are vulnerable, accessible and lacking in credibility.  We must create an environment where those who are most vulnerable are seen as valued members of society and not as complicit in their own victimization.

TAKE ACTION: Take 2 minutes to learn the risk factors and behavioral indicators of human trafficking. Armed with this knowledge, you might also save a life.

Chéree Thomas is a Program Manager with the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. She has almost 20 years of experience in service provision and is the author of See Me for WhoI am.