Forum addresses human traffickingPublished 10:07pm Wednesday, July 18, 2012
A forum at Southwestern Michigan College on human trafficking was convened Wednesday to shine light on an often unrecognized problem.
The Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Forum was sponsored by the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office, the Cass County Human Services Coordinating Council and Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services.
Presenters and planners at the forum outlined the problem, pointing to real cases from around the state.
“We have victims across the street and in our backyards, and we’re not doing enough to help them,” Martha Gonzalez-Cortes, CEO of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan in Grand Rapids, said.
Gonzalez-Cortes spoke, along with representatives from Women at Risk, the Office of Refugee Services and the Attorney General’s Children and Youth Services Division, about what human trafficking looks like in today’s world. Gonzalez-Cortes spoke of cases in Michigan, such as a chain of Chinese restaurants that underwent a sting operation to uncover human trafficking. She also spoke to the range of human trafficking, saying it reaches past commercial sex and restaurants into nail salons, construction trades, housekeeping companies and agriculture.
According to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Michigan is not immune to human trafficking and law enforcement and state legislature must step up.
“Every day across America, and right here in Michigan, men, women and children are bound by the chains of modern-day slavery,” Schuette said. “Approximately 40 percent of human trafficking cases involve the sexual abuse of a child.”
An alarming state rating from The Polaris Project, a national organization that combats modern slavery of citizens and foreign victims, said Michigan meets only five to six of its 10 categories of state statutes that are critical to an anti-trafficking legal framework. For instance, in its fourth category, which addresses training for state and local law enforcement and the institution of a human trafficking task force, there is none. There are also no statutes for victim assistance or vacating convictions.
Organizations in Michiana exist to bring awareness to local human trafficking and what others can do if they suspect an individual, or group of people, are victims. The North by Southwest Human Trafficking Project focuses on Michiana.
Visit it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/NCIHTP or attend the next meeting at 6:30 p.m. July 31 at River Park Branch Library, 2022 Mishawaka Ave., South Bend.
Gonzalez-Cortes said the first step to preventing human trafficking is noticing the problem and finding solutions as a group consisting of law enforcement and human services.
“We need to be sure we’re working together on behalf of the victims as seamlessly as possible,” she said.