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Shelter for sexually trafficked girls launched in Grand Rapids

A group that opened the state's first shelter for underage victims of sex trafficking says there's a need for more such shelters.

Andy Soper is with the Manasseh Project, which opened the 12-bed shelter six months ago.

"We're seeing the growth in the young women getting back up to their grade level in school, working diligently on their therapy and their recovery process, getting jobs, so we're seeing progress and it's wonderful to see," Soper told Michigan Radio.

The group offered guided tours of the facility to media, but did not allow photographers, for obvious reasons. Reporters also had to sign a statement agreeing not to divulge the location or address of the shelter.

Soper says it's not known how many people in Michigan are being exploited and enslaved for their labor or for sex, but more than a thousand calls have come in to a tip line that was set up several years ago.

He says many of the victims are young runaways. About 80 percent are female. 

His group is also educating people in authority such as teachers, doctors and law enforcement officers to recognize the signs of modern slavery.

Soper says most victims of sex and labor trafficking were born here, rather than brought here from overseas. He says more people are enslaved for labor than for sex, many forced to work in places like farms and nail salons.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.