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Task force helps Michigan human trafficking victims rebuild

ER doctors are learning how to identity patients who may be victims of trafficking
Ira Gelb
Creative Commons

Human trafficking is a $32 billion global industry.

Between 2013 and 2014, there were 100 state and 94 federal cases of human trafficking in Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties, according to the Michigan State Police.

The law enforcement agency is partnering with the Salvation Army and other agencies to help victims of these crimes rebuild their lives.

The multi-agency task force will be funded by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The first meeting is scheduled tomorrow.

State Police 1st Lt. Michael Shaw says that human trafficking is a bigger issue in Michigan than most people might realize.

"Sometimes things that are as bad as that; society has a tendency to not look at it or try look the other way – that we can't imagine that things like that still happen today," Shaw said.

The term "human trafficking" may automatically be associated with sex crimes and prostitution.

"But, you know, there's a lot more to it," Shaw said.

Victims may come from other countries through labor trafficking. They often have their passports taken away, and are forced to work in a labor or service industry against their will.

The collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement, and the Salvation Army. will work to provide resources for those affected by these crimes.

Victims of human trafficking need lots of support getting back into society, says Shaw.

He says the biggest thing that law enforcement may not be adequately trained for is how to deal with the mental trauma victims may have experienced, including being malnourished, beaten or isolated.

"Some of these girls and men that are caught up in this may never fully recover," Shaw said.

The task force will help victims acquire life skills, including job seeking.

Shaw says that because 30 to 40% of the population of the state of Michigan live in the tri-county area, it was a perfect place to apply for the grant.

"And if it works well here, then we have an opportunity to seek a grant to go either statewide or other counties across the state as well," he said.

Shaw says that law enforcement, the private sector, and communities can work together to help eliminate human trafficking, citing awareness and education as key. He also says that it's important to ensure victims don't continue to feel victimized, noting the fact that many times law enforcement was forced to arrest victims if they had warrants. That's something they try to steer away from.

"Just because maybe they have a small warrant for them doesn't necessarily mean that they have to be put into the criminal justice system," Shaw said. "That means that they need some kind of assistance because they're the actual victim of a crime."

Shaw says that victims of crimes sometimes get left behind in the pursuit of the "bad guys," and that it's important to change that mentality – especially regarding sex and labor trafficking.

"I don't think there's any other crime really out there that can be as debilitating to the victims as human trafficking," Shaw said.

Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Radio. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.
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