Sex Traffic: Directly Toward Michigan?

Sex Traffic: Directly Toward Michigan?

Human trafficking is defined by The United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” These words envelop the problem of human trafficking around the globe and can even be traced back to Michigan.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice approximately 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked around the world annually, which includes an estimated 17,500 victims of human trafficking brought to the United States.  Of these numbers, about 80 percent are women and children. One reason for such large numbers of child victims cited by the UNICEF web site was that children can be easily manipulated to provide cheap labor or sexual exploitation due to its lucrative nature.  According to the U.S. Department of State, human trafficking is the second fastest growing criminal industry only second to drug trafficking.  The amount of money generated from this is estimated at more than $32 Billion.

Human trafficking in the United States includes both domestic trafficking within the U.S. borders, and transnational trafficking into the U.S. for various reasons.  The majority of victims trafficked from overseas are brought from Africa, Asia, India, China, Latin America and the former Soviet states such as the Ukraine.  According to the Polaris Project, an anti-human trafficking organization involving joint efforts between the United States and Japan, the average age of a sex trafficking victim when he or she is first exploited by their trafficker is 13.  The Polaris Project implements eight different strategies to help combat human trafficking and modern day slavery.  These strategies include victim outreach and identification, victim services and protection, policy advocacy, prevention and youth empowerment, task force/infrastructure-building, technical assistance, leadership development and grassroots community mobilization. The eight different strategies were designed to engage the community and victims through direct services as well as social change and movement initiatives according to the Polaris Project web site.

Michigan has had its fair share of human trafficking incidents over the years as well.  In January of 2007, two Greenville, Mich., residents were arrested on federal charges of human trafficking and immigrant violations when they allegedly trafficked a young woman, held her against her will and forced her into servitude.

Later that same year a Detroit man was sentenced to 14 years in prison and to pay more than $1.5 million for serving as a ring-leader in a human trafficking conspiracy.  The man, 27 year old Aleksandr Maksimenko, forced women from Eastern Europe to work as strippers and exotic entertainers in Detroit night clubs.

These two incidents happened in 2007, yet the official ban on human trafficking in Michigan was still a new advancement and didn’t come until 2006, when Governor Jennifer Granholm signed House Bill 5747 into law on May 25.  This law now punishes perpetrators of human trafficking in Michigan.  The maximum sentence an individual can get if convicted is life in prison if the activity results in the death of another.  They can receive up to 15 years if a violation causes injury, and up to 10 years in other cases.  Additionally, Michigan currently has five new bills in the Legislature in an effort to continuously update the law for increased effectiveness.

Prior to these bills however, the first anti-trafficking act passed in the U.S. in the year 2000 was a victim-based law that provided an official definition of human trafficking and implemented different penalties with which offenders can be prosecuted.  Despite the variety of different laws and punishments for human trafficking, Associate Director for the National Center for Community Policing, MSU Criminal Justice professor and Co-Coordinator for the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force Jane White says that it’s estimated that only one percent of those who traffic have been criminally charged and punished in the U.S.  She explains that this is due to “many factors, including the inability to identify trafficking situations and victims who are so fearful of their captors that they fear for their lives and their family’s lives back in their home country.”

The Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force was founded under the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State two years ago.  Members of the organization include 70 different representatives at the federal, state, and local law enforcement levels as well as prosecutors, community members, and other victim service providers.  All of these participants come together “to coordinate, collaborate, and partner in order to identify, prosecute, and rescue victims of this modern day slavery”, said White.  The task force is always busy though as White points out. “Presently a major focus of the Task Force is disseminating information to local communities and law enforcement,” she said.

Though it may seem alien to some people, Michigan is considered a hot spot for human trafficking because of the boarders it shares with Canada.

“With the stress on the Mexican-U.S. border, victims are being brought through Detroit, the Sault and Port Huron,” said White.  She also cites the fact that Michigan is a big agricultural state, and depends upon large numbers of farm labor workers which can be brought in from outside the country or from within its boarders.

Students at Michigan State are affected by human trafficking as well, if not just as citizens.  White tries to make people aware of the more subtle, unintentional ways that everyday citizens could possibly be facilitating human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

“Whether it may be the dishwasher in the restaurant, kids on the corner selling cheap trinkets, buying, wearing, eating and using the products of slave labor, from cell phones [to] laptops,” White says that “understanding that trafficking is happening in Michigan is critical.”

Mary Flores, a Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigator and former Director of Refugee Services at the Refugee Development Center in Lansing commented on the fact that modern-day slavery in Michigan consists of an extensive web of operations among the traffickers.

“All of the players in the trafficking world in Michigan are connected,” Flores said.

The traffickers do a good job hiding their activities from the public view, with many people not even realizing this is an issue in Michigan.  Paul Lounsberry, a criminal justice sophomore at MSU says that he “didn’t know human trafficking was a problem in Michigan, I don’t see it in the local news much anyway.”  A common goal that all anti-human trafficking organizations and movements share is to gain awareness of the problem and make resources available to all those who wish to educate themselves or others, and also to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking.  As a result of this information, if you wish to report a tip; to connect with anti-trafficking services in your area; or to request training and technical assistance, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline

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Opinion: Middle East is Old News

Opinion: Middle East is Old News

As the wars in the Middle East have lingered on through eight years, students and faculty alike have been impacted directly or indirectly by the war. The idea of war in the Middle East seems to be stale, forgotten and unimportant.

Yet not too long ago eight American soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). IED’s are a major concern of the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, as they cannot easily be detected and defended against.  For this very reason, a new deployment of 3,000 troops was approved by the U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Still, a violent war continues to rage on the other side of the world. Troops and civilians are still dying and mass amounts of money are still being spent, though the signs at home point the other direction.  The campus of Michigan State University shows few signs of the lasting war; bumper stickers on cars reading “Support our Troops” are becoming more infrequent and there are no chalk drawings across the sidewalks proclaiming approval of U.S. business overseas.  Even the ultimate sign of love for one’s country, the American flag, is hardly ever seen taped to a dorm room window or hanging from the side of a house.  The patriotism of students and faculty is not in question here, but the general consensus of the war is, and waivers with each passing day.

Headlines in newspapers still report the status of places like Afghanistan and Iraq, but they don’t lay claim to the American advance over the miles of sand or keep a daily tally of the troops that were wounded or killed in action.  The papers deliver news of bombings or a large weapon cache stumbled upon, but the days of a glorified GI Joe are over and the average individual residing stateside is moving on, leaving behind them a Vietnam-like wake.

The behavior of suppressing one’s expression of approval for the war, whether it be a student or any other American is typical, according to Barry Stein, is a professor of Political Science at Michigan State and holds a doctorate.

“Eight years into a war, you’re not going to have people showing support”.

Part of the course reading for Stein’s War and Revolution class is the New York Times, enabling students to stay up to date on global news.  Stressing global events is important to a student’s education.  These are the issues that students will inherit firsthand once they make the transition into the workforce, and being properly acquainted with them is only the first step to diagnosing and treating them.  Still, action among students is a little more rare than some would think.

For there to be a student movement at MSU, Stein points out that there would have to be some significant opposition in the Middle East, something would have to entice support in order to rekindle the emotions felt at the beginning of the war.  Dr. Stein also agrees that there was much more support at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan than there is currently and it continues to fade.

When news of a war goes stagnant for long periods of time, it’s hard to keep it at the front of your mind, to see it as real, to embrace it and appreciate the sacrifices made for it.  That is, unless you have direct ties to the war.  By this account, support for a war is thus relative to the time that has elapsed since its beginning.  Either way there will always be strong pro-war supporters and anti-war supporters whether it started yesterday or like the U.S., is nearly a decade into it.  The long span of time that this war has endured takes its toll on students in other ways as well.

Many people would agree that the sooner the war in the Middle East ends, the better it will be for America as a whole, especially its economy.  That being said, the impacts of the war are prying into the wallets and pocketbooks of students already piled knee high in loans and other debt.

This problem may hit home harder for some more than others, with Michigan being one of the states most affected by the economic crisis in the country.  It’s no surprise that concerns surrounding the U.S. military budget overseas sits at the top of the list for students paying for college as the U.S. government funds a war.  The deficit created by this budget detracts from the government funding allocated to public universities.  As a result, less university funding means more money being shelled out per student, which does not help their financial situations.  Though this is an impending fear for many, students can take solace in the fact that they aren’t alone.  This is a problem being dealt with across the state, the country, and world.

The hope for a quick solution may be a far cry from reality. However, Stein says we better settle in for the long haul.

“There’s still a lot of debate going on around Afghanistan, so I don’t see an end in sight”.

This may be a discouraging statement to some people hoping for the hasty return of American troops and the end of major U.S. presence in the Middle East.  Maybe the absence of a visible student support network calls for a voice in the crowd to renew the spark of an old cause.  Maybe it’s a sign that the efforts of the U.S. are feudal and simply circle each other continuously.  Or it could quite possibly show that many a person have been lulled to sleep by the constant and monotonous stream of data coming at us from different angles and different news media.  Most students seem to have a decent grasp of the world around them both locally and of foreign nature.  Putting this knowledge into action, whether it’s right or wrong, is still an issue that many believe it deserves more attention than it’s getting.

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