Identifying human trafficking in the Upper Peninsula

Identifying+human+trafficking+in+the+Upper+Peninsula

Jeff Maki

In Michigan, 28 percent of human trafficking survivors said they came in contact with a health care provider during their trafficking and were not recognized as such.

Todd Wilson, special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security explained this to a room of about 80 nursing, social work, criminal justice majors and others interested.

“And these are only the ones we know of,” he added.

A lecture on human trafficking and how to identify it, hosted by the Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Task Force (UPHTTF) and the U.S. Department of Justice was held in the NMU University Center’s Marquette and Nicolet rooms at 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26.

According to the Bureau of Justice Programs under the U.S. Department of Justice, “[Human trafficking] is the sexual exploitation of children [and adults] for commercial purposes; it is compelling people to labor or provide services through force, fraud, or coercion, whether citizens, legal residents or persons having entered the country illegally.”

“Human traffickers see their victims as less than property,” Wilson said. “Once you see it in person, you’re like, ‘jeez.’”

In major cities, especially during large events such as sports games, human traffickers force their victims to sell their bodies on the street, but that doesn’t happen in the U.P. due to the small population, Wilson said. Instead, victims are exploited in secret.

“Up here it’s pornography, hands down,” he said.
The lecture was not solely about what human trafficking is, it also focused on how to identify it.

Wilson talked at length about red flags for how to spot potential victims of trafficking. In regards to foreign people, Wilson said there’s something to look out for.

“If [they] don’t have their documents, that’s like, classic human trafficking,” Wilson said.

Other red flags include: giving canned responses to questions, fearing police and not being allowed to speak for themselves.

“As a nurse, this presentation will help me see signs of sexual abuse,” said Faith LeRoy, junior nursing student.

For people who may be in position to see victims who come for help like health care providers, Marlene Mottes, administrator for the UPHTTF, had a piece of advice that she called the very most important thing.

“Compassion for the people who walk in your door, who look drugged out, who look like a crazy person, who have six children from six men. They have taken the first step,” Mottes said.

Bob Hanson, associate professor of criminal justice attended, saying, “I need to stay current. This directly impacts my career field.”

Wilson and Mottes both urged people to contact the national human trafficking hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 if they have suspicion that they have seen a trafficking victim.