Theresa Flores travels across the country in her effort to free all women and children from the nightmare of human trafficking.
She is also a survivor. When I’m asked to put a face on the problem in Michigan, I think of Theresa. She was forced into sex trafficking in high school while living in a prominent Southeast Michigan community.
Unfortunately, Theresa’s story is all too common. Human trafficking is the world’s fastest-growing criminal industry and devastates the lives of thousands of women, children and even young men every year in Michigan.
As a mother and grandmother, it sickens me to think that thousands of girls under the age of 18 are sold into the world of sex trafficking each year in Michigan and that 80 percent of trafficking victims are sexually exploited.
Also, as a senator from center of the state, I’ve learned all too well that traffickers know no respect to age, gender or economics.
That is why I’ve dedicated myself to doing everything I can to end human trafficking.
I am proud that Michigan is united in this effort. I want to thank my Legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle and Attorney General Bill Schuette for joining together in this fight.
While we are working on new laws, training and victim support, it all starts with increasing public awareness.
One of the greatest barriers we have to overcome in this fight is the perception among most people that it is a third-world scourge that only happens overseas. In reality, it’s happening in hometowns from Detroit to Mackinac Island.
I’ve crisscrossed the state raising public awareness by hosting the Human Trafficking Legislative Day at the Capitol in May; a summer book tour and discussion with Theresa Flores; and numerous forums, symposiums and town hall meetings.
Our latest effort was designating Jan. 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Michigan, and teaming up with S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) for its 3rd Annual Detroit Auto Show Outreach.
Major gatherings of people, such as the North American International Auto Show, are prime targets for trafficking — putting Michigan on the front line.
The S.O.A.P. group bought cases of soap bars, attached each with the human trafficking hotline number and distributed them in advance of the auto show to area hotels along with missing children posters.
The initiative aims to publicize the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline that can be called by victims of trafficking and those who suspect a case of trafficking may be taking place. People can call the toll-free hotline 24-hours-a-day at 1-888-3737-888.
Michigan is taking a leading role in enacting new laws to crack down on trafficking and support its victims. Many of my colleagues and I have met with victims and anti-trafficking activists to develop a comprehensive solution.
The result was the introduction of a 19-bill, bipartisan package sponsored by 13 senators that featured enhancing penalties, criminalizing online solicitations of minors and increasing both training for medical professionals and treatment for victims.
We need more legal tools, but we also need everyone — from first responders to our neighbors — to be able to recognize it and understand what they can do to stop it.
I offer my support and prayers to all trafficking victims and their families.
Trafficked individuals feel alone in the dark. I was recently proud to hold a poignant candlelight vigil at the state Capitol to celebrate our united effort to stop human trafficking and send victims a message of hope: You’re not alone. We are here as a flame piercing the darkness — shining a light on this heinous crime, and we will not give up until there are no more victims.
To learn more about human trafficking, including how to identify and report it, residents may watch an informative video on my website at www.senatorjudyemmons.com/human-trafficking.
Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, is chair of the Senate Families, Seniors and Human Services Committee.
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