In Our Own Backyard

The shame across the street book coverTrafficking in Michigan:

For a more in-depth view of human trafficking in the United States, we must look no further than the suburbs of Detroit. The true story of Theresa Flores, The Slave Across the Street, outlines her experiences as a sex slave in the United States. Theresa belonged to an average upper-middle class family. She lived comfortably in her home in Birmingham, MI with her mom dad and two younger brothers. Her father moved a lot because of his job, and none of the family members expected to stay in Birmingham for long. Theresa was intrigued by the large Arabic population in her neighborhood and school. She was intrigued in particular by an Arab boy named Daniel (note that real names have been changed), a Chaldean, meaning a Catholic Arab. He occasionally attended her church, but more often it was the females in his family that attended. Daniel expressed interest in her and coerced her into going to his house where he later raped her. Following her traumatic rape, she was informed by Daniel that his cousins were home and had taken pictures of them while having sex. His cousins threatened to show her parents, the school, and her church these condemning images if she didn’t do as they say. Not only did they threaten to show the images, but they threatened to kill her family.

Theresa felt that she had no other choice, and so she began taking calls in the middle of the night, sneaking out of her house, and being whisked off the rich neighborhoods where she was used for sex. Theresa never saw the money her torture earned, and the cousins claimed all income. Despite coming from a good, stable house, in an unassuming suburb neighborhood, Theresa was trafficked within the United States.

Why Michigan?

At a recent talk I attended in which Theresa Flores was the speaker, she outlined the reasons why Michigan is one of the most dangerous states for human trafficking. First of all we should recognize that Michigan is the 5th highest rated State in which human trafficking occurs. Why? Michigan has several factors that make it more susceptible to trafficking. For one Michigan is connected to an international boarder, Canada. Other reasons include the fact that we have many highways, which make travel in and out of the state quick and discrete. A lot of local trafficking occurs at truck stops on highways in which runaway children are picked up. Cities in which the most trafficking class come from include: Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Mackinac Island. This information was taken from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and reported by the Polaris Project.

Another alarming fact is that it is the internet that enables traffickers to be so successful. Simply type in backpage.com in your internet browser and you will be taken to a site similar to craigslist. Unlike craigslist though you will find categories such as: escorts, body rubs, strippers and strip clubs, dom. (domination) and fetish, male escorts, and adult jobs. Listing are not exclusive to cities, in fact listings can come from your own town. One can simply put in Grand Rapids as your location and find listings from a wide radius around that area. Inside these listings you will find many young women, some even under age soliciting themselves. Under adult jobs you will find listings for “Seeking ladies! Escorting, Dancing & Modeling! Make $ and Travel To Great Destinations!” This is extremely alarming because these are the very things that traffickers say to entice their victims.

The Michigan State Police also gave a talk following Theresa Flores stating that these sites are where the check for trafficked victims. One way to identify a trafficked victim who is soliciting against their will is if they do not show their face in their pictures. Typically when a face is not show it can mean that the individual is underage. The images could therefore be considered child pornography.

Michigan Legislation:

on the stepsThis above information may lead individuals to ask, “So what are we doing about this?” Currently there are 20 bills that were going through Michigan’s legislature. As of October 16, 2014 all many bills were signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder, making Michigan one of the leaders in Anti-Human Trafficking in the United States.

There laws include protecting victims from prostitution charges. It therefore provides a presumption of innocence for minors accused of prostitution, and there are opportunities for victims to expunge previous convictions and seek counseling and medical care. It also makes it easier for people to charge traffickers. It will strengthen penalties for traffickers and they will be placed on the sex offender registry.

One bill was accurately named the Theresa Flores Act in honor of Theresa Flores, who inspired Senator Judy Emmons to work so hard against human trafficking in Michigan. This bill is involved in Michigan’s statute of limitations. What this means that you have 6 years after being trafficked to press charges against those who trafficked you. What Flores states is that for many who are trafficked it can take up to 20 or more years to even come to terms with what has happened to your body and psyche. Because of this, many victims do not press charges against their traffickers in time frame of the statute of limitations. Now there is an extension on the statute of limitations to 25 letting trafficking victims have longer access to pressing charges against their traffickers. This bill also permanently establishes a Human Trafficking Commission within the attorney general’s office.

Nicole Outman
Ferris State University
2014

References

Flores, T.L. (2010). The slave across the street. Location: Ampelon Publishing

Oostig, J. (2014). Bills to fight human trafficking signed into law by michigan gov. rick

snyder. Mlive.com. Retrieved on 10/16/14 from http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2014/10/bills_to_fight_human_trafficki.html