Professionals Comment on the Impact of Sex Trafficking in the Flint Area

Human+trafficking+has+been+a+growing+problem+in+Michigan+for+years.+

Santiago Ochoa

Human trafficking has been a growing problem in Michigan for years.

Gracie Warda, Writer

When you think of sex trafficking, it’s probably a faraway, distant idea. This illusion, however, is false. According to the World Population Review, Michigan has the sixth-highest rate of sex trafficking cases in the US, coming in at 3.81 victims per 100,000 people. 

According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” It also explains that because of fear, intimidation and language barriers, many victims do not come forward, meaning that human/sex trafficking is a “hidden crime.” 

“The sad reality is that human trafficking is occurring every day, everywhere,” said UM-Flint Director of Public Safety Raymond Hall. “What we do know is human trafficking and abuse are a nationwide problem that we are all facing.”

Tom Cole, a resource officer at Fenton High School, worked as an undercover narcotics policeman in the Flint area for three years and has been a policeman for 20 years. In his experience, most victims of sex trafficking are drug users being abused by their dealers. 

In one such case, two young women were held captive by their heroin dealer, who would then offer sexual acts to his other customers to make more money for himself. This dealer used fear and intimidation to force the women to perform sexual acts, and would often use drugs as leverage over the women. 

“… I ended up getting a search warrant for the house,” said Cole. “We booted in the door and he was arrested for multiple charges. She was an 18-year-old girl from this area … she was hooked on drugs, and that’s how she got in the scene.” 

This narrative is not uncommon. Cole said that victims of forced prostitution are often “young girls getting hooked on drugs and being prostituted out.”

Drugs, however, only account for some sex crimes. Any man or woman on the street can become a victim if they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once captured, many victims are controlled by blackmailing, intimidation, threats, ultimatums and more. 

“Just because you don’t have a gun held up to your head doesn’t mean you’re doing it of your own free will,” said Cole. “There’s predators out there that will … prey on these young women. And young men, too, but 99 percent of the time it was women.” 

Because this issue, along with sexual assault and harassment, occurs everywhere, UM-Flint has practices in place to protect students. One example is the sexual misconduct/violence prevention module, which helps students prepare and be aware of threatening situations. 

“For example, the Department of Public Safety RAD training at no cost to our students,” said Hall. “The Department of Public Safety continues to work diligently with our law enforcement partners to combat this problem.” 

RAD training is a four-session self-defense course offered through the university, in addition to the module available online for students. RAD training is temporarily suspended because of COVID-19, but when it resumes, individuals can register by calling 810-762-3333. 

Apart from preventative measures available to students through the university, some also choose to take independent self-defense classes in order to protect themselves. 

However, getting involved in various training opportunities and self-defense classes are not the only ways for people to protect themselves. For your own safety and for the safety of those around you, Cole recommends staying private on social media. 

“You can’t put your whole life story on social media,” said Cole. “This is a billion-dollar industry. They have people that can get into blocked accounts.” 

In addition to caution when using social media, simply being aware of surroundings can add a layer of protection. 

“Be aware,” said Hall. “Your best tool to help prevent human trafficking is to be informed. If you think something is wrong, it may be. Are there signs of physical abuse? Isolation? Does the individual feel threatened? Call your law enforcement agency for assistance! When you help protect others you help protect yourself. Be aware of your surroundings. Report suspicious behavior. If you see something, say something!”