Human trafficking exists in Lenawee County

By: 
MEGAN LINSKI

It’s been 152 years since the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, however, it still exists. Human trafficking, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, is a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain. The Lenawee County Human Trafficking Task Force is focused on combating human trafficking in the Lenawee County area. Vincent Emrick, Adrian Police Chief and member of the task force, says the focus of the group at the current time is to educate the community about human trafficking. 

“Unfortunately, it exists here,” Emrick said. “One of the main goals of the task force is to increase awareness about what’s happening, so when people see strange things they report it.”

Emrick said that human traffickers primarily target migrant workers, who come and go when work is available and may not necessarily have any ties to the area. “People who are trafficked don’t present themselves as such, so you won’t know they are until after arrests are made,” Emrick said. “People trafficked from other countries may adapt to our culture and think of it as a job. From a law enforcement perspective, if you enter a domestic assault situation or any group where individuals are trafficked, these individuals are quiet. They aren’t going to run up to you and tell you they’re trafficked because they’re afraid of the person they’re with. We think they’re shy, when really, the situation is very different.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), 81 human trafficking cases in Michigan have been reported to the NHTRC hotline this year as of June 30. Victims are categorized as “high,” or, “moderate” by the NHTRC, with “high” meaning there were high levels or indicators of human trafficking in the victim’s case, and “moderate” meaning there were several indicators of human trafficking, but the victim’s case lacked core details of coercion, fraud or force. Since 2007, the NHTRC hotline has reported a total of 525 moderate victims and 360 high victims in Michigan.

“The nature of it is to keep people moving so they don’t develop roots or friends, or people they can talk to” Emrick said. “People who are trafficked to a certain location may only be there a few weeks before they’re swapped out with another group. They’re feeding and housing a group of people for a period of time and making it so they can’t escape. They have houses with barbed wire that points inward instead of outward, and develop houses around the country to get them to do the work and slave-type labor. These traffickers are large organizations and they have a lot of resources to be able to move [victims] and store them in these locations.”

Measuring human trafficking incidents is difficult, Emrick said, and although he hasn’t made any recent arrests he’s received information that it is present in the community. “If you suspect human trafficking, call the police and give them the information,” Emrick said. “It could be nothing, but then again, it certainly could be something.”

Tecumseh Police Chief Troy Stern says that there haven’t been any cases of human trafficking in Tecumseh, but it’s something he and his department are always concerned about. “Nothing has raised our suspicion, but it’s something we consistently try to monitor and look for,” Stern said. “The victims are usually younger adults from outside the area, who have no ties to Lenawee County and come from abusive household situations. These indicators prompt us to investigate a little further. If someone suspects human trafficking, obviously they need to contact the local law enforcement immediately.” 

Ray Schmidt, president of Lenawee County Retired School Personnel (LCRSP), says the group will be focusing on combating human trafficking in 2016 because it is more present in the community than the group previously thought. “It’s a point of interest because of the amount of information on human trafficking that was in the papers last year,” Schmidt said. “As we see things, it might allow us to help people. We could intercede when things look a little strange, so we want people to be aware of it.”

Some of the signs a victim of human trafficking may exhibit are poor mental health, lack of knowledge of whereabouts, unusual or long work hours, signs of physical abuse, and the inability to come and go as he or she wishes. More signs of human trafficking can be found on the NHTRC website at www.traffickingresourcecenter.org. “It would be foolish to think that it doesn’t exist here,” Emrick said. “Anytime someone is held against their will, it affects the community.”

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Tecumseh Herald

 

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