Human trafficking is the third-largest criminal industry in the world, worth an estimated $32 billion.
One of the fastest-growing criminal activities across the globe, human trafficking generates revenue through the trade and selling of human victims.
This pervasive criminal activity has become an issue in Michigan, as well.
Some have noted that it is an especially big crisis in Western Michigan.
In response, the state has implemented a number of measures to eliminate this heinous practice.
Human trafficking in Michigan involves both sex and labor trafficking of both US and foreign nationals.
Human Trafficking in Michigan
There are several reasons that Michigan may be attractive to human traffickers.
Agricultural Industry: Michigan’s large agricultural industry attracts many immigrant laborers.
Perpetrators take advantage of this to exploit laborers and subject them to labor trafficking.
A Significant Percentage of the Population Has High-Risk Vulnerabilities: It is estimated that 25% of children experience homelessness every year in Michigan, according to 2014 data from the National Center on Family Homelessness.
Homelessness and poverty are pathways for entering kids into trafficking.
In some cases, these minors will engage in what is known as “survival sex” to get basic necessities such as food and shelter, as also discussed by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services’ website.
In addition, from the 129,000 unauthorized immigrants in Michigan, 61,000 (47%) are at or above 200% of the poverty level, as indicated by data from the Migration Policy Institute.
Proximity to Borders: The closeness to Canada might facilitate trafficking as victims can be easily transported from there to the United States.
In fact, Detroit (via Toronto) was identified as an arrival gateway to the United States of Korean sexually exploited minors (Richard J. Estes & Neil Alan Weiner, University of Pennsylvania).
Similarly, Canada has been identified as a transit destination country, particularly of South Korean females, en route to the United States, as mentioned in the 2009 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
Moreover, Michigan’s proximity to surrounding states, for example, Ohio to the East, that ranks sixth in the nation, according to 2020 data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline (310 human trafficking cases have been reported), place it in a strategic position to transport victims across state lines.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline tracks important data regarding the state of human trafficking across the country, including Michigan.
Michigan ranks seventh in the nation in the number of cases reported by state to the hotline.
Overall, since 2007, the total number of calls has reached 7,439, with a total of 2,165 cases reported.
During this time, 2,923 moderate-risk victims were found, with 2,013 of them being high-risk.
2020 data shows 295 cases reported and also revealed the following information:
- High indicator victims: 156
- Moderate indicator victims: 331
- Victims exclusively in sex trafficking: 238
- Victims exclusively in labor trafficking: 16
- Victims involved in both sex and labor trafficking: 8
- Female victims: 264
- Male victims: 28
- Adult victims: 215
- Minor victims: 67
- Most common venue for sex trafficking: residence-based commercial sex (30)
- Top venue for labor trafficking: restaurants/foot service (3)
Consider the impact of human trafficking in the following Michigan cities:
As a major central hub, Detroit is especially susceptible to human trafficking.
According to the 100 Most Populous Cities Report from the Human Trafficking Hotline (12/7/2007 – 12/31/2016), Detroit ranks in the 17th position with a total of 223 number of cases.
High poverty and homelessness rates in the area increase the likelihood of human trafficking.
This is revealed in a 2016 case in which a tip to the FBI led to the discovery of three trafficking victims, including minors chained and forced into prostitution.
Grand Rapids is as the center of the Western Michigan human trafficking crisis and is currently second in the state in the number of human trafficking cases, behind only Detroit.
Experts note that Western Michigan has 12 of 15 demographics particularly attractive to human traffickers.
The Human Trafficking Work Group (HTWG) notes that there are several avenues for human trafficking in Grand Rapids, including social media, truck stops, hotels, the Internet, and on the streets, among others.
Victims come in all races, genders, nationalities, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Michigan's Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Efforts
Michigan has taken a proactive approach in eliminating human trafficking with the following efforts:
Advancements from the Department of the Attorney General
The Depart of the Attorney General has worked to combat human trafficking in the state in a number of ways. These measures include:
- The Establishment of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit: Signed into law by Attorney General Bill Schuette in 2011, the unit looks to identify human trafficking cases and prosecute the perpetrators. Since its inception, the unit has arrested 24 people, with eighteen of them already convicted.
- Creation of the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission: Created in 2013, the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission works with experts and several departments across the state to combat human trafficking. The commission is involved in prevention efforts, including raising awareness, as well as working with government officials to recommend policy updates. This was first seen by their push to get comprehensive anti-human trafficking legislation passed in 2014, which included items such as safe harbor for victims.
Advancements from the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is firmly committed to eradicating human trafficking in Michigan. To accomplish this, they have implemented a number of policies, including:
- The establishment of a Human Trafficking of Children Protocol by the MDHHS. Developed with other stakeholders, this protocol works to guide child welfare personnel and other professionals to better identify and assist child victims with coordinated specialized victim-centered services.
- The MDHHS created human trafficking screening tools (for ongoing and closed cases) that are used by child welfare professionals to screen potential child victims.
- Governor Snyder signed the Human Trafficking Health Advisory Board bill (Public Act 461) into law in 2014. The measure came as part of 20 bills designated to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts in Michigan. The Board is established in the MDHHS and is integrated by health and mental health professionals of the Department, experts, and survivors among its members. The Board has a number of duties, including:
- Assessing the state of services being provided to victims by collecting and analyzing information
- Holding annual meetings with relevant health officials to determine what assistance is available
- Working with health agencies at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure that survivors are aware of available assistance
- Making improvements to current state laws and policies by reviewing current legislation
Michigan’s Legal Considerations and Current Anti-Trafficking Laws
Michigan has a number of anti-trafficking laws that work to prevent and eliminate human trafficking in the state. These human trafficking section of Michigan law is as follows:
- MCL 750.462(a)-(i): The first human trafficking laws in Michigan were passed on August 24, 2006. Since then, this legislation has been modified multiple times to better respond to the crisis. These laws work to provide a number of provisions to end human trafficking and help victims. These provisions offer the following protections:
- Safe Harbor: In a 2014 update to existing human trafficking legislation, victims were granted the ability to have safe harbor. This prevents minors from being charged with prostitution for actions taken while being trafficked.
- Restitution: In a 2010 update, victims were able to get increased restitution from their perps, including medical costs, as well as money to make up for the number of years they were enslaved. Restitution can also include housing and transportation costs, child care expenses, and attorney fees deriving from the offense.
- Medicaid Benefits: Under 2014 PA 341 [SB 592], victims who are eligible for Medicaid can be covered for injuries related to their human trafficking.
- Medical Training: To better accommodate victims, the law also provides for enhanced training to medical professionals under 2014 PA 343 [SB 597].
Additionally, laws work to strengthen the penalties on human traffickers, including adding them to the sex offender registry, increased fines, and felony prison time.
Stories, Cases and Successful Operations
Since the establishment of human trafficking laws in Michigan in 2006, a number of cases have been reported.
Below, find a sample of cases that represent the current human trafficking landscape in Michigan.
- People V. Golden—In 2016, a tip provided to the Southeast Michigan Trafficking and Exploitation Crimes force led to the conviction of Andrew Golden. Golden was found guilty of sex trafficking, a 17-year-old minor. He was sentenced up to 20 years in prison.
- People V. Colon—Also, in 2016, Johnathan Colon was arrested in Michigan for having an online human trafficking “escort” operation that serviced Oakland and Macomb Counties. The twenty-four-year-old was eventually charged with multiple felonies for offering trafficked victims for sex while keeping them addicted to drugs.
- People V. Speed—In yet another 2016 case, Amber Speed was arrested for trafficking minors in an online sex escort operation from 2009 to 2014. She was eventually sentenced to five to twenty years in prison.
- Operation Cross Country XI—This 2017 FBI operation resulted in the rescuing of 84 minors in mid-October. In Michigan, twelve children were rescued, and eight traffickers and pimps were arrested. A total of 46 adults were arrested on charges related to prostitution.
Additional cases include the discovery of sex trafficking rings that transported teens victims to Ohio, Indiana, and other states rotating them among motels, truck stops, and highway welcome centers.
In another case, a sex trafficking ring abducted a Toledo-area girl who was rescued by Michigan Law Enforcement.
Both cases that evidenced the involvement of both states in trafficking were discussed by Jeremy M. Wilson, Erin Dalton, in their 2007 research, Human Trafficking in Ohio.
Organizations, Coalitions, Taskforces and Universities
There are various organizations, task forces, and universities that work in the anti-trafficking field and collaborate with relevant agencies to put an end to human trafficking in the state of Michigan.
Some of them are:
The Hope Project: The Hope Project works to provide services that aid in healing girls victimized by human trafficking.
They have done this through a number of efforts, including the creation of the Lakeshore Human Trafficking Task Force (LHTTF) to combat human trafficking in Muskegon County.
They also intend to open a home for girls aged 11-17 who have been victims of human trafficking.
Sanctum House: Sanctum House works to provide educational and residential resources to victims.
Studies have shown that 84% women who graduate from the program stay clean for longer than two years.
Hope Against Trafficking (HAT): A non-profit organization, HAT works with women to provide them 12-month residences so that they can rebuild their lives.
Michigan Rescue and Restore Coalition: The Coalition strives to build a community of resources for human trafficking survivors by working with a number of local departments in Southeast Michigan.
Michigan Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force: The ICAC Task Force is a multi-jurisdictional effort with the aim to target those individuals who sexually exploit children online.
The Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit (CCU) is in charge to oversee the Michigan ICAC task force.
Among the available resources that are offered is the option to submit a CyberTipline report, online or by phone, to inform about suspicious activity to law enforcement to start an investigation.
Additionally, community members can request a speaker from the Michigan ICAC task force to present a lecture about Internet safety education and outreach.
The FBI’s Southeast Michigan Trafficking and Exploitation Crimes (SEMTEC) Task Force: Sponsored by the FBI, this task force works with local and state law enforcement to tackle child trafficking cases and to provide training to local and state officers.
University of Michigan School of Law, Human Trafficking Clinical Program: The program has two complementary components. One is the Human Trafficking Clinic (HTC), which started in 2009 as the first law clinic to solely work with human trafficking cases.
Among its legal services, the HTC provides representation to domestic and international victims of human trafficking.
The students who serve in the Clinic have the opportunity to work on human trafficking issues and cases and gain real world experience and skills about community outreach, education initiatives, advocacy, and research.
It also has the Human Trafficking Law Project (HTP) that maintains a database of human trafficking cases across the country to provide information to other groups looking to combat the problem.