Written by Tanya Terry
Many Michigan residents were shocked after Ryon Travis was convicted in 2022 for exploiting a child and adult victim in brutal ways. When West Bloomfield Police searched his residence in connection with a fraud investigation, Travis’s phone recovered explicit images depicting the sexual abuse of a young child. Upon returning to the home, HSI found an adult woman chained at the neck to a stripper pole in the living room. Travis had been prostituting this adult woman and three others out of his home. Travis was convicted and faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, and up to life. Although appalling, the vulnerable continue to be exploited, even in Michigan communities.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 50,123 signals in 2021, which included calls, texts and online chats. The National Human Trafficking Hotline works closely with service providers, law enforcement and other professionals nationwide and in Michigan to serve victims and survivors of trafficking, respond to human trafficking cases and share information and resources.
It appears the number of individuals being trafficked in Michigan is unfortunately growing. The hotline has received 8,884 signals since its inception, with 5,367 victims identified in 2,455 cases from Michigan since 2007. In 2021, there were 1,186 signals received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline from Michigan. Five hundred twenty-six of these signals were confirmed to be from victims or survivors of human trafficking.
President Biden has proclaimed January 2023 as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Although labor trafficking also exists in Michigan, sex trafficking remains the most common type of human trafficking. Both areas of human trafficking have grown nationwide.
Females are more likely to be trafficked. However, men and boys are also trafficked and are less likely to come forward.
Karinda Washington, executive director for social impact and campaign, DHS Office of Partnership and Engagement, pointed out human trafficking can be hidden from plain sight. Still, there are signs that may indicate an individual is being trafficked. For example, a trafficked individual may not be in possession of his or her identification at a grocery store and someone may appear to be controlling them.
She also stated factors play into vulnerable populations, such as economic instability or dependence, alcohol or substance abuse or mental health concerns.
“Those combinations make individuals vulnerable to a potential trafficker wanting to seek them and making them one of their victims,” Washington added.
Washington said underserved and underrepresented populations are vulnerable populations, whether that be communities of color, LGBTQ+ communities or other underserved populations. She said many Black communities in Flint are such underserved communities.
The Blue Campaign is a national public awareness campaign designed to educate the public, law enforcement and other industry partners to recognize the indicators of human trafficking and how to appropriately respond.
The whole purpose of the Blue Campaign is to really educate the public to be mindful, to keep their eyes and ears open, according to Washington.
Washington suggests in looking for indicators of human trafficking, notice drastic changes in behaviors, such as going from outgoing and outspoken to quiet and reserved, or vice versa.
These indicators may be posted at Hilton hotels, one partner of DHS in their efforts, or the indicators may be posted at airports, for example.
Trusted sources can help raise awareness on the matter. These sources can include community leaders, faith leaders and mentors, who can look for specific changes in youth. Washington pointed out it’s surprising what is shared once a trusted environment is created in which to share.
Resources are available that can be used to start conversations and raise awareness of trafficking for community leaders, church congregants, trusted adults or anyone intererested in empowering their peers to learn to recognize and report human trafficking. Many resources can be found at https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/community-leaders.
If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation: Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text at 233733 or chat at www.humantraffickinghotline.org/chat.
You can also call1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2433) to report suspicious criminal activity to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tip Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.
Anyone who believes they or someone else is in imminent danger should call 911 immediately.
Upcoming Human Trafficking 101 Webinars take place from 2-3:30 p.m. January 17 and January 24. Through it, members of the public can learn how to recognize and respond to potential cases of human trafficking. Also, organizations can learn about partnering with DHS. Click her to register: https://register.gotowebinar.com/rt/1959259778672970768