I live in Oakland County, Michigan, arguably the most affluent county in Michigan. Yet I also live in a county that is in a hotbed area of modern day human trafficking and slavery. No, I’m not trying to say that boatloads of slaves are somehow making their way through the Great Lakes to be sold to Detroit-area slave owners for back-breaking work on the farm. Modern day human trafficking is much more likely to involve young girls being sold into lives of sex trafficking or ignorant young people from foreign lands being sold into lives of servitude by their parents.
Why didn’t I know about this and how can it be happening without being noticed?
Modern day human trafficking often slips under the daily newscast radar unless someone is killed or causes some huge scandal for a prominent member of the community. Many of the victims live out their misery in the seedy parts of town and are only seen out at night plying their age-old trade. Some are literally held as hostage/servants within the homes of their “owners”; maybe occasionally seen through a window or at an open door by a neighbor. Many of them do not speak English, nor do they understand what people might be saying to them. Some of them started as confused and frightened runaways and are now far from home and totally dependent upon their captor/owners for everything in their lives. Some were actually sold into slavery by their parents, which may be the ultimate betrayal of parenthood obligations. They are alone, fearful for their lives and unable to see any way out. No wonder we never see them or hear about their plight.
Many of the “owners” of modern day slaves are well to do members of their communities- doctors or business owners. Many are first generation Americans with strong cultural ties to their homes of origin. What we fail to understand sometimes is that what we call slavery is an accepted practice in many of those countries. That doesn’t make it right; just helps to explain why it happens. It is sometimes easy for a wealthy immigrant to reach back into his native land and “buy” a servant to do the housework and a whole lot cheaper than paying for a local maid service. It is also relatively easy to keep an ignorant young person who doesn’t speak the local language isolated and under control.
Yet, a few of these modern day slaves do make it out. Sometimes they get lucky and are swept up in police actions that just happen to include the place where they are being held. Sometimes neighbors just stop believing the false stories that their owners made up to cover their presence and they report their suspicions to the authorities (if one can find an authority with any interest in pursuing such matters). Sometimes the victims finally screw up enough courage to run away from their captors and find someone to whom they can turn themselves in. Some hear about programs like MAP (Michigan Abolitionist Project) and find a way to get in touch with them. It is almost beyond belief that we still need a group of abolitionists in modern America, but we do. John Brown’s body may lie “a moldering in its grave”, but the slavers have returned.
I had the opportunity to meet one such survivor/victim at a Chamber of Commerce event at a local credit union that featured a speaker from the Vista Maria Home in Dearborn Heights an one of the slavery victims whom they have helped . You sort of stand there listening in disbelief as the story of the young victim’s life unfolds – a pre-teen runaway who ended up being sold into the sex trade in the Dearborn area. You want to believe that “this can’t be happening; not here; not in this day and age”; but it does happen It is happening every day and it needs to be stopped and the victims helped to recover their lives. None of us can continue to pretend that this problem doesn’t exist in America or in our own back yards.
You will hear about the experiences of one such survivor of the local salve trade at the upcoming panel discussion Youth Trafficking / Modern Day Slavery in Oakland County on Mar 16. The panel begins at 7 pm. Doors open at 6:30 to visit tables hosted by organizations involved in various aspects of anti-trafficking support. The event is being held at the Milford United Methodist Church, 1200 Atlantic St., Milford, MI 48381 and is co-sponsored by the North West Oakland Optimist Club and the Milford chapter of the Michigan Abolitionist Project MAP/NOAH. The panel will include Oakland County Commissioner Eileen Kowall, Kelly Carter, an Assistant Attorney General for Michigan; Chrissy a Survivor; and a MAP Representative. If you thought that this is just a problem in Africa or the Middle East, think again…it’s happening right here in your own back yard. Click here to view the poster for this event. My advice is to bring some Kleenex because the things that you will hear might make you cry. The hope is that they will also make you mad and make you want to help.