You may choose to look the other way…

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” ― William Wilberforce

That saying ended the presentation by Christie, a human trafficking survivor, at last night’s event at the Milford United Methodist Church in Milford. Christie was by far the most compelling speaker because she was sharing her own experiences of having been trafficked when she was a pre-teen and her more recent experiences as she ministers to and tries to save children who are now going through that experience. She could not help but tear up while telling her story and hers weren’t the only eyes that weren’t dry by the end of her 10 minute presentation. Her tale of being gang raped and beaten while she pursued her efforts to rescue others and her devotion to continuing to try were sobering and inspiring. You may choose to look the other way…

The information presented about this problem probably shocked most in the audience – that Michigan is the 4th leading state for human trafficking (some say it is 2nd) was an eye opener. The fact that, in Michigan there are as many young boys forced into lives of prostitution as young girls, was certainly a surprise to all who heard it. The explanation of what constitutes human trafficking – someone taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of another for purposes of making a profit – certainly widened the audience’s view of the problem. The point was made that victims can be anyone and anywhere, and that many don’t fit neatly into the stereotypes that many have of trafficking victims. You may choose to look the other way…

The fact that almost half of the human trafficking in Michigan is labor oriented instead of sex oriented was also something that most had not thought about. Certainly we have seen stories locally about families who have imported slave house workers. Michigan’s large, but mostly unregulated farm labor industry, is certainly a contributor to the trade in human beings, with migrant workers being easy targets; however, the victim might also be the waitress who brings you your coffee at the local fast food place. Our long and relatively open border with Canada and our relatively good transportation infrastructure (current potholes aside) also contribute to Michigan being a prime location for this human trafficking and as a pass-through state for children being transported elsewhere. You may choose to look the other way…

Christie also touched upon the ways that some rationalize not doing more about this problem, such as the thought that these victims could just walk away from this life if they chose to do so. The lack of understanding that it takes to embrace that point of view is almost at the same level as that shown by the Missouri Senator who claimed that women who have been raped can somehow shut down their own reproductive system to avoid getting pregnant and so they ought not to be allowed to seek abortions in cases of rape. The boys and girls and the adults who fall into these human trafficking traps are held there by physiological and sometimes physical means that few can understand. Many victims also become drug dependent and their owners/pimps become the source for that and everything else that is meaningful in their lives at that time – drugs, food, shelter, protection and, many believe, even love. Christie shared that most of the time it takes three interventions (rescues and rehabs) to finally get a boy or girl truly free. Many times these victims suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome which we commonly associate with wars and soldiers. Many have have been living a life of daily trauma for years, so just turning that off and going on with a “normal” life is impossible. You may choose to look the other way…

One of the final points that Christie made is the need for a change in the attitudes of the general public towards these victims; starting with the acknowledgement that they are truly victims and not living those lives because they want to. Christie asked the audient, “Do you know of any child who has ever told you that they want to grow up and be a prostitute?” Do you know anyone who aspires to be a drug addict or to be gang raped? How many children that you know want to go out into the fields and pick fruit for 12-14 back-breaking hours so that they can go back to their one room cabin with 6-8 others and have a meager meal before bed? These are most often vulnerable children who see no way out of the places and circumstances that they find themselves in; and not responsible adults with the choice to walk away.  How do we greet them on the street when we see them? Do we stop and ask if we can help or do we look the other way and hurry past them? You may choose to look the other way…

Oakland County Councilperson Eileen Kowall also spoke about the work that was done on this issue while she was the local State Representative. Apparently Michigan, while high on the target list for human traffickers was only so-so in terms of the laws that were on the books to deal with the issue. Eileen served on a task force that Governor Snyder put together to review and strengthen the laws that could be used to combat the issue and increase the support and services for victims. You may choose to look the other way…

The bottom line on all of this is that it’s a big problem, it’s a local problem, it’s our problem. It is ugly and unlikely to get better without a lot of hard work from a lot of people. These practices flourish in the dark spaces in our society, those places that we have been reluctant to shine a light upon and in which we have been fearful of becoming involved.  I hope this post helps you understand the problem a little more because – “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

For more on the problem and some local groups that are trying to make a difference, click on the links below –,4669,7-192-53480_56421-348984–,00.html

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”


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