September 6, 2010

Human trafficking, exploitation is on the rise in Michigan

9-6-2010 Michigan:

Theresa Flores will have knots in her stomach when she comes to Grand Rapids later this week.

“It’s hard to come back to Michigan,” she says from her home in Ohio, where the carpet cleaning company runs its whirring machine and her teen daughter rings in from her cell phone.

Flores was a 15-year-old living in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham when she was held captive in a nightmarish sex slave operation for two years.

She lived in a nice house and went to school every day, where she was a member of the track team.

Almost every night, a black Trans Am picked her up, and she was taken to the basements of houses, where groups of men would rape and torture her while her family slept. They threatened her and her family if she told.

Flores, 45, will be the main speaker Friday at a panel discussion on human trafficking, joined by area experts with a mission to shed light on a dark subject.

“It happens here,” Flores says, “to white, middle-class teens who live in the suburbs. It’s easy to think that because you live in a nice neighborhood, you’re safe. Well, you’re not. We’ve let our guard down.”

What is human trafficking?

Experts say many people aren’t even sure what human trafficking is, often assuming it means smuggling illegal immigrants across borders.

Its real definition: when a person is recruited or transferred through some form of coercion or deception and exploited, mainly for forced labor or sexual exploitation. Women and children are the primary targets, but men also are trafficked.

While much of the illegal trafficking involves bringing women and children across international borders to be sold into sex industries, the number of girls exploited this way is on the rise in Michigan, according to a report released last month by the Michigan Women’s Foundation in partnership with Women’s Funding Network. The May study included the most popular outlets for domestic commercial exploitation: the Internet and escort services. ..For the remainder of this story by Terri Finch Hamilton

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