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Local Professionals Gather to Form Regional Human Trafficking Task Force

September 19, Adrian, Michigan – About 26 professionals from Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee and Monroe Counties gathered at Weber Retreat and Conference Center at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse to discuss the formation of the Southern Michigan Regional Human Trafficking Task Force. The group of law enforcement officers, social workers, victims’ services providers, local college faculty members, and Adrian Dominican Sisters is the first of four regional task forces to be formed from the five-year-old Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Sister Thérèse Haggerty, OP, chair of the Adrian Crossroads Human Trafficking Task Force, brought the group to order and introduced Ms. Jane White, executive director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. Ms. White emphasized the vital role that regional task forces can play as concerned citizens and professionals who can be aware of the presence of human trafficking in their communities and address the evil professionally, with particular emphasis on the victims.

Sister Thérèse Haggerty, OP, Chair of the Adrian Crossroads Human Trafficking Task Force, welcomes participants to the planning meeting of the Southern Michigan Regional Human Rights Task Force.
                                                                               Photo by Melinda P. Ziegler

During the morning “Human Trafficking 101” session, participants learned the truth of many of the misunderstandings that people frequently hold about modern day slavery. In response to the common belief that human trafficking only occurs in other countries, Jane White said, “We always say, ‘It exists in the United States. It exists in the State of Michigan. It exists in your community and very potentially in your neighborhood.’”

She noted the estimates that 20 million to 30 million children, women, and men are enslaved throughout the world today in sexual exploitation and in slave labor in such businesses as restaurants, factories, nail salons, agriculture, and family homes. Estimates vary greatly, since human trafficking victims usually give evasive answers about their situation for fear of punishment or the harm that traffickers threaten to inflict on their families.

Along with statistics, participants also heard stories of human trafficking victims: of a 15-year-old girl who was forced to endure rape by strangers every night because of threats against her younger brothers, and of a restaurant worker forced to work day and night, threatened with a beating if she spoke to the customers. 

Jan Smith, of the Adrian Chapter of Zonta, International, reads a brief description of the life of a human trafficking victim enslaved in Southern Michigan.
                                                                                                        Photo by Melinda P. Ziegler

Jane White also discussed the various ways that the Michigan Task Force is trying to address the problem. She emphasized the importance of developing a protocol and a support system that would be in place in the event that a police officer encounters a human trafficking situation. Before that happens, she said, “We need to work out a response. We need to find some temporary shelter homes. We need to have a victim service provider that can be called instantaneously” in the event that human trafficking victims are discovered. 

To lay the groundwork for the Southern Michigan Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, participants also met in small groups to determine the benefits they saw in working together as a coalition of professionals from four counties and to discuss possible obstacles to their work together. In particular, they identified the need to educate the public about the existence of human trafficking in Southern Michigan and saw the benefits of pooling their resources in their work against modern-day slavery.

Participants returned home to discern which members of their communities could best serve on the regional task force – whose talents are especially needed as the four-county coalition begins to work together to address human trafficking in the community.  

Jane White, Executive Director of the Michigan Human Rights Task Force, gives her presentation to the members of the regional task force.
                                                                                                        Photo by Melinda P. Ziegler

The meeting was hosted by the Adrian Crossroads Human Trafficking Task Force, originally made up of Adrian Dominican Sisters in response to the Congregation’s corporate stance to “stand in support of human rights by opposing human trafficking (children, women and men) for the purpose of sexual exploitation and any other form of slavery” and to educate themselves and others on “the magnitude, causes and consequences of this abuse, wherever we are missioned and throughout the world.” Through the years, other concerned groups joined the task force: members of Zonta International, local law enforcement officials, social workers, lawyers, physicians, and emergency room professionals.