Law Day 2013: Human trafficking is a serious national problem, expert says

By Tom Gantert

Legal News


Once when Jane White was asked to give a speech, she was nearly disinvited.

“We don’t think our members can take it,” the organizer told her.”

White, the director and founder of the non-profit Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force housed at the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, told a room full of Jackson attorneys on Wednesday she wouldn’t tone down her message.

“I have to tell you what I see,” said White, who spoke at the annual Law Day event at the Jackson Country Club. 

The event filled the conference room and drew notable law figures such as 12th Judicial District Court Judge Darryl Mazur and Jackson County Prosecutor Jerard Jarzynka.

White said she is asked by people if human trafficking and slavery go on in their community.

“The answer is a question,” White said. “Do you have illegal drug sales? Do you have illegal gun sales?”

There are 450,000 runaways a year in the U.S. and 150,000 of those runaways will be approached within 48 hours by a pimp and be solicited for sex, White said, adding that the average age of a girl entering prostitution in the U.S. is 12.

According to the Michigan Attorney General’s office, 40 percent of the human trafficking cases involve sexual exploitation of a child. White said there have been five human trafficking cases prosecuted by the Michigan Attorney General in the last 18 months.

White spoke of the challenges the legal system faces when trying to prosecute those involved in child trafficking. She said 77 percent of those prosecuted for murder are found guilty while by comparison only 1 percent of those prosecuted for human trafficking are found guilty.

Human trafficking involves taking people of all ages and forcing them through violence, coercion, drugs and alcohol to do things against their will, usually in a sexual nature.

It can involve foreign nationals trying to come to the U.S. and lured with promises of a better life to U.S. teenage runaways picked up off the streets.

People think traffickers go into a house and steal children, White said.

“They don’t have to do that,” she said, adding that some trick their victims by lying that they want to help them out.

Police and government officials need more training and support on how to spot signs of human trafficking, White said. Eighty percent of Michigan police officers are untrained in child trafficking, there is no support system in Michigan for follow up on human trafficking and many times the victims are unable or unwilling to talk, she said. To help, the community has to insist on training for professional groups and attorneys could offer pro-bono work.

“Victims need attorneys,” White said.

She gave an example of police pulling over a van at 11 p.m. Saturday with 12 shoeless juveniles in the back who can’t speak English and the driver speaks for them. “What is your community prepared to do?” White asked.

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