Cooley hosts human trafficking awareness event

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By Roberta Gubbins

Legal News

"The red light district in Mumbai, India is a pretty dismal looking place," said Chris Johnson, Cooley Professor and co-chair, Community Committee, Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. "You can almost feel the evil."

Johnson opened the trafficking awareness program at Thomas M. Cooley Law School on the evening of February 10th.

"We visited a church on the edge of the district," he said. "The women come to the church and participate in the service. The pastor said 'some of these women won't live through the night.' The 30,000 plus women there are the subjects of sexual bondage or slavery. They are either sold by their families or tricked or kidnapped."

Mumbai, India is just one example of trafficking. The speakers at the event were from many walks of life but all had a story to tell of how they came to know about trafficking or modern day slavery and the efforts they were making to combat it.

Wendy Sale, co-chair, Community Committee, Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, "had my heart broken looking into the face of a seven year old who had recently been rescued as a sex slave in Cambodia." At that moment she knew she had to do something.

Sale led off with an explanation of human trafficking or "modern day slavery."

* What it is: It is the act of transporting or transforming an individual using force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploitation. Traffic victims are forced into prostitution, sweat shops, combat, begging networks, porn or nude dancing and sale of body parts. Unlike smuggling, it does not call for movement--a teen-age girl can be transformed to a prostitute without leaving home.

* Why does it happen? It is a matter of economics, where there is demand, there will be supply. And, she said, "people are becoming cheaper. They can be sold over and over."

* How big is it? "We don't really know, but it is estimated that 27 million people have been or are being trafficked. It is the second biggest crime internationally."

* Where are they? In restaurants, nail salons, factories, on the farms, or as nannies or au pairs.

* Symptoms? Children will withdraw from family and friends, have expensive and inappropriate gifts and will be seen with an older crowd.

* What can we do? Educate, evaluate and engage. "If you suspect that a person is a trafficked victim, call 1-888-3737-888."

Dr. Sabrina Black, vice chair, Michigan Rescue and Restore Coalition, said that "every country has been affected," either as a state that sends victims or one that receives them. "At every major gathering people are sold," she said, citing as examples, Super Bowl 2012 or the 2012 Summer Olympics. We need to be there saying no, we will not tolerate this. These gatherings are an opportunity to do something. We need to keep the conversation going."

Stephanie Hamilton, International Justice Mission, Trafficking Victims Protection act and political advocacy, She urged the audience to become more politically active. "Ways to do that are the on-line petition campaign or call Senator Levin about the proposed legislation."

Pastor Bonnie Laudeman, Clarskston Community Church, became aware of trafficking when a parishioner came to her asking for advice. The parishioner said that a woman who was the nanny for her next-door neighbor came to her with hands full of change. She asked the parishioner to take it and change it into dollars so she could hide it because her employers had taken all her papers, beat her and wouldn't let her eat.

"I'm looking at this woman, said Laudeman, "it's 1998. The phrase human trafficking had not crossed my path. All I knew was one person needed help."

Luademan found help, the woman escaped from the house and is now living in Flint with the rest of her family. Laudeman's recommendation was to take on the task one person at a time.

"I want to do for the one what I would love to do for the many," she said.

Sarah Warpinski, MSU School of Law student, spoke about the efforts of the Modern Abolitionist Legal Society to fight human exploitation, whose mission is to raise general awareness about modern day slavery and stimulate greater academic research by students, faculty and alumni at MSU College of Law about human trafficking.

Forrest Pasanski, Michigan assistant attorney general, told of the human trafficking unit in in the AG's office which is working with the new laws against human trafficking.

Chris Johnson closed the session with a discussion of corporate responsibility. "There are 12.3 million people in forced labor. Many are in sweat shops or major mining activities. For example, cotton from Uzbekistan or coffee and cacao are tainted with slave labor."

He mentioned the website www.slaveryfootprint.com, which gives statistics on the number of slaves it takes to make such items as cell phones. "You can figure out how many slaves are working for you."

On January 11, which was National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said, "Every day across America, and right here in Michigan, men, women and children are bound by the chains of modern-day slavery. Our Constitution's 13th amendment bans slavery in all its forms, but human traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to hide their victims in the shadow. Our own family members are forced into prostitution, domestic servitude and other forms of labor. Even more alarming, approximately 40 percent of human trafficking cases involve the sexual abuse of a child."

"I did not have a concept of how detestable of a crime against humanity it really is," said Johnson. "I am proud that Cooley, along with the International Law Society, the American Constitution Society and Cooley's Graduate Program in Corporate Law and Finance is hosting this conference to make our students, faculty and members of the public more aware of this issue and engage them in working on solutions."

Published: Mon, Feb 20, 2012

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