By Debra Talcott
Human trafficking: A scourge abroad as well as in our own backyard, according to presenters
On a snowy Friday evening on Feb. 10, high school students, law school students, lawyers, and other community members gathered on the four Thomas M. Cooley Law School campuses to hear informative presentations on the topic of human trafficking.
Cooley-Auburn Hills Professor E. Christopher Johnson Jr., has spearheaded the school’s efforts to raise public awareness about the issue of human trafficking in the world today. Sponsors of the live simulcast event included the International Law Society, the American Constitution Society, and the Graduate program in Corporate Law and Finance that Johnson founded and leads.
Johnson’s eyes were opened to the magnitude of the problem during his visit to an orphanage in Mumbai, India with his wife Ronda during a mission trip with their church in March 2011. He opened the event by describing what he learned and experienced there.
“These were children born to mothers in slavery,” Johnson recounted. “Many were forced to stay hidden under the bed while their mothers were involved in acts of prostitution. Had they not been rescued out of the red light district, they would have become the next generation in slavery.”
Johnson said he could almost “feel the evil” in the red light district, where women from the rural areas of India have been put into sexual bondage after being sold by their families, tricked, or kidnapped.
“The pastor of the church on the edge of the red light district told me that many of these women would attend church services during the day but that, ‘some of these women will not live through the night.’”
Providing additional statistics and anecdotes intended to get the general public involved in what may be the most serious issue of our time were a host of speakers from a variety of walks of life. Wendy Sale represented the Human Trafficking Task Force and shocked the audience by reporting that the problem exists in 160 countries around the world and in every state in the U.S.
“People are becoming cheaper, and, unlike drugs—where once you sell a drug, it’s gone forever—you can sell a person over and over,” said Sale. “There are no initials after my name; I am just a mom, a wife, and a professional who had my heart broken when I looked into the face of a 7-year-old in Cambodia. In that tiny little face, I saw my daughter’s face.”
Sale taught the audience that U.S. federal law defines human trafficking as an act or attempted act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receipt of a person by means of force, abduction, fraud, coercion, purchase, threat of sale, or abuse of power for the purpose of exploitation.
“In slavery 100 years ago, there were true chains,” said Sale, “but the majority of ‘chains’ now are invisible. They are force, fraud, and coercion.”
Next to present was Dr. Sabrina Black, vice chair of Michigan Rescue and Restore Coalition, who talked about the problems around the world and close to home. She provided a global perspective highlighting specific areas such as India (where the majority of the world’s slaves are in Asia), Haiti (which was hit by the earthquake, the flooding, cholera, and now trafficking), Africa (where eight countries received a tier-3 ranking for non-compliance with the standards set forth in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and for not addressing a known major problem), and the U.S.
“When we think about human trafficking, we think about ‘over there,’ but it is happening here-in our own backyard,” said Black, who explained that major gatherings of people, such as the North American International Auto Show, and major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, are prime targets for human trafficking.
“Everybody talks about the amount of money spent on Super Bowl commercials. What about the amount of money being spent to bring in the girls?” said Black.
Black explained that an initiative known as “The National Day of Johns Arrest” was in place in preparation for Super Bowl XLVI. It included a 10-day surveillance operation that concluded on February 6, the day after the big game, and resulted in the arrest of 314 men in eight states.
Dr. Black began her work as an abolitionist against human trafficking when her organization, Global Projects for Hope, Help and Healing, was invited to address the issue at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. There she worked with a former trafficker from Nigeria, who is now a pastor. They implemented the Passport to a New Life program that provides a place of rescue, redemption, and restoration for victims of human trafficking.
Using a pie chart, Black showed that prostitution accounts for 46 percent of human trafficking, domestic servitude comprises 27 percent, 10 percent occurs in agriculture, and 5 percent in factories and sweatshops. The remaining 12 percent is categorized as miscellaneous.
The impact of global technology on the increasing problem of human trafficking was brought to the forefront as Black indicated, “While traditional channels of trafficking remain in place, online technologies give traffickers the unprecedented ability to exploit a greater number of victims and advertise their services across geographic boundaries.
“Women are for sale all over the world. Children are for sale all over the world. Men are for sale all over the world. If we don’t put a stop to it, where will it all end?” Black said. “We have to put an end to the demand.”
Stephanie Hamilton took the podium as a representative of the International Justice Mission. She spoke about the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), a piece of legislation that would monitor and combat human trafficking until 2015.
“Senator Debbie Stabenow has already sponsored this bill. We are hoping to get Senator (Carl) Levin to do so as well,” said Hamilton. “Rescue and rehabilitation of victims and dealing with poverty are important. Equally important is making sure perpetrators are held accountable.”
Hamilton suggested that one easy step attendees and others who care about this problem can take is to call Senator Levin’s office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-6221 and ask him to co-sponsor TVPRA.
Supporters of the fight against human trafficking also can go to the International Justice Mission web site at www.ijm.org. There they can click on a red banner to add their signatures to be part of the 27,000 that will be presented to President Obama’s administration to ask them to continue to make this issue a priority. The number of signatures is symbolic of the estimated 27 million victims of human trafficking in the world today.
Pastor Bonita Laudeman of the Clarkston Community Church took her turn at the podium to speak about the faith-based response to human trafficking. She told the compelling story of a woman who had come to her in 1998 with the concern that a doctor in Auburn Hills was holding another woman against her will as a domestic and child care worker. The doctor had taken her money and identification, thereby making her a prisoner in his home. Fortunately, the woman being held captive was helped to escape.
“An officer went and got her ID, and the doctor handed it over when he was told, ‘We can do this the hard way or the easy way,’” explained Laudeman.
Laudeman confessed that, secretly, she would love to work for the FBI or the Office of Homeland Security.
“But God has called me to come to the table through the faith-based community,” she said.
So Laudeman dabbles in law enforcement by volunteering as an Oakland County Sheriff Chaplain at the Oakland County Jail. There she talks with and supports women who have been taken out of prostitution.
Pastor Laudeman ended her talk by telling a simple story that serves as a metaphor for the fight against human trafficking: While shopping with her mother, a little girl convinces the mother to buy her a flashlight and some batteries to make it work. Walking out of the store, the little girl is fascinated with flicking her new flashlight on and off. She said to her mother, “Mommy, now we need to go find some darkness.”
“If we keep our concerns in this room and do nothing, the darkness [surrounding human trafficking] will not change,” said Laudeman.
Law student Sarah Warpinski followed Pastor Laudeman and presented as the founder of the Michigan State University School of Law Modern Abolitionist Legal Society (MALS). Warpinski focused on the issue of labor trafficking in the U.S. and explained that because Michigan borders Canada as well as other states, labor trafficking occurs here. It can be found in the work force in many areas such as: agriculture, landscaping, migrant work, food service, nail salons, construction, hospitality, and domestic situations such as house cleaning and child care.
Warpinski, a former social worker now attending law school, said lawyers can play a unique role in fighting the war on human trafficking by interpreting and improving laws and conducting legal research.
“The social movement and the law, in partnership, can accomplish more together than either could separately. I formed the Modern Abolitionist Legal Society in my first year of law school as a bridge organization for students to engage the community on the issue of human trafficking,” said Warpinski.
The Modern Abolitionist Legal Society invites supporters of their cause to participate in a 2.7-mile run/walk around the MSU campus on Sunday, April 15. While most run/walk events are 3.1 or 6.2 miles, the 2.7 distance was chosen to symbolize the estimated 27 million victims worldwide.
“Our event aims to raise awareness of human trafficking and raise funds for victims in Michigan,” said Warpinski.
When attorney Forrest Pasanski took his turn at the podium, attendees learned about Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s response to the problem of human trafficking. Pasanski first became involved in the fight while in law school and working as an intern in Attorney General Schuette’s office.
After noting that Schuette serves on a National Association of Attorneys General Leadership Council dedicated to fighting human trafficking, Pasanski added that Schutte also started a Human Trafficking Unit.
“As the top law enforcement officer in Michigan, Attorney General Schuette recognizes that you can’t fight the problem nationally without fighting it here in Michigan.”
Pasanski said that while we do not have exact numbers to tell us how rampant the problem is in Michigan, we do know that it is happening and that Schuette has made it a priority because it is a terrible crime which strips people of their basic human dignity and liberty. He added that law enforcement’s perceptions of human trafficking are shifting as they did with the issue of domestic violence 40 years ago.
“Now people are starting to pull back the curtain on human trafficking and are finding that it’s not Julia Roberts [portraying a character] in ‘Pretty Woman’ but a 15- or 16-year old sex slave,” said Pasanski.
Pasanski explained that Schuette is taking a victim-centered approach to this problem. Pasanski said that Schuette recently unveiled a public safety legislative agenda that includes a safe harbor provision which would help shield 16- and 17-year old victims from prosecution. The Department of Human Services is working with Attorney General Schuette’s Office and the Michigan State Police to develop model protocols for situations in which they encounter a victim.
Additionally, Attorney General Schuette’s Office wants to decrease demand for human trafficking by creating more stringent consequences for buyers of commercial sex. Currently, a first-time buyer of a 16- or 17-year-old can only be charged with a 93-day misdemeanor. Attorney General Schuette has proposed a change that would increase the penalty for this crime to a 5-year felony.
The evening came full-circle when Professor Johnson returned to the podium to speak about corporate responsibility in reducing legal trafficking. With 20 years spent on the General Motors legal staff and as Director of the Corporate Law and Finance Program at Cooley Law School, Johnson called for accountability on the part of corporations to make sure their supply chains are clean.
He told the audience that 12.3 million people are in forced labor situations, such as in the mining of raw materials and in sweatshops all over the world.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in a brothel or a factory; it’s still slavery,” said Johnson.
Johnson said it is up to us to demand of manufacturers that the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, and the technology we use are not tainted with slave labor.
Johnson suggested anyone interested in learning more about this issue visit slaveryfootprint.org, where we can learn, for example, that it takes 3.2 slaves to make that Smart Phone so many Americans covet.
“And a significant amount of the chocolate you’re going to be giving away on Valentine’s Day is going to be tainted with slave labor,” said Johnson.
A common theme ran throughout the entire presentation: “Do for the one what you wish you could do for the many.” Attendees were encouraged to get involved through the 3 Es: Educate others within their spheres of influence on this issue; Evaluate where they, as individuals, fit in the fight; and Engage by sharing their resources and freedoms with the cause.
Johnson added, “It is my prayer that events such as these will serve as a wake-up call to America about the ravages of slavery and human trafficking and cause everyone-whatever their current station in life, faith, or political persuasion-to get engaged and do something about it. Otherwise, as Edmund Burke said, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ More particularly, the existence of slavery and human trafficking is a breakdown in the rule of law, and it is incumbent upon lawyers, law students, and members of the law enforcement community to become fully engaged in the fight against it on a global basis, because, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”