Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, alongside an appointed panel of state lawmakers, released the final report from the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking on Nov. 6. The 63-page report provides recommendations for programs that aim to target criminals engaged in the illegal enterprise, as well as recommendations for assisting victims of the practice. Advocates against human trafficking have correctly focused their efforts on increasing cooperation within the state by calling for uniformity and awareness of the issue, and the state must heed their advice.
While human trafficking, or the forceable movement of a person often for sexual or work-related exploitation, is often perceived as a distant issue, the commission reports that the problem in Michigan “is serious and growing.” According to the report, gathering data on the exact numbers of the human trafficking incidents is “difficult due to lack of uniform data reporting and the nature of the crime itself … But we do know that it continues to be a growing problem in our state.” Late September, members of the Michigan Senate introduced 19 new bills to address human trafficking. The bills aim to increased support and services for victims, but also urge for stronger prosecution against traffickers. The recommendations provided in the report specifically point to the necessity of targeting the earnings of criminals — including targeting their properties and assets.
One issue in combating human trafficking for legislators and activists alike has been quantification. While Schuette has estimated the victims each year to range from “thousands, maybe a couple thousands,” programs around the state have reported fewer than 300 cases yearly. While advocates for human trafficking reform may seem to be overstating the vastness of incidents, the numbers behind the reports are more complicated. However, in many cases, the numbers for trafficking offenses are significantly reduced due to cases being misidentified as prostitution or other related crimes. In order to classify the cases appropriately, the commission’s report has recommended the implementation of additional training and a uniform system to improve data collection — a necessary step to take counteract rising estimates of human trafficking in Michigan.
While the need for training specific to human trafficking is certainly evident, greater public awareness on the issue is critical in combatting incidences of the human rights violation. An increased public awareness of trafficking will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the crime and the victims associated with trafficking — which includes prostitution and forced labor. In many cases, minors have been unjustly treated as criminals, adding further harm to their misfortunes. While many residents of Michigan are aware that human trafficking is an issue, it does not always resonate as proximate. With greater public understanding, these criminals won’t be able to operate as discreetly as they have in the past.
The commission’s report has begun a more concerted effort by the state to address human trafficking. While the report will certainly play a major role in illuminating human trafficking as an issue within Michigan, the implementation of the recommendations will ultimately decide its success. Through statewide coordination, it should be expected that law enforcement and associated service employees will actively pursue the proper treatment of victims of human trafficking. By separating the victims from the criminals, the issue at hand will become more tangible and efficiently combated.