Law School Professor Bridgette Carr addressed a gathering in the Betty Ford classroom in Weill Hall last night in an effort to highlight the prevalence of human trafficking.
The event, which was organized by the University of Michigan Journal of International Affairs, featured a short speech by Carr followed by a question-and-answer session.
Carr began by clarifying the definition of human trafficking and clearing up common misconceptions about the issue.
“One of the words that pop up (when thinking about) human trafficking is movement or transportation and unfortunately that is a myth that many people think,” Carr said. “Human trafficking is at its core about exploitation and in the U.S., human trafficking is defined as one of two types: sex or labor.”
Carr explained that despite its grotesque nature, many former drug dealers turn to the field, because there is often a lower risk of being caught and penalized than is the case with dealing drugs.
“If I had 150 pounds of heroin sitting up here and I want to sell it, someone could come see it, take a photo of it and show it to the cops,” Carr explained. “I could have a slave sitting with me in this room and if I was good at my job — which is terrifying that slave — you guys wouldn’t know it, I wouldn’t have to hide him or her.”
Carr added that human trafficking can often be more lucrative than dealing drugs.
“The other great thing is if I sold all of you two pounds of heroin I’m going to get a profit, but I’ve got to get more, while I can sell all of you my slave and you will give him or her back to me and I get to do it again and again and I don’t have any of the transaction costs of getting more,” Carr said.
In addition to discussing her own views, Carr paid homage to other scholars on the issue. She discussed work done by Kevin Bales, president and co-founder of Free the Slave, a non-profit organization focused on abolishing slavery worldwide.
According to Carr, Bales described the present as an “era of disposable people.”
“Today, I can buy a slave for around 150 bucks,” she said.
Despite the prevalence of human trafficking, Carr said people often distance themselves from the issue, saying they aren’t in a country that allows this type of activity and therefore don’t need to act to stop it.
Carr brought the issue home for the audience by discussing girls who were found being trafficked in a gas station in Dexter, Mich., just outside of Ann Arbor. According to Carr, the gas station is notorious for sex trafficking.
“Everywhere in Michigan human trafficking occurs,” Carr said. “It occurs in urban centers, it occurs in small towns, it’s sex and it’s free labor.”
She also explained that though many perceive human trafficking as a foreign problem, it is in fact very close to home.
“Some statistics say that there are over 300,000 children in America at risk every year of human trafficking,” Carr said. “Any one of us could go out right after this and within an hour or less have access to those kids.”
Carr added that though the issue is being addressed at the federal level to a degree, local police need to take action to stop human trafficking.
“We won’t see a change in human trafficking significantly, I think, until local cops and communities think that this is important to them and act accordingly,” she said.
LSA sophomore Amre Metwally said the talk changed his perspective on the issue.
“She opened my eyes to the fact that no one is immune to this problem,” he said. “In order to get things to really happen and take effect, we have to work as communities to stand and make sure that human trafficking can’t be tolerated.”
Just before Carr ended the discussion, a student raised her hand and asked what undergraduates could do to help end human trafficking.
Carr responded by describing her typical day at work, dealing with several clients who are victims of human trafficking.
“And then (at the end of the day), I’ll get in my car,” she continued “and I’ll hear students talk about going to hoes and pimps parties and it’s like a slap in the face.”
Carr explained that students have a social responsibility to uphold.
“If students had any idea about the reality of that life, they would never attend an event that glorified it like that,” Carr said. “As students, you really have the power to change the conversation about what is acceptable.”