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Human trafficking discussion to center on signs, solutions

The Acton Institute will host a paneled discussion on human trafficking and ways of responding to the crime on March 28 at the Mark Murray Auditorium on Fulton Street.

Hidden No More: Exposing Human Trafficking in West Michigan

8:30 - 10:30 a.m.

Friday, March 28

Mark Murray Auditorium

98 E. Fulton Street (entrance on Sheldon Blvd)

Doors open and registration begins at 8:30 a.m.

Discussion begins at 9 a.m.

To register or for more information call 616-454-3080

Human trafficking is happening in Grand Rapids.

Solid statistics on the crime are hard to come by, complicating law enforcement and community response to the crime. Despite the hardships involved in compiling solid statistics, the Michigan State Attorney General’s 2013 Report on Human Trafficking indicates human trafficking does exist in West Michigan. 

On Friday, March 28, The Acton Institute will host Hidden No More: Exposing Human Trafficking in West Michigan in the Mark Murray Auditorium on Fulton Street. A panel of speakers will join attendees in discussing the signs, symptoms and reactions to human trafficking in West Michigan. Most of the data used will be from the attorney general's report, released earlier this year.

“Grand Rapids is a hotspot for human trafficking,” says Elise Hilton, communications specialist for the Acton Institute, who organized the event. “We’ve got a lot going against us. We’re located right between Chicago and Detroit, we’re easily accessible and we’ve got a lot of truck traffic.”

One of Grand Rapids' positives, Hilton says, is that the city is home to two of the three centers dedicated to treating victims of human trafficking: The Manassah Project and Sacred Beginnings. The Manassah Project director Andy Sopes and Sacred Beginnings director Leslie King are on the panel and will speak directly about human trafficking in West Michigan. Women At Risk International president Becky McDonald will provide an international view, while Attorney General Chief Deputy Carol Isaacs and State Senator Judy Emmons, drafters of the Attorney General’s report, will talk about human trafficking statewide.

“The first thing it says in the report is that we don’t have solid data about human trafficking,” says Hilton. “We don’t have any good statistics. Part of that is because human trafficking victims are still being treated as prostitutes and as criminals. State police don’t record instances of human trafficking unless it involves a murder or a kidnapping. We need scholars and local law enforcement to focus on solutions to this problem, and we need people to know that it is happening.”

Panel speakers will commence the event with opening statements before the floor is opened up to attendees who want to contribute to the discussion. Special attention will be paid to the signs and symptoms of human trafficking and what citizens who witness cases of human trafficking can do.

“The first thing we need is to be better educated,” says Hilton. “What if a neighbor, a kid at church or someone in your social circle starts showing signs? People tend to think human trafficking happens only in foreign countries but it happens right here. We can shrug our shoulders or we can do something in our spheres of influence. Doctors, social workers and law enforcement will have a different influence than someone stocking shelves, but we can all be educated, know the signs and have a voice.”

The event will be moderated by WZZM-13 anchor Jennifer Pascua and is free to the public. Because of limited seating the Acton Institute is encouraging people to call and register for the event, which they can do by calling the institute at 616-454-3080. 

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