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No community immune to scourge of human trafficking

Some of the Community members taking a stand against human trafficking — from left, in back are Amanda Lee; Ed Mattson, Iron Mountain Police Department; Selena Gonzales, Caring House; Mellisa Lantto, Caring House; Geno Basanese, Michigan State Police; Jen Blahnik, Caring House; Michelle Rexes; Kristin Kass, Dickinson County Prosecutor’s Office, Jim Schaffer, Norway Police Department; Shanna Stanley, Caring House; Derek Dixon, Dickinson County Sheriff Department; and Ken Wood Kingsford Public Safety. In the second row are Donna Fayas-Johnson, Connie Larson, Marti Swisher, Angie Kurtz, Karla Lehmann and Cheryl O’Neil, Caring House. In front are Tara Trudgeon, Heather Strauss and Jodie Garver, Caring House.

IRON MOUNTAIN – January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. There are many misconceptions about the topic of human trafficking. Between the definitions, people at risk and general misconceptions about the subject, it can be difficult to find the right answers

What is human trafficking?

It is modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Human trafficking is a hidden crime as victims rarely come forward to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers and/or fear of law enforcement.

Traffickers aren’t always what you’d expect. That sketchy van you saw a picture of on Facebook or the creepy man who was following you in Walmart? Those aren’t habits or traits a human trafficker exhibits.

They’re much smarter than that. 

Traffickers reach out and into the homes, schools, and computer screens in our hometowns, states, and countries. Human trafficking generates more than $150.2 billion each year. And, with a lucrative industry like that, traffickers don’t want to lose profit or get caught. They work in rings and prey on the most vulnerable. They use apps, other children or women, or word of mouth to build relationships with their victims.

However, after the relationship is strong enough, traffickers will lure the victim out of their normal lifestyles. Most of the time, they promise a better life … but in the realm of trafficking, that never happens.

The saddest part of the trafficking world is the age at which many are trafficked. Currently, the average age is 10- to 12-years-old, with some paying to have sex with even 1-year-olds.

Many times we think victims are women and girls; however, boys are victims as well. Victims include all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, citizens, non-citizens and income levels.

Unfortunately, our community is not immune. You are encouraged to join with our community as we take a stand against human trafficking.

You can make a difference. Become educated about the issue and be alert to the people around you. Some of the signs to look for include:

— Signs of physical abuse;

— Deprived of food, water or medical care;

— Restricted communication;

— Individuals are rarely seen outside of the residence;

— Unable to communicate;

— Shows evidence of intimidation or fear;

— Not allowed to socialize or attend religious services;

— Always accompanied when outside the residence.

If you suspect someone is the victim of human trafficking, call your local law enforcement department or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a 24-hour, toll-free crisis line, 1-888-373-7888.

To learn more about what you can do to help, contact Caring House at 906-774-1337. Free workshops are available for students, youth groups, service agencies and churches.

Cheryl O’Neil is executive director of Caring House, a domestic violence shelter that provides services and resources to both female and male survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Along with the Iron Mountain location at 1305 Prospect Ave., The Caring House has outreach offices in Crystal Falls, Iron River and Florence, Wis.

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