Detroit By The Numbers: Poverty and Human Trafficking

Low income, poor education, male customers driving sex trafficking in southeast Michigan

WDET’s new series “Detroit By The Numbers” is exploring the issue of poverty in southeast Michigan. In this chapter, WDET’s Sandra Svoboda looks into the link between the high number of low-income households and the sex industry. She speaks with Deena Policicchio, the director of outreach and education services at Alternatives for Girls, a southwest Detroit nonprofit agency that works with at-risk girls and young women.

“Women in poverty and in other vulnerable situations are prime targets for exploitation. They need money, they need food, they need love, and traffickers are very savvy people and they target those in those situation,” Policicchio says.

The dynamics of sex trafficking are not limited to the “stereotypical” international dynamics: women brought to the United States to “work” in the industry. Policicchio describes how local women are lured into having sex for money, often times by boyfriends, sometimes simply to pay the rent. Some are forced into it by the threat of violence if they refuse. Their participation increases during tough financial times. “It’s probably one of the industries that had growth during our economic downturn. More strip clubs appeared. The strip clubs along Michigan Avenue all got facelifts. They all looked much better. They got bigger. It’s the industry that probably did not have a downturn and more women sought going into it,” Policicchio says.

Reducing or ending the sex trade requires not just focusing on the women but instead should focus on the customers, according to Policicchio. “We have to address buying, and so institutions need to not be afraid to tackle that. We need to talk to young men. We need to talk to adult men and we need to do so in a way that is age appropriate as well as very direct: buying sex hurts people,” she says.

The entire interview can be accessed on the Soundcloud link above.