Human trafficking is more common than you’d think, experts say

Two southeast Michigan experts explain how to identify and prevent human trafficking in your community.

red sneakers walking on a rainy street at night

Yesterday marked the end of National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Since it was introduced by President Obama via presidential proclamation in 2010, federal, state and local organizations have dedicated January to raising awareness about the often misunderstood issue.

But what exactly qualifies as human trafficking? What are common misconceptions about the problem, and how can we work to reduce its prevalence in southeast Michigan?

“There’s a narrative that for human trafficking [to] exist… someone needs to be chained to a radiator. And that’s not the reality of human trafficking at all.” — Bridgette Carr, Michigan Law

Listen: How human trafficking affects southeast Michigan and what to do about it.


Related: Whitmer grants pardon to Michigan human trafficking victim


Bridgette Carr is the founding director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at Michigan Law. She says most human traffickers exploit vulnerability and relationships with the trafficked person to make a profit.

“There’s a narrative that for human trafficking to exist, we have to have organized crime, and people need to be snatched, and someone needs to be chained to a radiator. And that’s not the reality of human trafficking at all,” says Carr. “Human trafficking is really about relationships. Almost all of our clients in the human trafficking clinic knew their trafficker before they were trafficked.”

Andrew Arena is the executive director of the Detroit Crime Commission and a former FBI special agent in charge for the Detroit division. He says law enforcement outcomes improve when trafficked individuals are not treated as criminals.

“When I first started in late 1980s, these people were criminalized. They were treated as the problem, as a source of the problem,” says Arena. “And I think that law enforcement has started to understand that they’re victims. These are people that are being manipulated, and are being used.”

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