Emmons educates teachers about human trafficking

BIG RAPIDS — According to Shared Hope International, Michigan ranks fifth in the nation in human trafficking, a form of slavery taking place throughout the United States.

Michigan Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, became passionate about stopping the crime nearly three years ago. Since then, the topic is one she shares with as many individuals as possible. On Friday, Emmons spoke to teachers within the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District as part of a professional development day.

"Human trafficking is everywhere," she said. "It's a hard concept to wrap your mind around and it has more victims than the slave trade did years ago."

Emmons recounted stories of survivors who made it through trafficking in Michigan, going further into the two-year period of slavery for Theresa L. Flores, who told her experience in a book called "The Slave Across the Street."

According to Flores, victims — especially teens — show signs of human exploitation, including carrying abnormal amounts of money, excessive school absences, the inability to concentrate, bruises or marks on the skin which reoccur in the same areas, falling grades, behavioral changes and more. Signs that point to an environment where trafficking occurs include bars on windows, sparse living conditions and locks on the outsides of doors.

Emmons said there are many bills being considered in Lansing regarding human trafficking laws and she expects some changes to take place this week. In addition, first responders are being trained how to identify the crime and victims who feel they have nowhere to turn for help. Emmons said there also are bills to raise funds for assisting and treating survivors after rescue.

Although main human trafficking hubs are Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, it can happen in rural communities, Emmons said. Offenders are master manipulators who can prey on anyone at any time. Even parents have been known to traffic their own children, she told teachers.

"Trafficking takes on all kinds of forms, all kinds of faces," Emmons said. "As educators, I know we ask you to do a lot, but we want you to be aware."