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Michigan's new, tougher approach to human trafficking

Feb 4, 2015

Thanks to a new package of laws that took effect last week, Michigan has a tougher new approach to human trafficking and the sex trade.

Michigan hopes to crack down on human trafficking and sexual coercion with new laws.
Credit www.michigan.gov/snyder

Bridgette Carr, a University of Michigan law professor, served on the state task force whose human trafficking report helped guide the Legislature as it crafted the new law, which has garnered lots of praise.

Governor Snyder used words like “proud,” while Attorney General Bill Schuette said he was “elated” with the package. Carr, however, said that in order to most effectively combat human trafficking, more work must be done.

“I think we should be happy that we took some steps forward,” she said, “but it’s a long race and we have a lot of heavy lifting to do to still make our approach to combating human trafficking truly victim-centered in Michigan.”

Carr says a victim-centered, anti-trafficking approach would be a “paradigm shift.”

“We have to stop thinking of them as criminals and treat them fully as victims, and we haven’t done that yet.”

Because human trafficking victims are often still considered criminals in our state legal system, she said, an accurate assessment of the number of victims in Michigan is hard to come by.  A common theme, however, is clear: vulnerability.

“Traffickers are phenomenally adept at identifying vulnerability and exploiting it for profit,” she said.

Carr works in the Human Trafficking Clinic at the Michigan Law School. There she assists victims of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking, whether they be U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, men, women or children. The clinic’s clientele, she said, is made up chiefly of labor trafficking victims – people working in agriculture, restaurants or hair salons, for example.

“It’s all around us and it’s hard because this is a crime that, for it to happen, we have to all look the other way and right now we really are doing that," Carr said. "Some of it’s because we don’t know and some of it’s because we don’t want to see. To acknowledge that dark side of what’s happening in our neighborhoods is really hard."

To hear more from Carr about human trafficking and the new package of laws, listen above.