A state task force says a new approach is needed to address human trafficking in Michigan.
Among its recommendations: Minors who are sold for sex or cheap labor should not be charged with prostitution, delinquency or some other crime.
“A 15-year-old girl who is forced to have sex is a victim and not a criminal,” says state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who convened the commission. “Everyone needs to understand this.”
Advocates who participated say that means doing more than just changing laws.
“How can we get them into that category of victim and out of that category of criminal?” says Bridgette Carr of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan.
Carr says that means updated training for law enforcement and early responders so they connect victims to services instead of taking them to a detention center.
That also means making sure services to help victims are available, says Jane White of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.
“Human trafficking does exist in Michigan, and the attention to victims really needs to be apparent in the work that needs to be done in the Legislature.”
The recommendations also say adult victims convicted of prostitution or some other crime should have a way to clear their records.
The report from the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking also calls for tougher penalties for traffickers and their customers – including seizing assets. But advocates say the main focus needs to be on helping victims, not prosecutions.
Hearings in the Legislature on human trafficking are already underway.