THIS PANEL OF professionals led a human trafficking discussion during the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Topics @ Twelve networking luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 31. Featured speaker Sam Black (left) and panel members (from left) Olga Mathis, Cassandra Kotlarczyk, and Stephanie Molnar can be seen observing Owosso Police Officer Michael Olsey as he addresses the audience on Oct. 31 at Baker College of Owosso.
Black is the vice president of business development at Covanent Eyes and the secretary of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Shiawassee County. Mathis is an intake coordinator and forensic interviewer with the Child Advocacy Center. Kotlarczyk is an RN with Memorial Healthcare, a forensic nurse, and the president of the Shiawassee County task force. Molnar is the program director at SafeCenter, and a Licensed Master Social Worker.
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
The Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce (SRCC) hosted a human trafficking panel discussion for its Topics @ Twelve networking luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 31 at Baker College of Owosso. Sam Black, of Covenant Eyes and the Human Trafficking Task Force of Shiawassee County, was the featured speaker. The expert panel included a forensic nurse, Cassandra Kotlarczyk; a social worker, Stephanie Molnar; a forensic interviewer, Olga Mathis; and a police officer, Michael Olsey. All five guest speakers are either members of, or work closely with, the county task force.
Black began his PowerPoint presentation by explaining that although human trafficking is viewed as an issue plaguing mostly larger urban areas and our international borders, the problem is not new to Shiawassee County. He noted that human trafficking knows no socio-economic or racial boundaries, and that no zip codes are immune.
Black described how traffickers, rather than abducting victims, will use subtle “grooming” techniques to manipulate their unsuspecting targets. Adults are often victimized by human traffickers, but the most vulnerable are young boys and girls. The average age of female trafficking victims is 13 years old, and for boys it is 12 years old.
Black then described a common grooming scenario and provided some tips to identify trafficking victims.
“They”ll befriend her, defend her, and let her know that she is cared for and seemingly loved,” Black began. “These are just the first signs that there is someone influencing her life who is older, and who is grooming her.
“You might notice that she has some newer clothes or gifts,” Black continued. “And then as he builds her trust, maybe they enjoy some adult activities, like alcohol. Then that becomes something for the trafficker to hold over the young girl, reminding her how much trouble she would be in if her parents found out. It progresses little by little, and now she’s trying methamphetamines and heroin, until she begins to become dependent. That opens the door for the trafficker to begin manipulating her sexually, and eventually she’s being passed around and being tattooed. At this point she is in a lifestyle where she is being trafficked on the streets. This doesn’t seem like anything that could happen in our community, but it can, and it has.”
Some red flags that a person may be a victim of trafficking are poor mental or physical health, abnormal behavior, high anxiety, and depression. They may be nervous around police, may avoid eye contact, or speak only through a third party. It is common for victims to be malnourished, and to show signs of physical or sexual abuse. Many victims will not be in control of their own money.
Black emphasized that all suspected cases of human trafficking should be reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling (888) 373-7888, or by texting the word “HELP” to 69866 for immediate help.
The National Human Trafficking Task Force web address is www.humantraffickinghotline.org. Trafficking statistics can be found at www.polarisproject.org. For more human trafficking information relating to Michigan, or to receive training in how to have a greater role in combating trafficking, individuals can visit www.mhttf.org.
By partnering with organizations such as SafeCenter, the Child Advocacy Center, Memorial Healthcare, Owosso Public Safety, and the Michigan State Police, among others, the Shiawassee County task force has established a strong network of victim care, and a plan to identify and eradicate human trafficking.
Stay tuned to The Independent as we delve deeper into this network, explore the effects of social media on trafficking, and identify other coercive strategies used by traffickers, such as “sextortion.”