by Karen Mead-Elford, staff writer
THE OWOSSO MIDDLE SCHOOL auditorium doors were open to the public Tuesday, Jan. 17 for a special presentation on human trafficking. Trooper Steven Kramer discussed hard, yet highly informative facts with parents, grandparents, teachers, and community members attending the event.
Owosso Public Schools has recently made a strong effort to educate staff, parents, and students on this critical issue. Owosso is the first school in the area to actively seek out the presentation from this task force. The first presentation was last November at the high school. (Independent Photos/Karen Mead-Elford)
“Assume the worse when things pop up,” Trooper Steven Kramer advised a group of parents and teachers during a presentation on human trafficking at the Owosso Middle School on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Kramer is part of a the Shiawassee County Task Force on Human Trafficking comprised of local law enforcement, Michigan State Police, the FBI, the legal community, educators, and volunteers. Kramer, along with others, has been diligently working with area school districts to increase awareness on this threat to children and the community.
According to Kramer, Owosso Public Schools is the first county school district to proactively reach out to Kramer and the task force to help educate students and parents on this very real issue. A similar presentation was held at OHS last November.
“There is no such thing as juvenile prostitution,” Kramer explained. The task force has defined human trafficking to be a worldwide form of modern-day slavery essentially involving buying adults or children for either sex or labor. Children do not rationally make a decision to enter into prostitution. They are recruited through force, fraud, or coercion. Anyone can be a victim. Anyone might be a trafficker.
Second only to drug trafficking, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal
industry in the world and Michigan has the second-highest rate in the entire country. The criminal activity is not limited to urban areas such as Flint or Detroit. It is right here in Shiawassee County. The FBI has 24 currently pending cases involving Owosso area juveniles. If you have middle school or high school age children, chances are relatively high that your child has been in contact with one of these victims at some point. It is not much of a leap to assume that where there are victims, there are traffickers nearby.
Becoming a victim involves a number of contributing factors, but the statistics show that 62 percent are tricked into trafficking by someone they know and trust, with 35 percent sold by their own family. Recruiting victims occurs at schools, after-school events, malls, theaters, and parties. Social media forums, online gaming communities and the Internet are popular places to recruit children. It is strongly recommended that parents continuously monitor what their children are doing online. As Kramer stated to the audience at the presentation, do not try to be your child’s best friend. Be a parent, first. Take charge of your children’s electronic devices.
A number of parents expressed an interest in what signs to look for in their children or children’s friends. Several of the red flags exhibited by school-aged victims are drug addiction, abrupt changes in behavior or material possessions, running away, unexplained school absences, inability to attend school regularly, or references to sexual situations that seem way beyond age-specific expectations. Kramer elaborated on a case of an eight-year-old elementary girl that had explicit information regarding oral sex.
Kramer said in particular to watch for those changes. “Maybe it’s a girl wearing flip-flops and t-shirts one day, and then suddenly wanted to dress-up the next. You know your child. Pay attention.”
So how do you report human trafficking? The National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 is operational 24-hours a day. The FBI (Detroit) can be reached at (313) 965-2323. The U.S. DHS can be reached at (313) 226-0750 or (866) DHS-2-ICE.
The Michigan Attorney General’s office is also available through www.michigan.gov/ag. Since January is recognized as National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month, Attorney General Bill Schuette has suggested further information at www.michigan.gov/humantrafficking, https://www.facebook.com/MHTTF (MSU) or cj.msu.edu/programs/human-trafficking/ (U of M).
Owosso’s Covenant Eyes, Inc., located at 1525 W. King St., also has a number of free e-books that are available to the public at www.covenanteyes.com.
“It’s happening here. You know, it’s happening everywhere,” Trooper Kramer adamantly stated to those in attendance at the Tuesday meeting.