Special Report: Trafficking Innocence, A Hidden Epidemic

“What all is involved and how cruel and horrific of a world it is, it’s got to stop. One way or another it’s got to stop.”

You may have heard the term “human trafficking,” but are you even sure what it is?

Could you spot the signs that its happening?

Michigan is in the top 10 nationwide for this disturbing crime and it could even be affecting people you know.

Human trafficking is modern day slavery.

Girls around the age of 12 sold for sex and held by fear.

You may think it’s a crime that only happens in big-metro areas, but it is happening right here in Northern Michigan.

“Misconception is we are isolated up here, nothing ever happens in the UP, that’s not true at all,” said special agent Todd Wilton.

Todd Wilton is a special agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

He spends his days tracking down traffickers and those who “buy” victims.

“Unfortunately, it is what it is, but for us we are seeing more human trafficking in the Upper Peninsula and even the northern lower. The majority of it is occurring through the cyber world,” added Wilton.

On websites like Craigslist or even Facebook, where cryptic ads are fronts for selling young girls for sex.

“They’ll put on ads of the trafficking victims for solicitation purposes, and potential johns will find the ads and respond to them. It’s masked as escort service or dating service or something along those lines,” explained Wilton.

But who are the victims and how do they get taken by traffickers?

In reality, victims are likely never taken and lead seemingly normal lives, but it’s a life wrapped in fear and abuse

“You will never know that the kid you go to school with, their trafficker takes them down to Grand Rapids to a convention and prostitutes them out to a group of businessmen,” said Betsy Huggett.

Betsy Huggett is the Executive Director of the Diane Peppler Resource Center in Sault Ste. Marie.

“Particularly in this area, there’s things going on where girls lives are ruined, they are absolutely ruined,” added Huggett.

She works with victims on a daily basis.

Huggett says traffickers early on will promise gifts or money and later use fear of violence or humiliation to keep victims trapped.

“You never know what they are holding over that person,” she added.

In many cases the victims are no strangers to their traffickers.

“We’ve had situations where the person doing the trafficking was a family friend.

They would come into the home and they would have dinner with the family, and then hey teenage daughter would you like to make some money on the weekends babysitting for our friends,” explained Betsy.

“By the time you realize what’s going on, you can’t get out.”

It’s an epidemic that continues to grow and while people like Betsy and Special Agent Wilton work the frontlines, they need help from parents and the public to save the abused and prevent it from happening to others.

“Be involved as a parent, be involved in your kids’ lives, know what’s going on with them on the internet, know who their friends are. If your kids are coming home with devices that you did not buy for them or if they are coming home with new clothes, start asking a lot of questions,” added Betsy.

“My opinion the only way we can stop it is with the help of the public. The goal is to stop human trafficking once and for all,” said Wilton.

If you are a victim seeking counseling please call the Diane Peppler Resource Center at 906-635-0566.

And if you have any information or think you may have spotted a sign of human trafficking, please call your local law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Your information is confidential and it could help save one person from modern day slavery.


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