CADILLAC — A partnership between a student group at the Wexford-Missaukee Career Technical Center and the Michigan State Police is trying to bring awareness to the community about an important social issue.
That issue is human trafficking and the partnership is hoping it will help to save the life of a person who finds themselves in a terrible situation. Recently, students belonging to the National Technical Honor Society and two troopers from the Cadillac Michigan State Police Post went to several area hotels to see if they would be willing to use soap and make-up removal wrapped with a red band printed with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number.
This project, which is part of the S.O.A.P. Project, is focused on educating the public about human trafficking and increasing awareness of its prevalence. The S.O.A.P. Project also serves as a hands-on way to reach out to trafficking victims. S.O.A.P. stands for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution. S.O.A.P. was founded by Theresa Flores, an author, advocate, and trafficking survivor.
Cadillac MSP Post Community Service Trooper David Prichard said the goal was to spread awareness about human trafficking and, in particular, about how it takes place and that it happens everywhere. The partnership allows students to get involved in community service and community awareness, Prichard said.
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud or coercion for commercial sex or forced labor. They are young children, teenagers, men and women. Trafficking in persons occurs throughout the world, including in the United States and Michigan.
The risk factors that are associated with human trafficking include abuse, neglect, drug use, poverty, and probably most importantly, demand. Without that final ingredient, there wouldn't be a need for it, but people are seeking it out.
"Human trafficking tends to be very transient in nature. People that are traveling either on their own or with strangers and need a place to stay," Prichard said. "By getting this soap and remover with the hotline in the hotels is paramount to saving people because that may be the only chance they are exposed to a phone number, the sticker on the back of the soap and they can reach out for help when they are alone."
The two groups of CTC students went to several hotels in the Cadillac area, including Days Inn by Wyndham Cadillac, Sun and Snow, Motel Lake Cadillac Resort, Econo Lodge Cadillac, Evergreen Resort, Hampton Inn Cadillac and Holiday Inn Express and Suites Cadillac. Days Inn by Wyndham Cadillac Manager Louisa Longstreet said she was surprised when she saw the troopers and a busload of students enter the hotel's lobby, but once she found out what they were doing, she thought it was a great idea.
Longstreet said she thought it was a great idea to introduce the students to what hotels do to help keep the community and their guests safe. Human trafficking has become a more prevalent topic and something Wyndham Hotels focus on with staff training.
Cadillac senior Hailey Krantz said she was surprised how much training hotels do so staff know what to look for and it was something she takes comfort in. Although her first thoughts about human trafficking were that it dealt only with sex workers, Hailey said it also can include people who work but don't get paid for it.
"It is definitely more than what I thought it was," Hailey said.
Mesick senior Ivy Kendziorski also said she was surprised to find out human trafficking was happening in the Cadillac area and she thought it only happened in more urban areas. Unlike Hailey, Ivy said she was aware that it was more than just sex workers.
National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is observed every year on Jan. 11 and it was started in 2011 by the Presidential Proclamation of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation designating each January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The anniversary of this proclamation became known as National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
If someone believes a person is involved in human trafficking or is being exploited by it, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggests a few tips. The department first says to not at any time attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions. Your safety, as well as the victim’s safety, is priority No. 1. Instead, contact local law enforcement directly or call various human trafficking tip lines.
This includes 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) to report suspicious criminal activity to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. The tip line is accessible outside the United States by calling 802-872-6199.
Submit a tip at www.ice.gov/tips. Highly trained specialists take reports from both the public and law enforcement agencies on more than 400 laws enforced by ICE HSI, including those related to human trafficking.
Homeland Security officials also suggest getting help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888 or texting HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). The NHTH can help connect victims with service providers in the area and provides training, technical assistance, and other resources.
The NHTH is a national, toll-free hotline available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. The NHTH is not law enforcement or immigration authority and is operated by a nongovernmental organization funded by the Federal government.
Prichard said if someone is interested in getting educated about human trafficking they can contact any MSP Post and talk with the community service trooper. They can schedule an in-person presentation when permitted or set up a virtual meeting.