Senators Rebekah Warren and Judy Emmons joined Eastern Michigan University's officer Cathy Wilman and social work instructor David Manville Wednesday night for a panel on human trafficking held by the EMU Women’s Resource Center.
The four panelists led a discussion in Room 300 of the Student Center regarding the reality of trafficking and slavery in the U.S., a topic of which Wilman feels most people are largely ignorant.
“I was a police officer for several years before I even knew it existed,” she said.
Human trafficking involves the trade of human beings who are forced into labor or prostitution. There are an estimated 27 million people currently enslaved – more people today than at any other time in history.
According to Warren, the state of Michigan is a hotbed for human trafficking especially due to its proximity to the Canadian border and the large amount of traffic, particularly during prominent events such as the North American International Auto Show held annually in Detroit.
While sex trafficking is a huge issue, Michigan’s labor trade is especially problematic, with Warren estimating that 60 percent of the trafficking activity in the state involves forced labor.
One point of the event is to raise awareness about how extreme the problem of human trafficking is, even in everyday life. Manville gave this example: an estimated 20 percent of chocolate comes from slave labor. Warren also noted that salons and restaurants are places where children may be illegally forced to work.
Another grim aspect of human trafficking that was discussed is the sex trade.
“They need to change the name to what it really is: the rape trade,” Manville said.
According to Hope for the Voiceless, a division of the Michigan Abolitionist Project, society's commercialization of sex has created a culture where viewing -- and buying -- bodies have been normalized.
Traditionally the law has been punitive concerning prostitutes, many of whom are forced into the profession by another person. Recently, under the leadership of Emmons, Michigan has approved a number of laws protecting the victims and punishing the traffickers and "Johns," or buyers.
“A lot of these people were being re-victimized by the system for committing the crime of prostitution,” Warren said.
The panelists spent a great deal of time talking about the signs of trafficking and how to identify victims.
“My job is to make people aware,” Manville said. “My job is to teach it.”
Manville is a proponent of changing the way we speak about the topic, rebranding “pimps” as serial rapists and “child prostitutes” as victims.
One student attendee, history major Jared Jeffries, remarked about the sugarcoating of terminology associated with human trafficking.
“Why don't we call it the slave trade?” he said. “Let's call it what it is so we can address it.”