COVE shines a light on human trafficking for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

LAKE COUNTY — April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Communities Overcoming Violent Encounters, a Ludington-based nonprofit which seeks to help those affected by sexual and domestic abuse, is using the month as an opportunity to spread the word about an often underestimated problem in Michigan: human trafficking.

Michigan is notable because it ranks third among all 50 states in the number of human trafficking cases nationwide, and unlike many other states where the trafficking in question is usually affiliated with forced labor, there are high numbers of sex trafficking cases in Michigan.

"More than 73 percent of all human trafficking cases in Michigan involve sex slavery," explained Carrie Rangel of COVE. "We want to bring this issue to the forefront of people's minds and educate them how it is an issue that often looks different than they might imagine it. We have one speaker who has been helping us with our programs who grew up around prostitution, whose father was a pimp and whose mother was a prostitute, and who was forced to work as a prostitute herself by her parents and live in a world filled with victimization, isolation and addiction."

As part of its efforts to raise awareness, COVE will be replaying a presentation made by human rights activist Sunitha Krishnan at several area locations called "The Fight Against Sex Slavery" as part of the organization's TED Talk series. This will include a presentation 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19, hosted at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Baldwin. Rangel said Krishnan's talk can really open people's eyes to the reality of this issue.

"Krishnan started a home for sex slavery victims in India and she made a great TED Talk about the different facets of this problem," said Rangel. "She specifically talks about the experiences of three particular children she helped who suffered from this illegal industry."

Experts estimate there have been more than 550 cases of human trafficking in Michigan since 2007. This includes more than 1,130 individuals who have been directly victimized by the illegal industry. Rangel admits this is a large issue, but the first step is convincing people to recognize it as such a prevalent Michigan issue.

"We need to spread awareness so people can recognize it when it's going on and give those suffering from it the courage to come forward," remarked Rangel. "All people need to do to help is keep their eyes open and make themselves available as someone those suffering from sexual violence can come to for help."