By Rachael Yadlowsky – Collegiate Staff
On Thursday, April 20, FBI Victim Specialist and Human Trafficking Expert, Carmen Kucinich, spoke to an audience of about 60 people to raise awareness of human trafficking in Michigan.
Kucinich is a member of the West Michigan Based Child Exploitation Task Force (WEBCHEX) and an original member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force (WHTTF).
Kucinich opened her lecture by briefly talking about what the WEBCHEX and MHTTF are about.
“The mission of these teams is to hunt down traffickers in the West Michigan area and save the girls who are being trafficked,” Kucinich said. “We want to make sure other girls and boys will be safer and we want to ensure that they will get the needed treatment after we rescue them.”
WEBCHEX and other human trafficking protection forces started in 2003 and have since solved thousands of sexual exploitation cases in West Michigan.
Kucinich went on to discuss the methods that traffickers use to draw in the young women and men that they would sell.
“Many victims are runaways,” Kucinich said. “They get into a fight with their parents and leave the house for a while. But by doing that, they’ll look vulnerable and like easy targets.”
Kucinich explained that many girls are brought into the trafficking world because the traffickers are nice to them and they feel like they are dating.
“The pimp will often ask the girl if she could do a favor for him and she will say yes because she might love him and will want to do anything for him and that’s how it starts and it’s that simple.” Kucinich said.
Pimps and traffickers are also known to use social media to attract their victims. Many are also trafficked and recruited by family members and friends. Most often, the people who are already working for the pimp will go out to recruit girls and boys.
“I was so surprised at how easy it could be for the pimps to persuade the victims into trusting them and working for them,” said audience member Kim Leonard, 20, of Grand Rapids.
The trafficker will often advertise their workers in massage parlors, hair salons, restaurants and even truck stops. During sporting events and other large events such as the Detroit Auto Show and even ArtPrize, there is a large increase in trafficking.
“24 hours leading up to Super Bowl 2015, 18 juvenile victims were recovered,” Kucinich said.
Traffickers also use technology to run their business. They run ads on Craigslist and hold online auctions. They also use the Internet to recruit. There have also been live broadcasts of women being sold in real time on a live stream.
Kucinich also presented a “Power and Control Wheel.” The pimps constantly instil fear into their victims so they will continue to work for them. The pimps will also emotionally abuse their victims to make them feel small. The pimps also isolate, blame and physically abuse their victims and even make them dependent on drugs that only the pimp can provide.
Next, Kucinich explained how a passerby can identify possible signs of human trafficking.
“Remember, not all of these things mean that a girl or boy is being trafficked,” Kucinich said. “But these can make them more vulnerable or are some things to look for.”
Things like unexplainable gifts, unexplained in injuries, if they are often gone at night and some changes in behavior like in school can be just a few red flags. It is also common for pimps to “brand” their girls, so tattoos are also something to look out for.
As an FBI task force, there are many stings that take place when the task force is given a tip. A cop will go undercover as a customer and will try to prove the crime.
Once the pimp is caught by authorities, the length of their sentence varies depending on which charge they get, but any pimp charge with exploitation could be charged with at least 15 years.
“When we recover women from their pimps, I go in and make sure that they have everything that they need,” Kucinich said. “We make sure they have clothes, food, a place to stay or a ride home.”
The task force also tries to help the victims with medical exams, job hunting and sometimes educational opportunities. Although many victims appreciate the help, some don’t want to be helped.
“I was surprised to hear about women who go right back to their old pimp or go to a different pimp after they are rescued,” said audience member Hannah Lynne, 23 of Grand Rapids. “I guess I just don’t understand how they can continue just an unhealthy way of life.”
To learn more about the programs in place to fight human trafficking visit this website. To report any suspicious activity, call the National Resources center at (888) 373-7888.