Letter to the Editor: Team effort in Lansing fights human trafficking

 By State Rep. Kurt L. Heise

Chairman, House Criminal Justice Committee
While it's taken far too long, the public is finally waking up to the worldwide tragedy of human trafficking.  This horrific crime encompasses both sex trafficking and forced labor, and is a highly profitable form of modern day slavery, involving mostly young women and girls. 
Let’s be honest: Most view this as an international problem and assume the federal government deals with it through law enforcement and immigration policies.  But make no mistake, Michigan is not immune.  In fact, we have become a focal point for this crime, given our international border and location along major national highways. In fact, just this summer the FBI conducted a nationwide sting operation, freeing victims and arresting pimps across the country - and the Detroit area ranked second in the nation in the number of arrests. 
This crime is here and now and in our community.  As an attorney and chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, I have a professional responsibility to fight human trafficking and eradicate it from our state. 
As the father of two teenage daughters, I have a moral obligation to ensure that no child, and no parent, ever has to be a victim to this horror. 
This fight is personal for me.
Over the past few months I have read and listened to heartbreaking testimony by individuals who have suffered years of sexual enslavement at the hands of traffickers and pimps right here in Michigan.  I've also heard from law enforcement from the federal level and other Great Lake states on what they are doing to fight back. 
Michigan must be fully engaged in this fight, and Michigan's Commission on Human Trafficking, co-chaired by me and Attorney General Bill Schuette released our plan on November 6 to begin this effort.
Our study and report involved elected officials, state and federal law enforcement agencies, nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, and the academic community to develop a multi-faceted plan to fight this brutal crime. 
This has been a team effort from every area of state government, the governor and Legislature, Republicans and Democrats, and the attorney general.  It's a great example of putting aside differences, ignoring party labels and who gets credit for what, and putting children and families first for a real change.
Since the spring of 2013, the commission has studied ways to raise public awareness, train law enforcement, collect adequate data, protect victims, and most importantly create a comprehensive legislative approach to help eradicate this modern day slavery. 
The nearly 100-page report calls for 13 new laws to bolster the human trafficking fight  in our state, and give law enforcement the additional tools they need to get the pimps and free the victims of this crime.
As chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, I'm committed to getting those bills moving and written into law.  We want the pimps, johns, and human trafficking criminals out of our state.  We will make it clear that human trafficking will not be tolerated in Michigan, that you will be caught, and you will be punished. 
Unfortunately many cases are not brought to the Michigan justice system and prosecuted because they are hard to detect.  A big step in holding these perpetrators accountable will be to educate law enforcement and the public on how to identify victims and their traffickers. 
Lastly, we need to make sure we create a safe and nurturing environment for the victims of human trafficking, especially the children. We will be turning to charitable and faith-based organizations to assist in this effort, and will be forming partnerships with other groups committed to caring for these vulnerable persons.  We must strive to create a safe environment where we can work with victims to become productive members of society, while tracking down their oppressors.
I'm proud to say our commission has recommended a "safe harbor" bill that will treat the victims of human trafficking not as criminals, but as people who need our help - vulnerable children and adults who must be treated with compassion and respect by law enforcement, the courts, and the social support system.
I also don't want a report that sits on a shelf while kids suffer.  That's why I'm also introducing a bill to create a permanent state commission on human trafficking that will implement and sustain the plan well into the future.
The Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking has worked hard to advance a comprehensive strategy to eradicate this crime and protect the victims of it.  Our children and families deserve a Michigan where they are able to live, learn, and enjoy their lives free from this terrible crime.
State Rep. Kurt Heise is the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee.  His district covers Northville, Plymouth, and eastern Canton.  A graduate of Wayne State Law School and the University of Michigan, he has served as a municipal attorney and professor, and as co-Chair of the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking.

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