Stopping human trafficking in West Michigan

A Michigan State Police trooper patrols a roadway.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — You may have heard about human trafficking. But what is it, exactly, and how prevalent is it in West Michigan?

“It is prevalent,” said Sgt. Scott Morrison with Michigan State Police. “We do have complaints that come in at park ‘n’ rides or in rest areas.”

Human trafficking may sound like a problem happening in a developing country, but Morrison says it happens in our own backyard.

“It’s a reusable product,” explained Morrison. “It isn’t like narcotics.”

What do human traffickers in West Michigan look like?

“It could be an aunt, it could be an uncle, it could be a parent, it could be a close friend,” Morrison said.

Cathy Knauf is the founder and director of the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. She and Morrison both say human traffickers manipulate the most vulnerable, oftentimes young people or even children looking for validation or just a place to call home.

“A trafficker is very keen on understanding what your vulnerabilities are,” Knauf says.

Morrison explained the process of a trafficker building trust.

“They’ll buy them things, they’ll tell them to do things for them,” said Morrison. “And they’ll gain their trust and basically talk them into providing a service for them for money.”

The problem creates a possible solution.

“The easiest way to stop human trafficking would be to stop vulnerability,” Knauf says. “So, if we could make our children and our youth and our adults not become vulnerable to things, we could stop human trafficking.”

Find more information on the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Force on its website.