Michigan Fortifying Human Trafficking Laws: Changes to Protect the Citizens
By: Margaret Shea
Lately, Michigan residents and government officials alike have been concerned with the dilapidating roads as evident with the recent Proposal 1. Although road traffic has highlighted the polls, human trafficking is an even greater issue and threat that is now coming to light in Michigan. Shockingly, Michigan ranks as number two in the country for human trafficking crimes. Governor Rick Snyder has taken initiative, realizing the critical nature of this issue, and formed provisions and commissions as part of a 2014 21- bill legislative package, introducing some of the toughest anti-trafficking laws in the country.
A major portion of the legislation, PA 325 of 2014, created the Human Trafficking Commission, iterating standards for membership and duties. Pursuant to MCL 752.974, duties of the commission are listed as including: identifying and applying for grants; providing information and training for police, prosecutors, courts, health care administrators, and social service agents; and collecting current data on human trafficking in Michigan. Additional duties include funding research programs to determine the nature of concern in Michigan; researching available agencies for victim aid and existing programs to discover areas requiring improvement; and increasing public awareness are also imperative additions to the responsibilities of the commission (AG1). The commission is required to meet at least four times a year and meeting are opened to the public. This is critical to the commission’s goal of expanding knowledge the trafficking problems in the community, increasing public awareness, and providing an opportunity for the public and government officials to collaborate in protecting Michigan’s many victims. The next commission meeting is scheduled for June 25, 2015 (for more information regarding the next meeting visit www.michigan.gov/ag).
As part of commission leadership, Governor Snyder appointed Attorney General Schuette to lead the policy provisions and Corporal Erin Diamond from the Wayne County Sherriff Department to head the Human Trafficking Unit in the field. Diamond explains in a recent Fox News interview that areas surrounding Detroit are major transportation hubs making trafficking easy and accessible with poor urban areas as ideal places to recruit vulnerable young victims. Michigan being an international border opens a plethora of possibilities to human traffickers (Michigan 1). Residents need to become more aware of what is happening in the shadows of Michigan. Because human trafficking is difficult to detect, public awareness is a key component in protecting Michiganders from the growing industry. The team is focused on the modernization of human trafficking and delving deeper into internet sites which might lure unsuspecting victims such as craigslist with hopes of bringing perpetrators to justice.
The Human Trafficking Committee lead by Schuette focuses on the critical policy recommendations and provisions drafted in 2014. Two of the main goals include assessing the threat the human trafficking poses to Michigan and developing policy recommendations to promote exposure and prevention of the commission’s initiatives (AG 3). Under the Attorney General’s supervision, several policy solutions have been presented including introducing the “Safe Harbor Law” which treats trafficked individuals as victims as opposed to criminals, toughening the laws to target perpetrators by changing the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony; strengthening forfeiture laws to reduce profits gained by violators, and developing programs to increase public knowledge and to collect data regarding Michigan’s current conditions (5). Following Governor Snyder’s stricter provisions, the commission will analyze and collect data through funded research programs to better assess the policies needed today.
What has really changed as a result of the 2014 Human Trafficking Act in Michigan? Prior to 2014, Michigan laws, like many state human trafficking laws, treated victims as criminals and prosecution for the traffickers was debatably unjust. Governor Snyder tackled these concerns directly. To protect people being from being exploited, Public Act 334 permits first time prostitution offenders to claim a “deferred sentence” to avoid a public criminal record. And to help victims further, the act provides counseling services for trafficking victims within the foster care system (Schmidt 2). All of the changes listed above are intended to help victims rehabilitate back into society and to protect them from returning to a cycle of prostitution and exploitation.
Changes have also been made to enact harsher punishment against traffickers. For instance, the law now charges human traffickers with longer terms of up to life in prison. The act changed soliciting a minor charge from a misdemeanor to a felony and requires the offender to be registered as a tier 1 sex offender. It includes an offender found guilty of “retaining a minor” for child pornography to be charged with kidnapping. Finally, the act now includes both sexes within the realm of prostitution laws (1). Tougher punishments for perpetrators are intended get more of the violators off the streets of Michigan while tightening the control over this vast underground network.
Looking at the bigger picture, what are concerns about America as a whole with human trafficking? The ability for an immigrant to secure a visa to the US has often been connected to human trafficking within the US for both the labor market and the sex industry. Many of them young children, are promised work and security, but instead find themselves trapped and paralyzed by the system that controls their documentation and their bodies. There appears to be a reoccurring theme with exploitation of human beings: perpetrators prey on vulnerability and weakness for a profit. Although it is extremely difficult to reduce this vulnerability, especially in areas of poverty with large influxes of illegal immigrants, creating laws that protect the victims and focus punishment on the traffickers are steps in the right direction to justice.
"AG - Human Trafficking Commission." AG - Human Trafficking Commission. State of Michigan, 2015. Web. 14 May 2015.
"Michigan No. 2 in Human Trafficking; Snyder Assigns New Team to Fight It." Michigan No. 2 in Human Trafficking; Snyder Assigns New Team to. 2015 Fox Television Stations, 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 14 May 2015
Schmidt, Lisa. "Michigan Passes Tough Laws Against Human Trafficking." Schmidt Law Services. Permalink, 27 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 May 2015.