Knowledge is power
Gwinn High School students learn to recognize signs of human trafficking
By CECILIA BROWN
Journal Staff Writer
GWINN — Knowing and recognizing the signs of human trafficking is a valuable tool that can help individuals protect themselves and others.
Students in Angela Micheau’s elective Health II class at Gwinn High School recently learned the signs of human sex trafficking from Michigan State Police Community Service Trooper Stacey Rasanen, who gave a presentation explaining signs students should look for, the overall prevalence of trafficking, and how to get help.
“Knowledge is power and we need to be having these conversations so people know how to protect themselves and their loved ones,” Micheau said.
It’s particularly important to have these conversations with students, Micheau said, as it can “help protect their future and help protect family and loved ones from the control, abuse, and trauma that this can cause to a person.”
“There are predators everywhere and they are very smart and manipulating with their tactics,” Micheau said. “Teens are at a critical age where they can be easily taken advantage of. So are people that don’t have a lot of self worth, those that are very naive, or those involved in drug use.”
To help students identify potential trafficking situations, Rasanen went over the warning signs that a person is being trafficked, which can include: having a partner that is older than them; making references of frequent travel to other cities; drug addiction; unexplained absences; and chronically running away from home.
Rasanen also explained the warning signs of a trafficker, which include: making promises that are too good to be true; suggesting they know how to make money; buying expensive gifts and flashing money; being vague about their profession; being significantly older than their partner and/or being controlling of their partner.
This information was helpful to students, they said, as it can better prepare them to recognize a potentially dangerous situation.
“I think the presentation was very helpful with giving tips on what types of things to look out for,” said Analise Hoevker, a junior at Gwinn High School.
Rasanen also offered some advice to students on how to safely handle a situation if they or someone they knew was being trafficked.
“(The) advice she had was to talk to the trusted adults you have in your life and to contact the police,” Micheau said. “There are laws out there to help protect victims already involved in trafficking to help them get out and get back on their feet again without criminal penalties.”
Students were glad to gain resources and information about how to recognize and handle potential trafficking situations, they said.
“This should definitely be taught to high schoolers because we need to have the information to protect ourselves and others,” said Ben Maki, a senior at Gwinn High School.
Some of the information was surprising to students, Micheau said, as Rasanen dispelled several myths about trafficking.
“It was interesting to learn that only 3 percent of victims are kidnapped,” Micheau said. “I think most people think this is how most of sex trafficking happens and it’s the least common way. We learned that 35 percent are sold by their own family, and 62 percent are tricked and groomed into this lifestyle.”
Furthermore, Rasanen emphasized that “living in a small town doesn’t necessarily protect you,” Micheau said, noting that trafficking is “very prevalent in Michigan and students in the Upper Peninsula need to know it is prevailing here as well.”
“Prevalence (is) not as high as bigger cities but we are not exempt because we live in a beautiful and less populated area. We have a big drug problem here, and where drugs are, traffickers are,” Micheau said, noting Rasanen spoke about trafficking cases in the U.P., Traverse City, and the Mackinac area.
Students were also surprised learned that the average age of a trafficking victim is 13, and that anyone, male or female, can become a victim, they said.
“You don’t always know you are being trafficked until it is too late. Children and teens aren’t always aware of their surroundings and can be very naive,” said Aurora Zimmer, a sophomore at Gwinn High School. “It is very important to learn about this subject.”
Micheau and her students are thankful for Rasanen’s passion and knowledge on the subject, Micheau said, as the presentation provided valuable information that can help protect students and those in their lives.
“Whether you call this trafficking, pimping, or exploitation, these people are sexual predators,” Micheau said. “Giving our students the facts gives them the power they need to hopefully avoid these dangerous situations.”
This was the first time the presentation was offered in Marquette County, Micheau said. Rasanen had approached her about speaking to the class about the subject and Micheau then reviewed the content with Rasanen and received the principal’s approval, she said, noting that the topic falls under the Michigan Model Health standards under the safety unit.
For other educators who wish to have Rasanen present at their school, Micheau recommends contacting Rasanen at Rasanens@michigan.gov or 906-235-3761.
Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.