Film shown at trafficking education forum

Karen Alvord is shown with Charles, a Labrador retriever, as part of the HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response effort. Along with Daisy, a Bernese mountain dog, Charles was one of two such dogs available at a Tuesday forum on human traffacking at the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University to provide comfort. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Human trafficking isn’t something that happens just in the big cities or with shady-looking people. It can happen anywhere and be perpetrated by someone as seemingly harmless as the neighbor next door.

To educate the public on this serious issue, the Zonta Club of Marquette partnered with the Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Task Force to present a film about the subject, “Ring of Silence,” on Tuesday at the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University. The event also included a forum involving regional experts.

The U.P. Human Trafficking Task Force defines human trafficking as a form of “modern-day slavery” in which people profit from the control and exploitation of others. The crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person to engage in commercial sex acts or solicit labor or services against their will.

Stephanie Graef, president and cofounder

of the task force, said at the forum, “This topic is a very important topic that together we can learn, and together we can identify, and together we can report. We can start talking about it.

“It’s a difficult thing to think about.”

Stephanie Graef, president and co-founder of the Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Task Force, speaks at a Tuesday forum on the subject at the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University. The film “Ring of Silence” also was shown. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

She acknowledged the internet has changed the scenario — meaning the U.P. no longer is insulated from crime.

One of the experts on the forum panel was Curt Harrington, chief of police with the Iron River Police Department.

Traffickers, he pointed out, vary widely.

“They range from senior vice presidents of banks to the lowest scumbag neighbor who’s unemployed,” Harrington said. “So who are the traffickers? Who are the predators? They’re anybody.”

Harrington said sheriffs across the U.P. are getting involved in fighting human trafficking, as are other local agencies.

“I’m just one member of many people who in the Upper Peninsula will fight human trafficking, and we will not stop,” he said. “We will always be out there.”

The film “Ring of Silence,” directed by Nicole Bowers Wallace, focuses on April, a young girl who unwittingly falls into a human trafficking ring. It depicts graphic images of her undergoing a medical examination following an assault as well as a dramatic rendering of her being lured into the ring by an older, handsome and — at first — seemingly friendly man who preys on her vulnerabilities.

Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt, another panel member, said traffickers target individuals with low self-esteem, although there are many scenarios.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Zyburt said.

Because the subject matter was disturbing, two dogs from the HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis project were on hand to provide comfort in case anyone needed it during the event.

Other members of the forum panel were 1st Lt. Jeremy S. Hauswirth of the Michigan State Police Iron Mountain Post; Betsy Huggett, vice president of the UPHTTF and executive director of the Diane Peppler Resource Center; Melissa Copenhaver, associate professor with the NMU School of Nursing and a trained sexual assault nurse examiner; and David Paul, victim specialist with the FBI.

Kia Jane Richmond, a professor of English education at NMU, was the moderator.

Richmond stressed that victims of human trafficking can be anyone and any child.

“That’s the part that tears you up,” she said.

Also sponsoring the event were the Community Foundation of Marquette County, the NMU President’s Office, NMU Criminal Justice Department, NMU Criminal Justice Association, NMU Police Department, Eagle Mine and Thrivent.

A fact sheet distributed at the forum listed characteristics of a person who might be a victim of human trafficking.

They include someone who:

≤ has coached or rehearsed responses to questions;

≤ frequently runs away from home;

≤ makes references to frequent travel to other cities;

≤ shows signs of drug addiction;

≤ exhibits bruises or other signs of physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, anxiety or fear;

≤ demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis and/or has unexplained absences;

≤ lacks control over his or her schedule and/or identification or travel documents; and

≤ is hungry, malnourished, deprived of sleep or inappropriately dressed based on weather conditions or surroundings.

The fact sheet also included tips for people who suspect human trafficking. They include:

≤ Do not attempt at any time to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions.

≤ Call 911 for emergency situations such as threats of violence, physical assault or emergency medical needs.

≤ If you are a victim and need help or want to find support for a loved one, call or text the confidential 24/7 Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Helpline at 906-299-9243 or visit upht123.org.

≤ Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888, or text HELP or INFO to BeFree at 233733.

Donations to UPHTTF may be mailed to P.O. Box 232, Marquette, MI 49855.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today