Lawmakers start year by focusing on human trafficking

Human trafficking survivor Ruth Rondon tells her story to committee members | House Republicans photo

Ruth Rondon, who was a victim of human trafficking for 18 years, shared on Thursday her emotional story of trauma, abuse, rape and corruption to increase awareness of the issue in Michigan.

“I wanted my stories to be told,” Rondon said at a joint hearing of the state House Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services and the House Health Policy Committee. “There were so many crimes committed against me that I never got justice for.”

Rondon’s story is unique to her. But Kelly Carter, executive director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission, says it is also “illustrative of so many victims of trafficking.”

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The House on Wednesday adopted a bipartisan resolution, sponsored by state Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.), declaring Jan. 11, 2020, as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Michigan.

According to statistics from the U.S. State Department, human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world, second only to drug trafficking, as the most profitable form of crime. Approximately $87 million is made every day from sex trafficking transactions.

Rep. Mary Whiteford | House Republicans photo

Whiteford said that while human trafficking seems like a far away problem, Michigan is far from immune.

In 2011, Michigan received an “F” grade from Shared Hope International’s Protected Innocence Challenge Study, but gained national attention after passing legislation in 2013 and 2014 to help combat human trafficking and strengthen victim’s rights. 

Michigan’s rating was raised to a “B” in 2019 and recognized as the most improved state in 2015. Lawmakers said Thursday that more legislation is being drafted.

“I am thankful to have this opportunity to present real human trafficking stories to the Michigan Legislature,” Whiteford said. “While Michigan has made significant advances in fighting human trafficking since 2011, there is still more work to be done. The exploitation of vulnerable children, women and men is unconscionable, and a crime that must be stopped.”

The state House on Wednesday also adopted a resolution sponsored by state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) that would establish January 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo at the bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and it’s imperative we all join together and commit ourselves to increasing awareness, fighting this crime, and keeping the communities and citizens of Michigan safe,” said Gay-Dagnogo. “All survivors of human trafficking deserve equal respect and the opportunity to report their trauma without judgment or fear when beginning their healing process.”

Carter shared recommendations to current laws to assist efforts to eradicate human trafficking in Michigan. These efforts include improving training for law enforcement and health care workers, eliminating outdated language from the legislation, providing protections and support to survivors and increasing penalties for obtaining commercial sex acts.

“That doesn’t mean that this is all that there is to do,” Carter said. “Know that we still have a number of issues that need work as we go forward over the next couple of years.”

Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.