On Tuesday, Nov. 15, a post circulated on Facebook from a mom who thought a man was trying to abduct her kids. She wrote that a suspicious man followed her and her kids around the Meijer store in Swartz Creek on Nov. 13. She wrote that the man was watching her and
her kids, and he approached them at one point. Meijer security was called and the family was put in a private room while the man was escorted out.
Many people who shared and commented on the now-deleted post said the mother did a good job avoiding a potential human trafficking, or sex trafficking, situation.
Community Service trooper, Steve Kramer, of the Michigan State Police, said this is not generally how human trafficking works. Kramer regularly gives presentations in local schools about human trafficking (see sidebar).
“Lots of people are calling situations something that they’re not,” he said. “It could have been something as simple as ‘hey, do you know where Bed Bath and Beyond is?’ Then you get a parent who says someone tried to kidnap their kid when that’s not the case, and they blow it out of proportion.”
Kramer said they always look into situations where a stranger approaches young children, but with situations like the one in the Facebook post, where a stranger is following a family around, most likely have nothing to do with human trafficking.
“Are there always going to be strange people in the world? Yes. But generally speaking these traffickers approaching them are not the creepy old men that most people think of,” Kramer said. “A 60-year-old man with teeth missing is not going to attract the attention of a 13-year-old.”
Approximately 62 percent of sex trafficking victims fell prey to what police call the “lover boy” approach. This is when an older boy makes friends with a younger girl, usually around age 12 or 13, and buys them things.
“They earn their trust, admiration. They buy them gifts,” Kramer said. This can lead to the young girl wanting to do anything to stay with that older boy.
The “lover boy” approach is the most common sex trafficking technique.
Approximately 35 percent of sex trafficking involves friends and family “letting things happen” in exchange for something else.
Kramer said with one case, a mother who was addicted to drugs would allow drug dealers to do sexual things to her daughter in exchange for drugs.
“When drugs are involved, people do a lot of nasty things to feed that habit,” he said. This is the second most popular way sex trafficking occurs.
Approximately 3 percent of sex trafficking involves kidnapping, and this is where public perception can be incorrect and harmful.
“Less than 3 percent are actually kidnapped. That’s just not how it works,” he said
He said human traffickers can be men, women, young people, old people, anyone, and sharing the Facebook posts like the one about Meijer isn’t a good idea.
“It does more harm than good. Report it to police and then we’ll post it once we can verify that it was what it was,” he said. “Lots of people are calling it something it’s not.”
Kramer said there’s a lot of misinformation about human trafficking in Michigan. He said someone spread a story claiming that Michigan was number two in the nation for human trafficking.
“I’m still combating that,” he said. “It’s just fallacy and it causes concern and alarm.”
Kramer said he believes Michigan was once number two in victim recovery, but not in human trafficking numbers.
“I don’t want people to be afraid to live their lives based on false narratives,” he said.
According to Steve Kramer, community service trooper with the Michigan State Police…
• Between 100,000 and 200,000 kids are brought into the human trafficking business in America each year.
• Approximately 90 percent of victims of human trafficking in the country are American.
• Kids around age 12-13 are targeted more than other ages. The average age for girls brought into human trafficking is 13, and 12 for boys.
• Approximately 2.8 million kids run away from home each year, and become huge targets for traffickers.
• Within 48 hours of being on the streets, one in three kids is approached by a trafficker.
• Approximately 91 percent of victims experienced some kind of neglect at home. Kramer said this makes the kids vulnerable and more likely to runaway.
• Approximately 57 percent of girls have been raped by someone outside of the family, and 30 percent have been raped by someone in the family.