Update Michigan’s human trafficking laws


Michigan has human trafficking laws, but the legislation on the books needs considerable updating to address the complex issues of the crime today. We encourage lawmakers to make this a priority.

About 20 bills dealing with human trafficking in Michigan are on the state House and Senate floors.

Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, predicts lawmakers will approve all of the bills by Thursday, one day before the Legislature takes its election break.

Heise, who has been a point-person for the House legislation, is optimistic the bills will get to the governor’s desk by mid-October.

Lawmakers have been prudent in drafting the legislation, which is the result of an intensive process that started in March 2013 when when Heise co-chaired the first Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking with Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The commission submitted a detailed report to the governor in November.

The large number of bills illustrates how complicated the problem has become but generally, the legislation attacks human trafficking on two fronts.

It gives law enforcement new weapons to find and prosecute human traffickers while protecting the victims of these crimes. This includes decriminalizing sexually-related crimes, such as prostitution, for those under 18.

One area of concern, Heise notes, is protecting young victims without legalizing under-18 prostitution.

Consequently, the bills will leave that determination up to prosecutors.

Many groups, such as Vista Maria, a shelter for teen girls based in Dearborn Heights, have been particularly concerned about the victim-related legislation. The organization has a facility to help youth rescued from traffickers re-enter society.

Although it’s the 21st century, slavery still exists. It is a thriving billion dollar business worldwide, bringing in an estimated $87 million a day and $32 billion a year.

But what’s most alarming is that it is occurring not just in Third World countries but in both rural and urban areas in our own backyard.

In 2001, a Farmington Hills couple was found to be holding a slave. Both were convicted.

Modern-day slavery takes a much different form, and the Internet is among the high-tech tools human traffickers use to entrap victims.

After the November election, the Legislature will reconvene for a lame-duck session. Lawmakers should make sure any human trafficking legislation that hasn’t been approved by then is authorized.

Otherwise, the whole process would have to be renewed after Jan. 1. Clamping down on this crime has been a bipartisan effort.

There’s no reason to delay revamping these laws and protecting more young women.