West Michigan sex trafficking investigation

8:18 AM, May 14, 2013   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- You may not think that West Michigan is a hot spot for sex trafficking. But a national organization finds Michigan's women, girls and young boys are at risk.

The National Trafficking Help Hotline has received more than one thousand calls from Michigan. WZZM 13 Reporter Sarah Barwacz found multiple trafficking victims who were captured and sold on our city streets.

One woman is shedding light on the dark issue. Advocate Leslie King was once sold into the sex business, "They dressed me up took me on South Division."  King says her abuser sold her when she was just 15, and it took more than a decade before she was able to break free.

King says, "I'm steady being raped, steady being beaten, thrown out of tricks cars, raped at gun point, I'm shot I'm stabbed." She was told if she ran, her family would be killed.

Traumatized, King attempted suicide "I wanted it over." Instead of ending her life, King called out for help, "If there's a god in heaven, if you're real, help me, help me. That day I felt a father's hug and I knew I was going to be okay."

The victims we found are not alone. In the last four years, the National Human Trafficking Help Hotline took 1,058 calls from Michigan. Compare that to 613 in neighboring Indiana and 476 in Wisconsin. Despite those numbers, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says only five people have been convicted for sex trafficking. The reason, according to Schuette, "The victims of human trafficking may be reluctant to talk about what happened, and we're trying to work through all of that."

Schuette and state officials recently launched a task force of police, social workers, and lawmakers to address the growing problem. State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker hopes new internet trafficking laws come this fall, "We will determine which laws need to be updated to keep pace with technology."

King says she's ready for change, "I want Grand Rapids acknowledge that it's here."

King's abuser eventually went to jail.  She went to college and now runs a non profit organization which she says has rescued 400 women.

King says, "Just to see them walk with their head held up, man, man, laughter, now that makes me happy."

With her support victims now have a way out.

To end Leslie King's fight against human trafficking you can donate the her non profit, Sacred Beginnings.

If you suspect human trafficking call 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733).

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