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Community invited to join movement to end human trafficking in Grand Rapids

A special event is taking place at the KROC Center Tuesday evening.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The community is invited to join a growing movement to bring an end to sex trafficking in Grand Rapids through a special event Tuesday evening. 

It's being put on by Third Ward City Commissioner Senita Lenear's Human Trafficking Work Group at the KROC Center, located at 2500 Division Ave. S, from 6 to 8 p.m.

During the event, attendees will hear remarks from Lenear and Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne. There will also be a chance to watch and discuss videos that showcase various people involved or affected by sex trafficking in Grand Rapids and interact with an expert panel on how the issue impacts both children and adults in the community. 

Representatives from partner organizations Wedgwood Christian Services-Manasseh Project, 17th Circuit Court Family Division, Gerald R. Ford International Airport and Grand Rapids Police Department will serve on the panel.

Lenear calls sex trafficking a form of modern slavery. It happens when someone is exploited for sex through force, fraud, coercion or when someone younger than 18 is engaged in commercial sex. 

“We’re asking for the public to attend the event and learn the signs of trafficking,” Lenear  said. “You’ll know if an activity is sex trafficking if you see human beings treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited such as by being forced into prostitution. It can happen through social media, online ads, escort services, on the street and at massage parlors, hotels, motels and strip clubs.”

Payne said the situations sex-trafficked individuals experience vary dramatically.

“Many become emotionally involved with someone who then forces or manipulates them into prostitution,” Payne said. “Others are lured in with false promises of a job, such as modeling or dancing. They may be involved in a trafficking situation for a few days, weeks or years. It only takes one voice to identify the situation. That’s why we encourage people to call 911 immediately if they witness an active trafficking situation.”

In Grand Rapids, Lenear says runaways are particularly vulnerable and an estimated 1,000 or more individuals were victims of online sex trafficking in 2017. According to a press release from the commissioner, age 15 is the average age of entry into commercial sex trade.

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.It was started back in 2010, by Presidential Proclamation, and has brought immense awareness and action in fighting against the exploitation of individuals. 

For more on the Human Trafficking Work Group, visit the City's website.

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