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Nessel discusses human trafficking in the U.P.

Noah Johnson | Daily Press State Attorney General Dana Nessel laughs with District Governor Gretchen Preston of the Marquette Lions Club.

MANISTIQUE — On Friday, Dana Nessel, Michigan’s Attorney General partnered with The Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Task Force UPHTTF for a roundtable discussion. The event took place at the Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital — the purpose was to discuss the state of human trafficking in the U.P., including the goals of the state in regards to human trafficking and to identify solutions that best serve the community as well as hold human traffickers accountable for their actions.

Over 25 representatives and community leaders from various organizations attended. Attendees included the Lions Club, Michigan State Police, Delta County Sheriff’s Office, victim service centers, representatives from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

District Governor Gretchen Preston of the Marquette Lions Club said that the information shared is important to discuss, especially with loved ones.

“Take this home, tell your family, tell your friends — together, we can beat this,” Preston said.

Nearly everyone said they would like to see more education and training provided for their organizations so they can help to stop trafficking when possible, shield the victim and hold the offender accountable.

The informal discussion involved three critical pillars to combating human trafficking: prevention, protection and prosecution.

Prevention refers to stopping the act before it happens, by looking out for signs or clues that someone may be involved with human trafficking. There are various indicators, but a very common method according to UPHTTF is isolation. Predators use isolation as a way to control the victim and rob them of their sense of community. UPHTTF said the best way to help is to pay attention.

“Pay attention to the people you know or interact with — your children, your students, your tenants, your co-workers. If their friends, daily schedule, clothes or personality changes, talk with them right away to find out why,” UPHTTF said in documents provided to attendees.

Protection refers to the well-being of the victim, making sure that they feel safe enough to share traumatic information that allows law enforcement and prosecutors to go after the offender.

Finally is prosecution, using the law to hold offenders accountable for their actions.

Nessel expanded on the protection and prosecution pillars, saying the victims must feel comfortable enough to work with law enforcement.

“It’s very hard to actually prosecute these cases because it’s so hard to get cooperation from the victims,” Nessel said.

She added that this means the victim needs proper treatment and care — whether that be medical attention, mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment.

“There’s no way that you’re going to get cooperation from them until they feel like they can completely remove themselves from the trafficker and be mentally ready to participate in a prosecution,” Nessell added.

Unfortunately, the U.P. is a vulnerable area when comes to human trafficking. According to the UPHTTF, the area is vulnerable due to the high poverty rate, drug addictions, lack of mental health services, five tribal nations, shipping canals, cargo ports as well as the proximity to the northern border. Human traffickers typically hunt online for vulnerable victims — especially children — and begin the grooming process.

Graef said that those in need or have questions about human trafficking can visit the website at www.upht123.org or call the administration/tip line 906-299-9243.

CEO of Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital, Andy Bertapelle talked about hosting the event, saying he immediately said yes when asked.

“It made so much sense to have the community here because they play such a vital role,” Bertapelle said.

Nessel reflected on the discussion, saying it’s important for these different organizations and groups to work together.

“I think it was an extraordinary discussion,” Nessel said. “It’s really necessary to bring together so many different partnerships (from) all across the Upper Peninsula.”

She added that it is important for state officials like herself to come and talk to local communities and show them what resources the state has available.

Graef said she was happy that so many members of the community were able to attend.

“I was really encouraged by today’s attendance leaders across Schoolcraft County and of course leaders across the U.P. all coming together as a coalition to number one recognize that human trafficking is a very real problem here in the U.P., and also secondly what they can do in their capacity to help fight it,” Graef said.

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