UP youths are vulnerable to reach of human traffickers

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month. You may have seen information out there recently due to the awareness campaign.

Locally, many people don’t take much notice or have an interest in the topic due to misconceptions of what human trafficking really is. A common misconception is that human trafficking basically just involves the smuggling of immigrants across our southern borders — far away from the Copper Country.

Though this situation does constitute human trafficking, the problem is much, much broader and far-reaching.

The three most common types involve sex trafficking, forced labor, and debt bondage. Due to space limitations here, I won’t try to go into further details defining human trafficking, going through statistics, or detailing the countless instances of how this is occurring. If you have an interest in this, research the topic, and you’ll have a much better understanding.

I would like to bring up a scenario that may be a realistic possibility when it comes to human trafficking. This would involve our young people growing up here and falling into a bad situation leading to a human trafficking situation.

This scenario would involve a younger female who may or may not have a great deal of parental guidance, which, like many young people, can’t wait for the day to “fly the coop” and experience the rest of the world. The girl likely has access to the internet, uses social media, and “meets” people online. Maybe there’s a romantic interest and promises of a fun and exciting life far away from the coop.

There may be illegal drugs involved, which could be another lure. We currently are experiencing an opioid epidemic in our country. The addiction is extremely powerful and controlling. Meth, different forms of cocaine, potent cannabis and a host of prescription pills can come into play as well.

Combine some of these factors and you have the teenaged girl, little supervision or guidance, longing to get away, meeting an online predator who is promising everything she could want, and is eventually pulled away from any support or structure she knows. She ends up hundreds of miles from home, cut off from any support or help, is soon hooked on the drugs, and soon completely dependent on her “boyfriend” who orchestrated the situation. This predator now has complete control and is free to use the girl for his own gain. Often times, the girl in this kind of situation would be forced into sex slavery, prostitution, and/or stripping.

If you don’t believe there are many online predators out there targeting our young people, you should think again. They use many different means and lures to get to these kids. They are targeted for different purposes. Anyone can be susceptible and targeted, but young people without support and structure, willing to take uninformed chances, and maybe having a nonchalant attitude towards drug use are the most at risk.

What can we do to prevent this? First off, take off the rose-colored glasses and realize that this can and does happen on a regular basis. As responsible adults, get involved if you see any concerning behaviors. As parents, openly communicate with your teen, monitor what they are doing on the internet, educate them on the dangers of substance abuse, and guide them towards adulthood with solid and responsible decisions.

Matt Djerf is the community service trooper for the Michigan State Police-Calumet Post.