Red Sand Project human trafficking awareness event today
ALPENA – Human trafficking happens right here in Northeast Michigan, and organizers of an awareness event want the community to learn how to spot the warning signs.
Child and Family Services of Northeast Michigan and Hope Shores Alliance have teamed up to present the event, called the Red Sand Project, at 6 p.m. today at Rotary Island Mill Park in Alpena.
“There have been concerns about whether or not children are being trafficked in our region, and we know that it’s happening, and we know that human trafficking is probably becoming one of the fastest-growing crimes,” said Child and Family Services Executive Director Stephanie Dettloff. “We want to make sure there is community awareness for all of us, because it really takes a community to help identify the signs and know the resources in our community that can help victims become survivors.”
She said multiple agencies have collaborated in organizing the project.
“We have been working collaboratively with Hope Shores, the prosecutor’s office, we’ve recently had some conversations with law enforcement, to really bring this event,” Dettloff continued.
The Red Sand Project is an international event that brings awareness to human trafficking.
“The community, as well as the partners who are invested in this, will be meeting there,” Dettloff said.
Organizers will hand out red sand packets to participants at tonight’s event.
“We will take the red sand and kind of fill in the cracks along the pathway of Rotary Island, as a symbol of awareness for human trafficking,” Dettloff said. “We’ll also have some signs and some statistics and things like that, to educate the community.”
Often, homeless or runaway children and teens are the targets of human trafficking, she said, and they are forced to either do slave labor or perform sexual acts. She noted that all ages, genders, and races can be involved in human trafficking. Often, victims may be taken or seen at rest stops or gas stations or hotels.
“Really, the goal of this, as our initial kickoff, is to really expand on what we’re doing to create a task force here, and, hopefully, in the future, down the road, to provide some training to hotels and businesses and massage parlors and gas stations, so that when people are encountering people that, kind of pass through, just to be mindful of what to look for,” Dettloff said.
The first sign you may get is a sense that “something is off,” or a feeling that the situation you are witnessing is not OK, Dettloff explained.
“Victims of human trafficking really are held in bondage, either through force, or, sometimes, coercion, for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation,” she said. “Children are really at the most staggering risk of being involved in those trafficking cases.”
Some signs of a potential victim include the person being withdrawn, not making eye contact, and keeping their head down.
“A lot of times, people who are victims of that, it’s hard for them to disclose what’s happening,” she added. “I always say, ‘Go with your gut feeling, because, more often than not, there is something to that.’ A lot of times, victims can’t speak for themselves, and it takes others to really be aware of surroundings, and what isn’t typical in our community, and to be really mindful and paying attention to that.”
If you suspect human trafficking, immediately call law enforcement at 911, or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.