SW Michigan task force puts spotlight on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

STEVENSVILLE, Mich. (WNDU) - Friday marks National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

“It happens everywhere,” Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force founder Cathy Knauf said. “There is no city or town that's immune to it. Because people want to make money and they make money on vulnerable people.”

In the United States, it happens more than you think.

“Human trafficking is the second largest criminal activity in the nation, and it's quickly becoming the most rapidly [growing] criminal activity in the nation, the fastest growing,” Knauf said.

Victims show physical signs of abuse, but also mental signs of confusion and not knowing where they are or what day it is.

Southwestern Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force raised awareness at Watermark Brewing Company Friday night.

“Women that are caught up in that world, how do you pull them out of that when they may think they love that person or that's their stability financially?” asked Carolyn Groen from the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office.

The International Labor Organization estimates that more than 40 million people are victims are human trafficking worldwide.

This week, there was progress in the United States. Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency. Brown had been serving a life sentence for a murder of a man she said sex-trafficked her.

Human trafficking is a complicated issue, but there's one thing everyone from all ages should know as the first sign of a potential trafficker:

“If somebody asks for a picture of a body part, tell your parents, don’t send it,” Knauf said.

As the National Awareness Day winds down, the task force offered a message of hope for those that may be struggling.

“For people that I guess are trapped and feel like I don't have a way out, there is a way out and people who do want to help,” Groen said.

If you believe you've encountered a victim of human trafficking, you're encouraged to call the national hotline at 888-373-7888.