WEST MICHIGAN (June 23, 2014) — It’s a hidden crisis in West Michigan. Experts who work with victims of sexual crimes say thousands of minors are sold into human trafficking right in our own communities.
If you think human trafficking only happens in third world countries, think again.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates 300,000 minors are at risk of being sold every year in the U.S. And it’s happening even closer to home.
“Unfortunately the state department estimates in West Michigan alone, there are 2,400 minors for sale at any given time, mostly on the internet. And this is in the land of the free, ” said Rebecca McDonald, founder and president of Women At Risk International .
WAR, as it is also known, is an International organization based in Wyoming, Mich., that helps victimized women and children regain their dignity.
McDonald has traveled all over the world, being a voice of the silenced, but is still blown away that sex trafficking happens in her own community.
“We are a conservative community,” explains McDonald. “We have been raised that it’s not nice to tattle and that we don’t talk about icky stuff and by doing that, you silence the victim.”
In fact, McDonald says a conservative community is one of the reasons why traffickers target Grand Rapids, making it only second to Detroit in the state.
“Women At Risk International has identified 15 demographics that draw the eye of a trafficker to a community. West Michigan has 12 of the demographics.”
Those demographics include adult entertainment and tourism, which McDonald says also attracts predators.
WAR gets up to 20 tips a month and turns them over to law enforcement.
Just recently, police arrested WCSG radio personality, John Balyo , and charged him with first degree criminal sexual conduct. McDonald believes this is a wake-up call.
“Law enforcement is there to be the judgement,” says McDonald.
“Our job is to be compassionate and to reach out to the victims of this man who have years of recovery and to even his family members who are victims in this situation.”
While she knows the reality of human trafficking won’t go away soon, McDonald says it’s up to the community to be a voice.
If you suspect someone you know is involved in this type of criminal activity or could be a victim, you can leave anonymous tip at 1-877-END-SLAVERY or go to the Women at Risk International website.