MSP warns parents of social media's role in human trafficking

Social media can be useful, but Michigan State Police Trooper Amy Belanger says it can also be dangerous. (Photo: WEYI/WSMH)

Human trafficking doesn't just happen in big cities, it happens everywhere and a big part, according to Michigan State Police, is because of social media.

That's why Michigan State Police troopers are making a point to educate those in smaller communities.

"Less victims are standing out on the corners and walking the streets and more are soliciting themselves on social media,” MSP Trooper Amy Belanger said.

Social media can be useful, but Belanger says it can also be dangerous because it is how many traffickers or pimps make initial contact with victims.

She said, "They're going to target teens. The younger the victim, the more money they actually make."

Tuesday she talked with parents at Grand Blanc High School about the signs of human trafficking.

Belanger said, "I think parents have the idea that this is just going to happen in the big cities such as Detroit, such as the city of Flint, but there is no profile for where trafficking takes place."

And parents like Jennifer Redman showed up with paper and pen in hand, ready to learn.

"I just want to know what I have to do to protect her," she said.

Redman says looking for anything she can do to keep her daughter safe.

She said, "Always concerned when we're out. I feel like I can never take my eyes off her. It makes me a little panicky."

Belanger says one misconception stems from the movie Taken.

Belanger said, "It's all over social media: ‘Watch out in the parking lots, watch out in the grocery stores watch out at the mall.' However, most of the victims are being tricked into trafficking."

She says only 3 percent of victims are actually taken, while 62 percent of victims are tricked into trafficking.

She says an older boyfriend may have introduced them to the lifestyle or drugs took over.

Belanger said, "A lot of times the drug abuse is something we look for when looking for victims.”

The average age of a human trafficking victim is 13- to 16-years-old, according to Ballenger, but she says in Genesee County, the youngest human trafficking victim was just 4-months-old.

You can find more information on how to spot and prevent on human trafficking here.

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