Rescuing victims of human trafficking—education, awareness, and training
By Gary Lalicki, Health Management Systems of America
Health Management Systems of America (HMSA), a national Employee Assistance Program based in Michigan, became involved with the issue of human trafficking about two years ago. Bill Sumner, CEO of HMSA, and I were on a business trip to Rome, Italy, where we met with the Ambassador from Australia to the Vatican, John McCarthy. He had just been appointed by Pope Francis to a new commission called the Global Freedom Network. The commission was created to end human trafficking and slavery by the year 2020. It was a very lofty goal, but the Pope did not want to debate or talk about the issue for 10 years; he wanted to make sure a process was in place. This commission has 35 world religious leaders on board who all signed a pledge to stop human trafficking and slavery though their religious organizations.
Bill and I received an education that afternoon. We, like many people, understood human trafficking and slavery exists, but we thought about it only in developing countries. We did not realize those issues are also prevalent in western countries, including the United States. We found out that human trafficking and slavery is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and is also the second largest industry in the world, behind only arms trading. It grosses more than $150 billion each year. Even though every country has laws against human trafficking and slavery, there are more people enslaved today than in the history of the world. It is estimated that 40 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking.
The statistics* were alarming to say the least. The average age of a slave in the world is 13 years old, while the average life expectancy is 7 years. Sixty percent of victims are sex slaves and 40 percent are labor slaves. With today’s medical technology, when slaves are no longer needed or able to perform, they are often sold for body parts and organs.
Bill and I were overwhelmed with all the information and how to process it. When we returned home, we researched what was going on in Michigan and what we could do to help. We met with the Michigan Attorney General’s office and members of its Human Trafficking Commission. The commissioners told us there were a lot of good people trying to do good work but there was a lack of coordination, lack of training, and lack of good information. We also met with the Southeastern Michigan FBI task force. The FBI felt that good data was lacking in Michigan. There was a national hotline but not one specifically for Michigan. The national hotline did not give the needed state specifics to make a difference. In addition, there was no central database in Michigan for agencies to work from, so good data was lacking. Because human trafficking is a hidden problem, the more data that can be shared to combat it the better.
Bill and I had to decide how HMSA could best help. We knew we were not equipped to help the FBI rescue or house victims, but we could use our strengths as a company to help. We decided to hold an International Summit in Detroit, focusing on three areas:
- Education and awareness (human trafficking is hidden in plain sight).
- Training for police and fire personal, healthcare providers, teachers, cable installers, and city utility workers who go into homes and businesses each day.
- Connecting with multinational corporations in the Detroit area to educate on reducing or eliminating slave labor in their supply chains.
The summit took place on June 9, 2016, and included speakers like the Lt. Governor, Brian Calley, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, State Senator Judy Emmons, representatives from the FBI task force, and a victim who was trafficked in Michigan as a teenager while living in a high income area near Detroit. We had 300 attendees that included corporate, religious, and community leaders. We wanted to make sure that people who attended could help make a difference.
So far, we have created trainings on human trafficking and slavery for first responders, healthcare providers, and teachers. We focus on definition, statistics, signs and symptoms to look for, and what can be done to help. These trainings are being presented in the community today, and we are in the process of putting together community groups that will focus on the health of victims, housing, and education. Most states have community organizations that help train the public, help victims, or push for legislation in the state. If you are interested in more information, contact your state’s Attorney General’s office.
We have also created a 45-minute documentary in partnership with the Wayne County Medical Society targeting high school and early college-level students to get the word out about human trafficking. The documentary and a 28-page booklet can be viewed here.
HMSA created a nonprofit 501(c)(3), Liberty and Freedom Now, to provide the education, awareness, and training needed in this area. Visit the website for several actionable pieces of information. The more eyes on the streets, the more people can be rescued from human trafficking.
*Additional information and statistics can be found at:
HMSA’s leadership in developing training and education on human trafficking was awarded exemplary recognition by CARF in a recent survey report. For questions related to this issue, please contact Rachel Dunlop, HR manager for Health Management Systems of America, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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