Homeland Security warns to watch out for human trafficking in West Michigan


(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is asking you to be on the lookout for human trafficking this summer.

DHS officials said human trafficking does not happen like it is often shown in movies or those Facebook posts you have likely shared asking you to watch out for suspicious people at the grocery store. It is a real problem and the victims are already vulnerable and being exploited. Officials say they are not typically kidnapped off the streets, but instead coerced over time.

"That's kind of more like the Hollywood script. For us, the human trafficking case looks slightly different. So, it's the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain either commercial sex or forced labor,” said Mick McKewon, a Department of Homeland Security executive.

McKewon is the head of DHS’s Blue Campaign, which works to stop human trafficking.

He told Newschannel 3 it does not matter if you are in a big city or small town, suspects often transfer the victims across state lines. McKewon also said it can happen anywhere.

“I think one of the biggest misconceptions we have is people think human trafficking is a problem here, just not in their community,” said McKewon.

McKewon warns as you travel this summer keep an eye out at rest areas, train stations, airports and gas stations. One of the biggest red flags, he said, will be someone who does not know where they are, where they are going, and does not have access to their own identification, such as a driver’s license, passport or plane ticket, and has another person speaking for them.

“If this person doesn’t have access to their identification that’s a red flag. The other issues we might face is do they know where they are or what they’re talking about. So, if they’re looking to someone else in the group to kind of be the leader for them, they can’t answer basic questions or seem to have a normal interaction that’s another flag,” said McKewon.

He said trafficking victims will usually stand out in a crowd.

"Just like we learned on Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers- which one of these things doesn't belong? If we see a group of people and someone doesn't seem it fit in, due to the fact that they might seem malnourished or dazed and confused, this is something else to kind of bring to our attention,” said McKewon.

If you see something out of the ordinary, McKewon says do not be a hero; call police immediately but do not try to step in.

Tips that are not emergencies can also be sent to the Department of Homeland Security website.

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