For National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Western Herald spoke with Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Officer Ryan Shank, who often works on cases involving human trafficking in Kalamazoo. Officer Shank identified a few key reminders to remember when evaluating situations, and to keep yourself safe.
The internet is the new home for sex traffickers: “A lot of sex trafficking is being coordinated through online ads, dating apps,” Shank said. These days, there aren’t places where traffickers tend to hang out. “Usually a meeting place like a hotel is established,” he said.
Control: Control is the constant indicator when identifying traffickers. “If it appears someone is working under force fraud or coercion, or if there are signs that someone is working off a large or seemingly unpayable debt, that could be an indicator of trafficking,” Officer Shank said. “Also signs that someone has control over another person or group of people, such as holding their identifying documents, controlling their money, etc. All of these things would be indicators of both labor or sex trafficking.”
Keep yourself safe: “Be aware of your surroundings, be cautious of anyone who seems like they are trying to manipulate or control you,” Shank said. “Stay off of shady websites. Keep in mind you have the right to walk away from anyone who is trying to exploit you.”
Officer Shank often refers to the list of red flag indicators on the Kalamazoo Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition’s website. If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, contact the KAHTC at (269) 303-0725.