Peters Visits Grand Rapids, Discusses Growing Human Trafficking Problem in Michigan

Peters’ Legislation to Help Identify and Prevent Human Trafficking Recently Passed U.S. Senate


GRAND RAPIDS, MI –Today, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) spoke at Spectrum Health’s Fred & Lena Meijer Heart Center to discuss the growing human trafficking problem in Michigan and his bipartisan legislation that passed the U.S. Senate to better train health care professionals to recognize the signs of trafficking in their patients. Peters was joined by Dr. Matthew Denenberg, Chief Medical Director at the Helen Devos Children’s Hospital and Jane White, Director of the State of Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Whether a victim is being forced to work in dangerous labor conditions without pay or sell sex for money, human trafficking is a horrific crime that is happening in communities across Michigan But if the medical professionals that come in contact with victims are better able to recognize the warning signs, it brings us one step closer to ending human trafficking,” said Senator Peters. “I am pleased that the Senate unanimously passed my bipartisan bill that will ensure doctors and nurses receive training to identify trafficking victims, and I urge the U.S. House to pass this legislation quickly so that we help these individuals escape their captors and rebuild their lives.”

In January, Peters introduced the Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act of 2015 with Republican Senator Bill Cassidy (LA). The bill establishes a pilot program to train health care professionals to identify victims of human trafficking. The legislation would award grants to an accredited school of medicine with experience studying and treating victims of human trafficking. The school must consult with law enforcement, social services and other experts to develop best practices for identifying victims of trafficking. The grants would be administered through the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill was recently passed in the U.S. Senate as part of a broader package on human trafficking and is now awaiting a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Victims of human trafficking are too often afraid to reach out for help, and empowering doctors and nurses to recognize the signs of human trafficking is critical to addressing this problem,” said Dr. Matthew Denenberg, Chief Medical Director at Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “These victims are likely to come in contact with a medical professional at some point in their captivity, and this bill is a great step towards getting them the help they need and ending the growing problem of human trafficking. I applaud Senator Peters’ leadership on this issue.”

“Human trafficking is not just a problem in third world countries, but one that exists right here in Michigan – and often in plain sight of the community,” said Jane White, Founder and Director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. “Ensuring medical professionals do the clinical examination and work with law enforcement is critical to rescuing victims, and I want to thank Senator Peters for introducing this legislation.”

A 2013 Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking report found that trafficking is a serious and growing problem in Michigan. The Commission identified five key factors that hinder the prevention of human trafficking in Michigan: Inadequate data on human trafficking, gaps within the state’s victim servicing framework, lack of awareness that human trafficking exists, the need to strengthen anti-trafficking policies and the failure by professionals to recognize indicators of human trafficking.

The state of Michigan ranks in the top five in the nation for human trafficking. During a July 2013 FBI investigation, more than 150 traffickers were arrested in a nationwide sweep, including 18 traffickers in metro Detroit—more than any other city involved in the operation.

Peters also cosponsored the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, which provides emergency shelter for young people, and helps service providers learn to identify victims of human trafficking. Last year, Michigan received more than $2 million in funding supported by this bill for programs in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Bloomfield, Mount Clemens, Mount Pleasant, Muskegon, East Lansing, Marquette and Ann Arbor to support homeless and at-risk youth.