LANSING — This week, state Reps. Tom Cochran (D-Mason), Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan), Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Patrick Green (D-Warren), along with 13 other legislators, introduced a package of 26 bills that extend additional legal protections to human trafficking survivors and debunk stereotypes and outdated notions about prostitution in our state. Deliberately combined in one legislative package, these bills highlight the connections between prostitution and sex trafficking.

“Studies show that those in prostitution are often victims of human trafficking, and people who have survived being trafficked have lived through an evil most of us can’t even imagine,” Rep. Cochran said. “To compound what they have been through by subjecting them to the stigma of a word like ‘prostitute’ is just callous and unfair. The very least we could do is recognize how their rights and their humanity were violated as we help them put their lives back together by not referring to them by an outdated and harsh word.”

The package, which has been in the works for more than two years, addresses the issue of human trafficking in three ways:

  • Creating and funding additional legal tools for victims of human trafficking
  • Expanding awareness and preventive measures
  • Addressing the relationship between prostitution and human trafficking.

Currently, human trafficking victims may access legal protections such as expungement (having a conviction “set aside” or erased in the eyes of the law) and an affirmative defense (such as being under duress) for prostitution-related crimes only. These bills would expand those protections to include non-violent crimes such as petty theft or minor drug charges. In addition, the creation of a Human Trafficking Victim Fund would give victims more access to legal advocates, health services and housing.

“Trafficking victims often lack the resources and support to rebuild their lives,” Rep. Griffin said. “This fund will help them regain their footing and re-establish their careers and personal lives while pursuing justice against the people who had exploited them.”

When Michigan’s Human Trafficking Notification Act passed in 2016, it required notices be posted in certain premises such as rest stops, public airports, bus and rail stations, and adult entertainment establishments. Working to expand awareness and preventive measures, this package adds hotels and schools as well as those working as cosmetologists as possible points of contact with human trafficking victims.

“It’s sobering to realize that any one of us might interact today with someone who is being trafficked and/or abused and not even realize it,” Rep. Green said. “Certain trades and industries, such as hair and nail salons, have seen a higher exposure to those who have been trafficked or are in dangerous relationships. By educating the public, we’re arming people with information that could potentially be used to free others from truly tragic situations.”

As of now, Michigan state law groups prostitution, along with loitering, public intoxication, illegal gambling, etc., in a class of disorderly conduct laws. This package would not only remove prostitution as a crime of disorderly conduct, but would also change all references of “prostitution” to “commercial sex act” in the books.

“The lines between human trafficking and prostitution are often blurred, but in many ways they are inherently linked,” Rep. Geiss said. “Unfortunately, Michigan’s position near an international border and our access to major highways makes our state a center for human trafficking activity. It’s happening everywhere, not just in our major cities. I’m proud to have worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle on this package. And I know that to truly understand sex trafficking, we have to understand its close connection with prostitution.”