Human trafficking on the rise during COVID-19 pandemic

Oakland Press – Jan 10, 2021 | By Edee Franklin via MediaNews Group

Edee Franklin is the founder, president and chairperson of the board of directors for Sanctum House, a safe home for survivors of human trafficking. Photo by Brett Mountain

The COVID-19 pandemic and pervasive opioid crisis continue to lay bare vulnerabilities and fault lines across our society, particularly with respect to human trafficking, including right here in Michigan.

Human trafficking is compelled service the act of someone with power making money by taking advantage of someone who is vulnerable. This coercion can take many forms, including sex trafficking, forced marriage, selling children, forced labor and debt bondage.

Globally, human trafficking is a $150 billion industry and growing. This is a serious crime and human rights violation that deprives more than 40 million people of their economic as well as their emotional and physical freedom.

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Human trafficking is a notoriously underreported crime. In 2019, the National Human Trafficking Hotline was contacted nearly 1,000 times from right here in Michigan, identifying more than 800 victims,153 traffickers and 62 trafficking businesses.

According to Polaris, a leading data-driven, social justice nonprofit organization that fights labor and sex trafficking, from January 1, 2015, through June 30, 2017, drugs were used as a way to control a recorded 2,238 potential U.S. victims of human trafficking. Traffickers create a vicious cycle of dependency in their victims by supplying opioids and other drugs, and serving as the illicit resource to prolong these situations. Addiction is a powerful tool to control, coerce or exploit these people.

A perfect storm

The pervasive opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic together have made more individuals in our community and nationwide vulnerable to human trafficking. Police authorities and community groups report that in response to the pandemic, human trafficking is going further underground, making detection harder.

Job loss has increased financial burdens on low-income earners, making a trafficker’s influence more compelling. There is less activity at hotels, casinos and other entertainment venues where many low-income workers are employed. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have kept individuals away from loved ones and professionals such as health care workers who can detect signs of physical or emotional abuse and provide support.

The sad reality is that not all victims are willing or ready to leave “the life” or their situation, and we must further understand this to help free them.

How to fight human trafficking

To fight against the insidious scourge of human trafficking takes compassion for the most vulnerable in our community. We also must maintain heightened awareness of the schemes of human traffickers and work together to ensure holistic programs get victims off the streets and into the help they need.

At Sanctum House, we work with our community and public partners on educating the public and special groups including educators, nurses, doctors and first responders on how to recognize human trafficking and alert the appropriate authorities.

Sanctum House helps break the chain of dependencies for those trafficked, which can involve substance abuse, disrupted family relationships and distorted views of one’s self-worth and potential.

Since Sanctum House first opened its doors in metro Detroit nearly three years ago, we have worked with more than 55 women in residency, keeping them safe and free from their traffickers, providing a two-year, 24-hour on-site residential program to help survivors overcome trauma and addiction and empower them with the life skills necessary to achieve healthy, productive and independent lives.

These women come from all ethnic groups and economic situations and more than 600 community volunteers have assisted us in our work. We are raising funds to purchase the building where we operate to expand the capacity of our residential program and establish apartments for graduates as they transition back to the community.

We understand these are unprecedented times with many critical needs not met across a wide range of society. We believe that with time, this pandemic and its immense challenges, including those of human trafficking, will rekindle our shared compassion and sense of responsibility. Please join us in acting upon those positive impulses.

Edee Franklin is the founder, president and chairperson of the board of directors for Royal Oak-based Sanctum House, a safe home for survivors of human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives. It is a voluntary residential 24-month program for women 18 and older. Visit