Hillsdale County is not spared when it comes to the issue of human trafficking.
Jeremy Norwood, associate professor of sociology at Spring Arbor University, explained the reality of human trafficking in the local area to more than 300 people attending a children’s charity ball held by Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness on Saturday at Hillsdale College’s Searle Center.
“One of the things we need to understand first and foremost about human trafficking, is that it does happen in our communities,” Norwood said in his keynote address.
Since encountering human trafficking while on a trip to Cambodia when a gentleman offered to sell a young girl to him for sex, Norwood has directed much of his academic research toward the issue of human trafficking in the local area.
“What we found, as we’ve begun to do research, is that this does happen in our communities,” Norwood said. “It happens in our rural areas, it happens in suburban areas in Michigan, and in urban areas, too.”
And it’s not just minors who experience sex trafficking, Norwood said.
“Your idea of a trafficking victim, is a minor sex trafficking victim, and there are victims of minor sex trafficking in Hillsdale County, in Jackson County, and in Michigan,” Norwood said. “However, as we look at this dynamic of minor sex trafficking victims, often times we don’t realize that there are also victims of human trafficking who are not minors.”
Norwood leads trainings in various universities and communities around Michigan, where he invites survivors to come and tell their stories. He said that many times, victims are first trafficked as adults.
“This idea that once someone reaches a legal age, they can decide certain things for themselves, sort of betrays this idea of what force, fraud, and coercion really is,” Norwood said. “In cases of force, individuals are often being beaten, they are being violently, sexually assaulted or raped.”
CAPA hosts a charity ball each year in order to raise money for awareness and prevention efforts. This year the organization raised around $25,000, which will go straight into the various programs that CAPA holds throughout the year. All of CAPA’s programs seek to prevent child abuse in all its forms, from safe sleep programs that work to educate child caregivers on the effects of sudden infant death syndrome, to its Baby Think It Over program, which helps teens understand the commitment of parenthood. Megan Stiverson, who sits on the CAPA Board and was the chair for the charity ball, said that CAPA is held accountable to the state of Michigan through the Children’s Trust Fund.
Emily Schuster-Wachsberger, local council coordinator for Children’s Trust Fund of Michigan, works with CAPA by assisting it with its program efforts.
Schuster-Wachsberger delivered opening remarks at the ball, where she said that today’s science and research shows that when children don’t grow up in thriving environments they tend to see the effects down the road in adulthood.
“When we can prevent those adverse childhood experiences, like the work you’re doing at CAPA, we know down the road we will have less substance abuse, we will have less sick people, we will have a wealthier society, a better educated society, and a thriving society,” Schuster-Wachsberger said. “That is what CAPA is about, that’s what CTF is about, and so your generosity helps to support these programs.”
This was the first year that the ball was held at the Searle Center. Stiverson said that she heard many people say that they really liked the venue and the charity games, which, in keeping with the casino royale theme, were wine and gift card roulette along with other raffle and auction items.
Each year, the ball is held in memory of Trey Bowman, who died as an infant due to what is believed to be shaken baby syndrome. Dan Bowman, Trey Bowman’s father, addressed the ball attendees with gratitude for their determination to end child abuse.
“I love to get up here every year and see us grow a little bit,” Dan Bowman said. “And I love it because I get to see all of you folks here. We’re here because we’re here for a great cause. We’re also here because you give me the opportunity to say my son’s name again.”
Dan Bowman said each year he is so grateful for for the opportunity to honor his son in this way.
“Not only are you doing a great thing for the community, but I love that something good came out of his passing, and hopefully it’s that we can help one little one maybe not suffer some sort of abuse because you came and sat here tonight, and that’s all that we ask for,” Dan Bowman said.