What does human trafficking look like in Kalamazoo?

Look beneath the surface.

Women and children are being trafficked in Kalamazoo in hotels, massage parlors, hair braiding salons, truck stops, migrant work, restaurants and even the house next door.

In May, three men were arrested for soliciting prostitution in the 1000 block of Portage Street.

The Kalamazoo Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, formed in March 2012, organized an event to train community members on human trafficking. The event shed light on the biggest problem: awareness. Community members were briefed on ways to spot a victim.

“The point is that it’s right in front of our faces,” said Pam Trammel, a member of Mission of Mercy’s Human Trafficking Task Force in Jackson. “These human traffickers are smart; they know what to look for.”

Trafficking starts online on websites like Craigslist. Seventy-six percent of transactions for sex with underage women start on the internet, Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said. Even college students are vulnerable, since most are separated from their families.

“You’re on your own,” Fuller said. “These people know that.”

Debra Stewart, a licensed professional counselor at Cornerstone Christian Counseling, works directly with trafficked victims.

“These are our people—Kalamazoo people—who are being affected,” said Stewart. “All women I’ve worked with were within a 50-mile radius [of Kalamazoo].”