The faces of human trafficking are more familiar than one might think. It can happen to anybody in any place in any country.

Men, women, and children in the United States and throughout the world are exploited in what is recognized as one of the greatest human rights tragedies of our time. Who are they?

Children and teenagers lured from online chat rooms and groomed by teams of people who misidentify as friends and mentors. Adults misled into migrating to the United States in search of better lives, who are then enslaved and forced to work for little or no pay. Others are forced into drug addiction and prostitution.

Sisters and Associates of the Dominican Sisters~Grand Rapids have been engaged with this issue at the state and global level for four years. In 2016, we supported the founding a Kent County Human Trafficking Task Force and the #STOPTHISTRAFFIC campaign. The Kent County Human Trafficking Task Force meets regularly at Dominican Center at Marywood.

The human trafficking machine is hiding in plain sight and learning ways to recognize signs of human trafficking is society’s best defense. Which is why during January Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Dominican Sisters~Grand Rapids are sharing information about what human trafficking is and where it is happening. We will also introduce you to organizations and resources that we partner with to help expose and end human trafficking in Kent County, Michigan, North America, and the world.

Coming up this Friday, Jan. 11 is the Freedom Through Action Winter Summit presented by Solutions to End Exploitation (SEE.). This summit is for those interested in getting involved in the movement to end human trafficking in West Michigan. SEE. is cultivating innovative solutions to fight human trafficking and exploitation. Learn more and register.

Faith and compassion can guide our responses to those who are victimized. In partnership with the Human Trafficking Committee of the Dominican Sisters, learn more about compassionate listening and response at our Saturday, January 26 program: Human Trafficking Touches All Our Lives from 9:00am-12:00 noon at Dominican Center at Marywood. Please register online or at Dominican Center Reception.

On Sunday, Jan. 27, from 3:00-4:00pm, join us at Dominican Chapel at Marywood for a special Prayer Service: Trafficked in America: Inside the Hidden Reality of Labor Trafficking in America. We invite the West Michigan community to join us in prayer for those who have been harmed and for those who are in harm's way due to human trafficking. We will take time to pray for West Michigan and the world to face this challenge with courage, dignity and compassion. Please wear blue as a sign of solidarity for all those who are suffering and for all who are working to end human trafficking.

You can also learn more by visiting http://stopthistraffic.org/.