By Andrew Keller, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
FLINT, MI (WNEM) -
Victims as young as 11 have been forced to sell their bodies for sex, part of the lucrative business that experts say is the second-largest criminal enterprise in the nation.
"Once they get them into the world of prostitution, they're just a tool, a toy, for the people in charge," said Trooper Josh Dirkse with the Michigan State Police Flint Post.
Worldwide, it's estimated human trafficking generates $32 billion annually. Cities like Flint and Saginaw are not immune.
"I don't even think a lot of people in the city of Flint are aware of what's going on here," said Flint resident Shawn Hairston.
On Tuesday night, police laid out some shocking details of this growing crime.
"It really makes me want to cry, thinking it could happen to anyone that I possibly know," said Nancy Burkett, a Flint teacher.
Michigan State Police and the Southeast Michigan Crimes Against Children (SMCAC) task force held a forum in Flint to drive the issue home.
"I was involved in a case last July, through an investigation found that a gentleman was recruiting 15, 14-year-old girls, and basically prostituting them out to adults here in Flint," said Dirkse.
Experts say that the pimp is known to prey on his victim in many different places. That includes at the mall or even outside of their school.
"They know which girls to pick on. They will go for girls with low self-esteem or come from a bad family and that way they can sell them that pipe dream," said D/Sgt. Edward Price of the Michigan State Police.
It's a pipe dream that is far from reality and a growing concern law enforcement hopes to unravel with increased awareness.
"The reality of sex trafficking of minors, it's everywhere," said Price.
Police say there are warning signs. They could include tattoos the pimp has made his victim get to mark them as his property or numerous hotel keys. The victim could also disappear for long periods of time.
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