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Manasseh Project Based on Conviction the Community has the Power to Fight Human Trafficking in West Michigan

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

SBDHer boyfriend was sex trafficking her, a term that was not as well-known 10 years ago to staff members of Wedgwood Christian Services (WCS). They are now, which why the Manasseh Project was launched soon after.

"At that point, we had not heard a lot about trafficking in our community," says Nikeidra DeBarge, WCS Manasseh Project coordinator.

Manasseh Project is a WCS outreach dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of young women and men in West Michigan. Through community education and collaboration, and Wedgwood's Manasseh Project Trauma Recovery Center, the Grand Rapids nonprofit provides support and specialized residential treatment services for victims of sex trafficking.

Partnership with SEE. Human Trafficking Coalition

To give the project widespread impact, WCS partnered in 2014 with the SEE. Human Trafficking Coalition, a community of ready responders to be the eyes and ears of human trafficking in Kent County. Such responders include a broad swath of people, such as parents, teachers, teens, hotel clerks, gas station workers, waiters, police officers, prosecutors, nonprofits, medical professionals, and other community members who can recognize the signs of sex and labor trafficking and report it

"We work with law enforcement, school agencies, social workers and social organizations to use our influence and expertise to come up with solutions to end exploitation," says DeBarge.

"The goal is to provide resources and to recognize the issue, to take action — have conversations during lunch and learn. Discuss it with a peer groups, book clubs or to display a logo in a business or a home window with our decal so people know where to get resources on how to stop trafficking. We're asking people to use their social media accounts get the word out, and contact legislators."

What is human trafficking?

Federal law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor against his or her will, according to WCS' website, https://www.seebelievedisrupt.org/problem

Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to some 24.9 million people around the world – and that includes Kent County.

"Our goal is to move members of the community from awareness, to education, to action," says DeBarge. "Each person has the power to create change and make a difference right here in West Michigan, and beyond."

How to get involved

Ways to participate in the SEE. BELIEVE. DISRUPT. Initiative include:
• Host a coalition conversation. This can involve inviting people you know to have a member of the SEE. Human Trafficking Coalition to join your group for an informal and informative discussion about human trafficking. Such a meeting will cover what it is, what it isn't, what to look for, and what you can do.
• Display a SEE. BELIEVE DISRUPT. sign in your yard, sticker in your business' window, or include a QR Code in your print materials.
• Share posts on social media
• Advocate by contacting legislators. Human trafficking related legislation at the local, state, and national level has the potential to streamline victim identification, increase resources for survivors, and develop trauma-informed policies and protocols. Creating a future free from human trafficking starts at a systems level.

"Ending exploitation is a community effort," said Missy Weisman, executive director and cofounder of SEE. Human Trafficking Coalition. "Together we can increase awareness, build capacity, and disrupt the systems of exploitation found in our own backyard."


Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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