A hidden problem impacting the entire country and right here in West Michigan is coming to light with the opening of a new shelter for women in Grand Rapids.
Last year, the national human trafficking resource center said it received more than 300 calls in the state of Michigan.
The organization reports 61 calls from Detroit, 25 from Grand Rapids, 12 from Mackinac Island and eight in Kalamazoo.
The new Manasseh Project shelter in Grand Rapids opened in October for women who were victims of the sex trade.
The shelter is designed to look like a home with a dining room and large kitchen, laundry, living room and bedrooms ready for 14 girls rescued from severe sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
“I think that people just believe that they are kids that just run away,” said Marie Brown, the house supervisor.
Brown said the public doesn’t understand there are many hidden ways young girls from West Michigan have gotten pulled into the sex trade.
“It could be from somebody picking them up because a kid has decided I need a ride. It could be because the kid has decided I`m upset with a parent and I need your help,” said Brown. “A lot of people just are not good people.”
Sometimes law enforcement officials say women are scammed into sex trafficking through newspaper or online advertisements for jobs without knowing that criminals are posting the information as legitimate.
The ads include posts for model agencies, travel agencies, employment companies, babysitting services and matchmaking services.
If you do suspect something is suspicious, make sure to contact authorities.
The shelter has 14 beds and is currently housing 12 girls.
In order to get the girls prepared with life skills they may have missed out on, they also have a classroom with their own teacher, a beauty salon where they can feel good about themselves and learn grooming skills and an onsite therapist and wellness expert.
Since the girls have shared experiences, project coordinator Andy Shoper said it’s important that they have each other for support.
“To give them space to heal together, just like we would afford any other traumatized child that opportunity,” said Andy Shoper, project coordinator.
Wedgewood Christian Services is also launching the public phase of its $10 million Capital Campaign with $7.7 million raised to date for the opening and operation of the Manasseh Project Shelter/Trauma Recovery Center.
The Growing Hope for Children Capital Campaign will invest $1 million in the new shelter.
Approximately $2.5 million is earmarked to expand the Henry & Carolyn Bouma Counseling Center and an additional 12,000 square feet to respond to a 300% increase in the Center’s prevention and community-based education services for children, adults and families.
They say approximately $4.5 million of the campaign will support the development and opening of Lighthouse Academy – North campus.
The balance of the campaign will include technology upgrades and enhancements throughout Wedgwood to increase operational efficiencies and support for the expansion of Wedgwood’s Foundation.