GRAND RAPIDS, Mich,-- Educating the public about human trafficking is nothing new at ArtPrize. But Women at Risk International has partnered with an artist for the first time and have an entry devoted to the topic.
Pamela Alderman is the artist behind The Scarlet Cord. The piece highlights children that have been sex-trafficked and says the piece is about hope and healing.
While the stories and images seem surreal, it’s a harsh reality in the U.S, even West Michigan.
"We identified 15 flashpoints that draw the eye of a trafficker to a community and West Michigan has 12 of those," explains Rebecca McDonald, President of Women at Risk International.
"One of those is tourism.”
McDonald claims that Michigan is a target because it is a vacation spot.
"Something wonderful and successful like ArtPrize that we are so proud of as a city and brings in 400-500,000 people from all around the world does draw the eye of a predator," she explains.
While there is no evidence of human-trafficking happening at ArtPrize, advocates want people to be aware. Just before ArtPrize, WAR International urged local hotels to keep an eye out for visitors and situations that may not look right.
"We told hotels if a child checks in with an older person, male or female, especially if it’s a male, and they are carrying a paper bag, and they don’t have a back pack or a mickey mouse carry on bag, there's something wrong with that.”
Earlier this month, more than a dozen bills made their way through Lansing. The bills aim to crack down on human trafficking in Michigan. One would help clear the records of victims forced to commit crimes by their handlers. Another would strengthen punishments against traffickers.
According to the state attorney general’s office, 2,400 children are trafficked in West Michigan alone.
And it can happen in the most innocent situations.
McDonald urges all of us be aware of our surroundings, no matter the setting.
"You know when you see something as a mom or an adult and think something’s off with that, pay attention.”