GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - An estimated 2400 children are living as slaves in West Michigan, according to the US Department of State.
They're tricked, kidnapped or sold into human trafficking rings. Police continue to find them and non-profit organizations continue to work toward rehabilitation.
"We're getting victims so it's not so much a question of if it's happening," Andy Soper with Wedgwood Christian Services said. "It's how and where it's happening and how we can work together to solve those issues."
Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of children are forced into labor or sex trades. Wedgwood Christian Services hosted a two-day conference, through their outreach effort called The Manasseh Project , to educate professionals in the community about the human trafficking issue.
"There's no race or creed, there's no society, class," Malynda Jennings said. She was exploited sexually as a child.
"This crime is in every secular range. (People) getting educated to know the signs or symptoms is the only thing I can say that would help."
"It's difficult to pin down if we're not all working together," Soper said. "It's extremely important to collaborate with law enforcement, educators, medical staff and social workers."
Along with Wedgwood, the HOPE Project is also trying to bring awareness to child exploitation. The non-profit organization is completing a six-bed home in Muskegon to house rescued girls. Once they raise $65,000 more dollars, they can begin moving victims into the house.
"There's over 1,000 (children) rescued every year -- specicifally for sex trafficking. (There are) less than a hundred beds (for them)," said HOPE Project organizer Sarah Karnes.
"We're ready to open," Julia Coch, also with the HOPE Project, said. "We just need those dollars of that operating balance in the bank so we can open."
Experts say the signs can be easy to miss, but when someone begins looking for them the process can begin.
"If we're willing to look away or refuse to acknowledge the problem, then of course it's going to thrive," Soper said. "That's all it takes for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing."
"Get educated and understand what these signs are because you can't act if you don't know," Jennings said. "I mean if you know, you can act upon it."
Adults should always look for physical signs of abuse if they suspect it. However, children may reveal they're victims by their behavior.
Children who are unusually shy and timid or seem to live in fear should be red flags, according to experts.
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