How Common is Human Sex Trafficking in Oakland County Michigan?

While no statistics are readily available to answer this question, anecdotal evidence suggests that human trafficking is more common in Oakland County Michigan than most people realize or want to admit. This contention is informed by a recent press announcement by Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney Karen McDonald.

Ms. McDonald addressed the media when announcing a significant human trafficking bust in Madison Heights, a suburb of Detroit Michigan. During this press conference, Ms. McDonald indicated that her new administration had formed Oakland County’s first ever human trafficking unit. Furthermore, that under her administration, rather than assemble a special drug unit, her administration will focus on the identification, investigation, interdiction, and prosecution of those involved in human trafficking.

This public announcement comes days after Michigan’s Attorney General announced Michigan’s Human Trafficking Commission’s 2020 Annual Report.  This 20-page report, available online, explains the framework under which Michigan’s Human Trafficking Commission operates, and a summary of the Commission’s work in 2020.

Most notably, the Commission is recommending that Michigan’s Criminal Code be significantly changed and updated, removing the term “prostitution” and replacing it with one more broadly addressing the problem of “commercial sexual activity.”

The Madison Heights bust lauded by McDonald netted two individuals who have been charged with multiple crimes.  A third suspect is apparently on the run. The entire state and federal investigation took approximately 3 months.The charges include the following:

Michigan Compiled Laws sec. 750.459 which precludes the transportation of any person for the purpose of prostitution. A violation of this law is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.00.

The Department of Homeland Security was involved in the investigation so it is likely that additional charges will be brought in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. This is especially true because the two charged individuals are also facing prosecuting for unspecified computer crimes. If computers were involved in the commission of the alleged human trafficking enterprise, then the Federal Government would have the necessary interstate basis for Federal jurisdiction.

There are many possible federal crimes applicable to human trafficking. These crimes are set for in Chapter 77 of Title 18 of the United States Code. Accordingly, there are many federal criminal laws that could apply to the Madison Heights crimes and perhaps first among them would be 18 U.S. Code § 1591, which addresses the trafficking of children for sex. This law provides for a mandatory minimum period of incarceration of 15 years if the children involved are under 14, and 10 years of mandatory incarceration for children between 14 and 18 years. Relative to punishment and these mandatory minimum periods, in both instances the statute reads “or life.” For most individuals charged and convicted of these Federal crimes, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are likely to provide for sentences far greater than these mandatory minimums.  As is typical when comparing State and Federal crimes, the federal counterpart is nearly always more draconian.

Prosecutor McDonald was elected last November and has just recently begun acting as Oakland County’s newest prosecuting attorney.  Ms. McDonald replaced outgoing Prosecuting Attorney Jessica Cooper; whom Ms. McDonald beat in the democratic primary.

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