The Balloon

Human trafficking is an issue that has been taken on by the Zonta Club of Fenton, a service organization I belong to, so I was happy to shed light on the issue in the MCM’s feature, Modern Day Slavery. I had the opportunity to interview Lindsey Younger, the chairperson of the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force. During our interview, she explained how incidents of human trafficking are much more prevalent during big events such as the Super Bowl or festivals, and it brought to mind a memory from my past.

She got me thinking about something that happened to my son, Jeff, when he was six years old. My husband and a friend took Jeff and his older brother, Matthew, to the auto show in Detroit. The event was jam-packed with people, so my husband bought balloons and tied them around the boys’ wrists. His reasoning was that if they were to wander off and get lost in the crowd, they would be easier to find. And believe me, Jeff was known to frequently wander out of sight. He was a cute little boy with curly blonde hair, blue eyes and a sweet smile. But his middle name could have been Dennis the Menace, as trouble seemed to follow him everywhere he went. So, my husband was not too surprised when, after looking away for just a second, Jeff was no longer at his side. But he wasn’t too worried, as he could see the “locator balloon” bobbing in the distance.

He followed the balloon and when he got closer, he saw that Jeff was with a woman who had her coat wrapped around him. They were headed for an exit. He got up behind them and asked, “Jeff, where are you going?” Startled, the woman turned around and quickly ran away. Jeff would never tell us what the woman said to him, but we couldn’t help but think her intentions weren’t good, or she wouldn’t have run off so quickly. As I thought about it, a shiver ran down my spine. What if Jeff hadn’t had that balloon on his wrist? What would have happened to him? Would I have ever seen him again? We were lucky because our story had a happy ending.

But what about all the people whose stories don’t end happily, who were victims of human trafficking, or whose child or loved one was lost forever to this unthinkable crime? That is why changes need to be made in the way this issue is being handled. Lindsey said something very powerful to me as we spoke about it. She told me, “I don’t know of any little girl who says, ‘When I grow up, I think I want to be a prostitute.’”

The mission of Zonta, a worldwide organization, is to empower the status of women in our communities and worldwide. Our Club President, Theresa Anderson, sits on the Genesee County Task Force, and she asked our group to lend support to the cause. Now, one of our club’s goals is to help educate people in our community about the issue of human trafficking. Denise Keipert, past president of the Zonta Club of Fenton, noted that 43 percent of sex trafficking is done in residential homes. “We need to get back to the way it was in the 70s, when we knew our neighbors – and we have to watch out for each other,” she says. While our club will continue to spread the word about the prevalence of human trafficking crime in our area and educate people about the changing laws, I urge each and every one of you to keep your eyes open. If you think you see something suspicious, like Lindsey says, trust your gut; call the National Human Trafficking Hot Line: 1.888.373.7888. You just might be someone’s balloon. You just might save someone’s life. ♦


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