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School to host community forum on human trafficking

BRIDGMAN, Mich. -- Bridgman Public Schools along with the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force will host a free community forum Thursday to talk about human trafficking in the community. 

"A well informed community is a traffickers biggest nightmare,
so let's make it a nightmare for them."

"A well informed community is a traffickers biggest nightmare, so let's make it a nightmare for them," said Cathy Knauf, the founder of the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. She'll be speaking at Thursday's community forum. 

This forum comes just over a week after Polaris released new data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline for 2017 showing a 13 percent increase of human trafficking cases across the nation. 

Michigan alone had 305 human trafficking cases in 2017, an increase from 249 cases in 2016. 

Knauf says the increase is good news for the state. 

"I've always said that I would hate to be in the state that has no increase in trafficking reported," she said. "Because that means the people aren't aware of what it is and/or they're not taking action."

Now Bridgman Public Schools wants to make sure Michigan continues to fight human trafficking by raising awareness in the community.

The school counselors are sponsoring the event. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at Bridgman High School. 

"This is an issue that's happening not only in our nation but in our county, and we want our kids to be informed and we want our parents to be informed of what's going on so that we can keep our community safe," said Bridgman Elementary School Counselor Jessica Knight. 

The forum will cover warning signs of human trafficking  and what people can do if they suspect a trafficking situation.

"I think with knowledge is power and the more knowledge we can give them the more we can make sure that our students are protected from human trafficking," said Keri Haskins, the counselor for Bridgman High School. 

Knauf will also be going over how social media plays a role in human trafficking. 

"We've come up with a list of some of the more used apps that teens are using that maybe a lot of the parents aren't aware of that have some risk factors," said Knauf. "Each one if very specific as to what it targets and what makes it dangerous or risky and we list that out so that parents can become more aware."

Knauf says over the six years the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force has existed, only a few schools have hosted forums like this. 

"I think it's great that we're on the cutting edge of bringing these topics to people," said Bridgman Superintendent Shane Peters. "To not only our own parents but also communities. This is for the entire Berrien County community."

Middle and elementary aged children will not be permitted in the forum due to the sensitivity of the topic. However, there will be childcare provided. 

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