Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is sex trafficking a serious problem in West Michigan?

There has been a surplus of strange sex crimes in the news in the last few days.

Shawn James Jarrett was arraigned in Grandville District Court Monday for first-degree home invasion and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is accused of entering an elderly lady's house on false premises, then assaulting her and stealing an unstated amount of money and bicycling away. In a similar crime, he murdered a 64-year-old woman in 1983 and served 30 years in prison for that crime. He was released in 2012, and authorities considered him dangerous enough to warn his community that he would be living among them now. Sadly he wound up here and police now consider him a suspect in the murder of Yolanda Reyes, a woman who went missing in April and whose body was found last month at a construction site.

As disturbing as that is, Shawn Jarrett seems to be a violent individual who is likely never to see freedom again. Judge Peter Versluis denied Jarrett bail yesterday and remanded him back to the Kent County Jail.

More troubling is the idea that a system for human trafficking has been set up in the area and functions to funnel the vulnerable to the predatory. Nicole DiDonato reported Monday on this "hidden crisis," asserting that, according to experts, thousands of minors are sold right in our own communities: "...in West Michigan alone, there are 2,400 minors for sale at any given time, mostly on the internet."

For those who scoff at the idea, look to other news headlines. This morning Mlive reported that Douglas Davalos Jackson was arrested for the human trafficking of a 15-year-old girl whom he intended to sell to other men. He was also charged with criminal sexual conduct and the felony use of a firearm.

And last week radio host John Balyo was arrested on the suspicion of child-sex assault and has admitted to assaulting at least one 12-year-old boy whom he paid Ronald Moser to procure. His arrest Friday at a Christian music festival was a result of a federal investigation.  He was being held on a $500,000 bail bond, but that has since been revoked. His two previous employers, Christian radio station, WCSG, and the Kent County Traffic Squad have since disassociated themselves from him.

The fact is there are large numbers of children and teens in Kent County whose home lives are chaotic and unsupervised enough for predators to have easy access to them. How many hours after school is the average middle schooler unattended? How many kids wander the streets looking for something to do all summer? All of those kids are at increased risked to be exploited. And, sadly, in our modern sex-obsessed society, it's not unsurprising that there are plenty of people who will exploit them. Some communities have more safeguards in place to help protect their children, but others do not. How can we make sure that people in our community are not being trafficked?