The concern, the focus and the offering inevitably led to Tipton. She had helped the church community understand that right here in Genesee County, there is a growing need to educate the public and to support victims of human trafficking.
It is easy to think that Genesee County might, for various reasons, be the exception to communities around the country, or that a lot of cities and towns might tell themselves “that can’t happen here.” Tipton makes it her business to tell the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable to people.
Ms. Tipton wears many hats as a human trafficking specialist for the state of Michigan and street outreach worker for Genesee County Youth Corp (GCYC). She also works at REACH, an agency that offers housing facilities and counseling services for young adults, is a member of the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force and co-founder of Tipton Ministries, which she founded with her husband, Pastor Doug Tipton.
Ms. Tipton can often be found working directly with counselors in public schools and speaking to assembly audiences of teens, educating them about the many dangers online and on the streets.
“Stranger danger needs to be ramped up big-time. Don’t talk to strangers, especially online! DON’T lie about your age on Facebook. If you and your friends lie, remember that the predators are lying too. They could be 60-year-old men!” Tipton advises.
In 2016 alone, Tipton was directly involved in rescuing 116 victims of human trafficking, each one with a personal set of heartbreaking circumstances. Sixteen of them were minors, and six of them were boys. None of them were abductions; all the victims got into bad situations voluntarily, yet were coerced by various intentional pressures—sometimes a well-orchestrated team of “groomers,” sometimes pimps who promised easy income and drugs.
What does human trafficking look like in Genesee County? “Wherever you have drugs, you have trafficking. Drugs become a conduit for trafficking,” Tipton explained matter-of-factly. “Genesee County has drug problems, including opiates. Trap houses are filled with not only girls “doing business,” but pimps who control them, and who deal drugs of choice. Girls become prostitutes, but are typically managed by a pimp who feeds them, clothes them, sometimes drugs them, forces them into submission by whatever means necessary, including starvation or addiction, and only gives the girls a bit of pocket change for their “work.”
Tipton said the community is slowly catching up to this horrible situation.
As awareness grows, so does the number of organizations partnering to help support the victims. The Michigan State Police has a task force locally headed by trooper Rick Jones who oversees increasing needs, cases and investigations involving human trafficking.
On Tipton’s wish list is the formation of a standard protocol for law enforcement officers who pick up runaways. It is her hope that they might immediately drop them off at REACH, the home run through federal grant money.
Certainly, rape kits would need to be employed first, but before minors are grilled or interrogated, they need adequate rest and food. Then they may piece together the details of what just happened to them. “Trauma is a patchwork; we don’t remember stuff in sequence. If victims are running away from a horrible home environment, the worst thing a police officer can do is to return the minor to home. Taking them instead to a safe facility where counseling and safety await might be the answer for the first 24 hours at least.”
Tipton has a standing contract with Indian Trails, a bus company that will provide rides to anyone she sends their way who needs to quickly escape from danger. Another contract exists with the YWCA, even though it is not considered a shelter or safe house. If any worker of GCYC, REACH or Traverse House (transitional housing for victims 17 to 21) determines that one of the victims “needs to disappear now,” the YWCA will offer a cot or bed for the victim at any time, since sex trafficking fits within the Y’s parameter of flights from domestic violence.
Heavenly Hope International, a Detroit street ministry team, has accepted Ms. Tipton’s training for implementing what they’ve termed “love on the streets.” Simple hygiene kits are used to hand out on the streets, so women are reached with a practical gift of soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, cosmetics, hairbrush and, of course, contact information for future help.
Tipton Ministries has another great working relationship with Miriam’s House Ministries, an underground safe house, the only one in Genesee County not federally funded. Miriam’s is comprehensive and has a wide outreach for everything local agencies might lack, especially funding. Its job is to know and find community resources to provide systematic aftercare for victims.
Four years ago, Ms. Tipton entered one strip club with a team of people who were praying for their protection. Today they are going into all the strip clubs, massage parlors, hotels and out onto the streets, with separate teams for each of them. The teams enter prayerfully, and then “love on” each of the women who will talk to them, bringing them gifts, letting them know how special they are, and that they’re loved.
“Sadly, despite a seemingly controlled ‘work’ environment,” Tipton said, “sexual assault will happen in a strip club in Genesee County tonight. It is all too common.”
One community member, Chris Johnson, plays an important role in the fight against human trafficking. Johnson is owner and top artist of the Snake and Dagger Tattoo Parlor in Grand Blanc Township. He is also the strongest advocate of the “Unbranding Survivors Project.” He said when Tipton visited his parlor to educate him and his team, he had been unaware of the degree to which sex trafficking impacts his community.
“Now I get the privilege of looking at the sex branding tattoo of a victim, and help decide how we can creatively cover it. By the time I see them, these victims are truly survivors; it’s great to be able to offer this service to them for free.”
When asked whether she could share some stories of triumph of teens or children, her hesitation was rather poignant. “No, I can’t. When the brain is still developing and trauma of this magnitude happens, they are in recovery for a very long time. And some remain on suicide watch. The most difficult thing to understand is when you know someone might rather return to their previous lifestyle... because it is all they know,” Tipon explained.
When asked how we as a community can offer help, Tipton gave an immediate and practiced response. “Pray. Give and support locally. Donate to after care services because the money goes directly to the victim. For example, Doug and I don’t take a paycheck from Tipton Ministries. Any money that comes in is never used even to pay the light bills. The money goes 100 percent to traumatized victims and their after-care.”
In parting, Tipton was asked, “How does your faith affect your work?” After a thoughtful pause, her honesty and humility were apparent. “I couldn’t genuinely love the broken, messy pieces of humanity without the reconciliation of Christ in my own life,” she said. Her commitment is very evident.
“We are all broken vessels called to love one another unconditionally, and somehow our communities will fulfill this calling, even when reaching out to its victims of human trafficking.
For more information and ways to help put an end to human trafficking, visit tiptonministry.com TIPTON MINISTRY P.O. Box 90035 Burton, MI 48509
www.tiptonministry.com www.facebook.com/tiptonministry GCYC 512 S. Grand Traverse Flint, MI 48502 810.341.6328 REACH 914 Church St. Flint, MI 48502 810.233.8700
MIRIAM’S HOUSE MINISTRIES P.O. Box 741 Flint, MI 48501 810.620.4745 www.miriamshouseministries.org