Local Organizations, State Governments Exposing, Fighting Human Trafficking

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Many of the girls are teenage runaways. Some are only gone for a day before they are brought into a world where they will be sold as a sex slave. Many of them are trapped with no way of getting out; not without help.

Human trafficking is a phenomenon that many people probably think of occurring in Asia, Africa, and Europe and not in the New York Metropolitan area.

But it occurs here too.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office created a Human Trafficking Unit and directed law enforcement officials last year to increase prosecutions against human trafficking and rescue victims.

The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice reported there were 179 cases of human trafficking reported between September 2005 and March 2012, including 60 trafficked for sex.

“This is where runaways come and where people who are trying to traffic kids come,” said Melanie Roth Golecorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. “We have three airports and the start of Route 95. The people who target these women know what they are doing and they’re very good at it.”

The people trafficking these girls will start by scouring streets in Paterson and Newark. But they also go to shopping centers like the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, NJ.

“These girls are promised food and a place to live and clothing, but they’re not told about what they have to do in return,” said Golecorelick.

The girls are sold to men who pimp them out for sex, often dozens of times a day. If they don’t bring in a certain number of “johns” a day they are beaten and raped by their pimp. They often receive little to no medical attention.

The Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CAHT) is a diverse group of dozens of faith-based and non-profit organizations and government agencies working to end this form of “modern day slavery.” The group was formed in 2012.

Isaias Flores-Mendez was recently sentenced to life imprisonment in May for running a prostitution pipeline that moved women from Mexico, the “world capital of sex trafficking” and sold them for sex, some up to 35 times a day, for as little as $15. It was the first life sentence handed down for sex trafficking in New York state.

Flores-Mendez, 42, the New York Daily News reported, lured “hundreds if not thousands” of women, some underage, to New York City, and promised them better lives in New York,” the paper reported.

Shared Hope International reported that human trafficking is a $9.8 billion industry in the United States. The United Nations reports the amount is $32 billion worldwide. The average age of girls brought into sex trafficking is 13. The girls are often kidnapped from other countries and taken to the United States.

“People in America think that sex trade [victims] want to do it, that they want to be a part of it, and that’s not true at all,” Golecorelick said. “People need to be educated that these people are being forced into it.

“Part of the problem is that we haven’t been able to prosecute human trafficking at the rate that it’s been taking place.”

But that is slowly changing. In May 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act into law. The legislation increased financial penalties and prison time for human traffickers and provides resources to prevent human trafficking in the Garden State.

“As public officials, we have a solemn responsibility to prevent and protect citizens from the dark world of human trafficking,” Christie said when he signed the legislation. “This bill is a big step forward toward protecting the most valuable members of our society.”

The law also created the Commission on Human Trafficking and established the Human Trafficking Survivors Assistance Fund to provide services and develop training and educational materials to help combat the problem. Similar legislation is pending in New York.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates that there were 282 potential cases of human trafficking in New Jersey from December 2007 to September 2012. Of those, 198 were related to sex trafficking, a report by the organization states. Most of the “potential” human trafficking cases occur in North Jersey, the data shows.

Justice Network, a Christ-centered, North Jersey non-profit, belongs to CAHT.

Susan Panzica, a member of Justice Network, said people just need to look at what is happening in and around their neighborhood to combat human trafficking.

“Pay attention to nail and massage parlors that are open late,” Panzica said. “Women don’t get their nails done at midnight.” Additionally, “Learn to recognize the signs. Maintain healthy family relationships. Educate your girls on the danger signs.”

Those signs include a sudden change in behavior, getting a new boyfriend or girlfriend (often an older one), wearing new clothes or jewelry, not spending time with the family, and not hanging out with friends.

Young adults are also working to help combat human trafficking. Locally, The Price of Life Invitational was held in October, drawing approximately 10,000 students, many from 15 local colleges. The Price of Life, sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and carious other organizations, was designed to educate students and the community about the reality of human trafficking and what practical steps they could take to combat it.

“Maybe in five years we will be  in a position to reach 594,000, the total number of students in New York City,” said Jonathan Walton of InterVarsity. “In the long term, yes, I think we can do it.”

For more information about human trafficking, visit njhumantrafficking.org, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-3737-888 or text “BeFree” to 233733.

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