Human trafficking foes champion pending legislation to raise awareness, combat ‘horrific’ crime

TRENTON – A coalition including lawmakers, activists, law enforcement personnel and others championed the cause of stopping human trafficking – modern-day slavery – during rallies at the Statehouse today.

The advocates – in speeches this morning on the Statehouse steps and later today in Committee Room 4 of the Annex – decried a “horrific’’ practice that is not confined to back alleys of Third World countries, but is occurring in New Jersey cities.

The looming presence of the Super Bowl championship game scheduled for New Jersey in 2014 lends urgency to the cause, according to trafficking opponents, because traffickers and their customers come out of the woodwork at just such times to find new sex or forced-labor slaves whose average age is often as low as 12.

S2239/A3352, legislation which has moved through committees and awaits full-session votes, would create a human trafficking commission in New Jersey, and criminalize additional activities related to human trafficking as well as upgrade penalties.

According to U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, who authored the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, traffickers can make $200,000 off one victim.

“Traffickers use airlines to move their victims, hotels to exploit them, and unsuspecting buyers to pay for goods that have been made with raw material tainted by forced and bonded labor,’’ he told a crowd of several dozen gathered outside the Statehouse today.

Illustrating the bipartisan nature of today’s event, other lawmakers in attendance included bill sponsors Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Shavonda Sumter, Upendra Chivukula, and Republican Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, as well as Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., Democratic Sen. Nellie Pou and an aide to Democratic Sen. Nia Gill.

“Entire communities are affected,’’ Pou said. “We have an obligation to respond” to a crime she and others called “modern-day slavery’’ that is not limited to foreign countries. She told of one trafficking case in Jersey City within the last three years.

And McHose said, “The reality is that it is here. It is all around us. This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democratic issue. This is a people issue.’’

The N.J. Coalition Against Human Trafficking, an association of more than 30 religious, academic, law enforcement, and non-profit agencies, has a website that tells of the severity of the global crime and seeks to increase public awareness of the issues.

Trafficking opponents marked Jan. 11 as the first Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Huttle, Pou and others emphasized that trafficking thrives in the shadows. Events such as today’s rallies bring it into the light. “We need to make New Jersey a leader in fighting trafficking,’’ Huttle said.

As Smith said at one point: “Because traffickers are constantly developing new methods and means to exploit the vulnerable, especially women and children, we have to continually update and aggressively recalibrate our efforts to prevent this evil, protect the victims, and prosecute the perpetrators.”

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Human trafficking foes champion pending legislation to raise awareness, combat ‘horrific’ crime