By David Cruz
There was consensus in Trenton today. Democrats and Republicans standing together. The unifying issue? Human trafficking. Sex workers, bus drivers, busboys and salon workers. People forced into a life of unlawful labor and servitude, too scared to speak up and too often disposable. At a rally on the statehouse steps and at a conference inside, speakers testified about the extent of the problem. Attorney General Jeff Chiesa says the victims are all around us.
“This is the group of people that we should be most willing and most prepared to help because the people we’re talking about in these cases are young people,” he said. “They’re people in many cases who don’t speak our language. They’re people that have come from other countries and have left their families. They’re people from our country who feel like they’ve been abandoned by their own families.”
At the rally outside, speakers called for the quick passage of a bill to give teeth to the fight against trafficking. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) is the primary sponsor of the bill, called the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act, which, among other things, calls for victims who are forced into criminal activity to be exempted from prosecution and stiffens penalties for traffickers.
“The first offense would be $25,000,” she explained. “It creates a ‘John’ school. That Johns will be named and shamed and be trained so there’s no further activity. It is training for all the people in the community that witness or see these acts happening.”
Officials say it’s hard to put a number on New Jersey victims because many never report the crimes against them. Sen. Tom Kean (R-21) shared his experience about learning the extent of the problem around the world and the reality that it’s happening close to home.
“Human trafficking is a United States issue and, indeed, it is a New Jersey issue,” said Kean. “I’ve learned that human trafficking is not solely a young woman’s issue. Millions of men and women, young girls and young boys and teenagers alike are exploited every day and everywhere.”
It might surprise you to learn that of the nearly 20 million people who are victims of human trafficking around the world, the average age is 12. You don’t have to be a parent to have a statistic like that kick you in the gut. The hope of those here today is that information like that spurs outrage and, ultimately, action.