A coalition that includes an array of Jewish groups is urging passage of a state law to crack down on what experts call “modern-day slavery.”
The New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking is organizing a broad outreach effort on behalf of the Human Trafficking Protection and Prevention Act, which has been passed in the NJ Assembly and awaits action in the State Senate.
The group has already obtained proclamations in support of the legislation from 25 county leaders, mayors, and town councils and is seeking many more.
“The Jewish community is a strong opponent of slavery. Having it here in our community means that we have to stand together with other faiths to stop it,” said Melanie Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest, a member of the coalition since 2011.
Coalition members met in a strategy session Dec. 7 at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany. Member organizations include Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the Junior League, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, and Love True, a Christian organization based in Bridgewater.
Together, they laid out a broad strategy for ensuring the bill’s passage, beginning with a Human Trafficking Awareness Day rally outside the State House in Trenton on Jan. 11.
“It has been a huge effort,” said Gorelick. “We went to every mayor. They went to their town councils. We asked every local newspaper to write an article about the proclamation. We really wanted to do real community awareness.”
Coalition members are asking clergy of all faiths to deliver sermons against trafficking and have reached out to 70 rabbis.
“We hope there will be interfaith programs on the weekend of Jan. 11-13,” Gorelick said.
The coalition has a new website, www.njhumantrafficking.org, and is offering a series of books, DVDs, and an on-line action alert.
“Human trafficking is a huge problem in New Jersey,” said Jennifer Holdsworth, director of policy communications for Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Dist. 37), the key sponsor of the bill in the Assembly.
“Most of the victims in New Jersey are domestic victims who come from other parts of the United States,” Holdsworth told NJ Jewish News after the Dec. 7 meeting. “Many are runaways from the Midwest who apply for a modeling job or a nanny job or a domestic servant job and are then kept. Their documents are taken, they are beaten, they are raped, and they are forced to be slaves.”
While trafficking often involves sexual servitude, she said, it can also include domestic servitude, forced labor, and child prostitution.
Huttle’s proposed legislation (A-3352) would create a new human trafficking commission, criminalize additional activities related to human trafficking, upgrade penalties on existing human trafficking or related crimes, and provide for increased training and public awareness on human trafficking issues.