Community backs victims of human trafficking

Community backs victims of human trafficking

A Jewish community leader testified before state lawmakers Sept. 27 as part of a broad-based initiative to prevent human trafficking for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Melanie Roth Gorelick appeared alongside other supporters of the Human Trafficking, Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act, which would give New Jersey, along with Washington State and Indiana, the toughest human trafficking laws in the country.

Gorelick is director of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ and facilitator, along with the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, of the New Jersey Coalition against Human Trafficking, a group of more than 25 faith-based, nonprofit, government, and law enforcement bodies and service providers.

“Sex trafficking victims may be children, teenagers, or adults lured by false promises and ultimately forced into prostitution,” testified Gorelick before the State Assembly’s Human Services Committee in Trenton.

“Labor trafficking victims work as nannies or maids, in sweatshops, janitorial jobs, restaurants, hair and nail salons, in street sales, or on construction sites and farms. The victims are trapped into a circle of debt, forcing them into involuntary servitude, bondage, and slavery.”

Under federal law, any person under 18 involved in the commercial sex industry is considered a human trafficking victim.

Gorelick testified along with Amy Vincent of the Junior League and Ingrid Johnson, whose 14-year-old daughter was forced into prostitution after running away from home.

The legislation is sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Dist. 37), who has pegged its passage to next February’s Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, where, she fears, sex workers are expected to run a brisk trade.

As a first step toward passage of the act, the committee unanimously sent on two resolutions designating January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Jan. 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

“Human trafficking is something I don’t think most people in New Jersey are aware of,” Huttle told NJJN after the hearing. “They’re not aware of the consequences or the victims. They need to be educated, especially when you hear these horrific stories of what happens to women and children.”

Huttle said she hopes to have the resolutions passed by the end of the year.

Johnson, a nurse at Allied Health Systems’ Overlook Hospital in Summit, provided gripping testimony on the horrors of human trafficking. After her daughter left, she combed the streets of Irvington and Newark, hung posters seeking help, and called the police.

Months later, her daughter left a message on Johnson’s cell phone telling her that she loved her and asking for help. She later found out the girl had snuck out to a gas station to make the call.

The call was traced to a New York City neighborhood, where Johnson contacted authorities, put up posters, and walked the streets looking for her daughter. One night while sitting in an unmarked car with a New York City police officer, she spotted the girl. She got her daughter back 11 months after her disappearance, but with both “physical and mental scars.”

“But if I wasn’t employed and had the financial resources to help find my daughter, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” said Johnson, whose daughter is now a 22-year-old college student.

The proposed legislation would require that all arrests of underage alleged prostitutes be reported to the state Division of Youth and Family Services, that all law enforcement personnel be educated in human trafficking, and that those who fail to report suspected trafficking be held civilly liable. It also would require the establishment of a state human trafficking commission and a survivors’ assistance fund with money collected from sharply hiked fines levied against those arrested for solicitation.

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