How does a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey go from being an ordinary college freshman to a victim of human trafficking? It happens more often than you might think.
Jill (not her real name) made friends with a group of guys when she started college in Boston. After several months they invited her to a party. When she got to their apartment there was no party but there was a handsome man who invited her to dinner.
Soon he became her boyfriend. After several months he knew all about her life and her family. He had obtained all her personal information, like bank and e-mail passwords. He threatened her and her family’s lives and made her do things she wasn’t comfortable doing with other men. Eventually, he took her out of town to another city where she was forced to work for two years as an exploited and enslaved sex worker.
Human trafficking is defined as the use of force, fraud, and/or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. It is modern day slavery. And it happens to Jews and non-Jews alike, men, women, and children.
In the United States it is estimated that between 600,000–800,000 people are trafficked annually, and that there are 27 million slaves worldwide. It is a rapidly growing criminal industry, second only to drug dealing and equal in scope to arms dealing, and New Jersey is a prime location because it’s a major national and international transportation and shipping corridor. Trafficking is a hidden crime that is seriously underreported and rarely discussed.
The Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ first took up this issue in early 2011. Upon learning of the enormity of the problem, it helped to found the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking with its partners, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New Jersey, an advisory council of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the National Council of Jewish Women, and a number of other faith-based and community organizations. Today the coalition is 90 diverse organizations with the mandate to raise awareness of and advocate for the end of human trafficking.
Shortly after the coalition was formed it heard testimony from one of its members, a hard-working Irvington mother whose daughter was an honor student in middle school. “Sabrina” liked to hang out with her friends. One day she didn’t come home. After more than nine months of looking for her missing daughter, Sabrina’s mother heard from her daughter. She had been drugged and taken to New York. All of her valuables were taken, she was brainwashed, and turned into a sex worker. Thankfully, with the help of law enforcement, her mother was able to rescue her.
Jill and Sabrina’s are only two local stories of thousands. Over the past several years, the efforts to expose human trafficking, strengthen laws, help survivors, and prosecute perpetrators have increased in the U.S. Although the Jewish community has been working to fight this crime since the 1800s, when vulnerable Jewish immigrant women were exploited by international prostitution rings, the first law passed in the United States was in the year 2000, when Congress passed the comprehensive Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The TVPA has been reauthorized many times, with many significant improvements.
President Obama has made the fight to end modern-day slavery a priority of his administration. In December 2011, he declared January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and Jan. 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
This year represents the first time that January has been designated as Human Trafficking Prevention Month by the State of New Jersey, thanks to the strong advocacy of our coalition, facilitated by the CRC, and the strong support of Gov. Christie and New Jersey legislators.
It is significant to note that an increase in human trafficking is associated with large sporting events such as the Super Bowl, which this year is taking place in the Meadowlands. To this end, the NJ Coalition is teaming up with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to do all it can to deter human trafficking and to educate at-risk populations and the community-at-large.
“We believe the Jewish community has a moral and ethical responsibility to combat modern day slavery. We urge members of the Greater MetroWest community to participate in one or more programs taking place during Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” said Lesley Frost, JWF cochair. (For activities see related article.)
Our community has come a long way, from being targeted as sex slaves during the 1800s to becoming abolitionists in the current day. Please join the fight to end modern day slavery in New Jersey and around the world.
For more information, visit jfedgmw.org/humantrafficking or call 973-929-3096.