Members of a coalition to fight human trafficking met at a strategy session at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston on Oct. 15, reminding the attendees that crimes like sexual exploitation are happening in their own backyards.
Melanie Roth Gorelick, who, as director of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ, is among the leaders of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, shared the case of a young woman from Short Hills whose boyfriend forced her into prostitution.
“I don’t want people to sit here and think this is just happening to other people — to low-income people or people who are here from other countries,” she said grimly.
The coalition, with 75 organizational members, is mobilizing ahead of the 2014 Super Bowl, to be played in the Meadowlands on Feb. 2, anticipating a spike in prostitution surrounding the football game.
Members are also pressing for the full implementation of a strong law against trafficking unanimously passed by the State Legislature earlier this year.
One provision calls for the creation of a commission, with members to be named by Gov. Chris Christie and leaders of the State Legislature.
“The idea was to have it in place before the Super Bowl, but it is not in place,” said Roth Gorelick. “Speak with your legislator,” she told the gathering. “Let the legislator know this is imperative. We want to see this legislation implemented.”
The speakers at last week’s event were Lynne Wilson-Brucher, a social worker and victim assistance specialist at the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Newark office; Lesley Frost, a cofounder of the coalition and cochair of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of NJ; and Father Timothy Graff, director of the Office of Human Concerns at Newark’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese.
Wilson-Brucher said her office has 10 agents in Newark assigned to cases of people forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or forced labor.
“Investigations are very complicated,” she said. “We need victims to become survivors. In order for victims to participate actively in investigations, we need to assist them to become stable so they can access services.”
Graff said the Newark archdiocese is playing an active role in efforts to end trafficking around the world though education, advocacy, and assistance to survivors. The archdiocese has set up a ministry of community educators to fight the problem among various immigrant groups.
“We run intense Human Trafficking 101 courses,” said Graff. “We gather leaders from those communities, church leaders, and business leaders, and they are taught some basic things: How do you identify possible victims within your community? What businesses are they involved in? What do they look like? What can you do?”
Frost urged volunteers to serve as eyes and ears for law enforcement.
“Know who in your local community are the people to go to if you see something suspicious,” she said. “If you see a massage parlor operating at odd hours with a lot of men going in and out, find out whom to report it to.”