Four days after beginning her new job as vice president of the national Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Melanie Roth Gorelick returned to the Aidekman campus in Whippany on May 6 to receive an award recognizing her leadership of a cause that was the focus of concerned attention during her tenure as director of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest.
She beamed as she read the inscription on the glass trophy, which cited her for being “the flame that ignited formation of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking” and thanked her for her “continuing inspiration,” which began when she helped establish the group in 2011.
The award was presented by Susan Neigher of Chester, a leader of National Council of Jewish Women’s West Morris Section, one of 120 religious, civic, law enforcement, and women’s groups that make up the coalition. It is convened by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ CRC, which Roth Gorelick headed beginning in 2011 and until her recent departure.
Earlier, two county prosecutors gave the 40 people at the meeting status reports on the fight against human trafficking.
To James McClain, the prosecutor of Atlantic County who chairs the state’s Commission on Human Trafficking, there was “good news and bad news” to report. The commission was established by the NJ Legislature in 2013 to assist law enforcement, victims’ services, and educational efforts on behalf of trafficking victims.
“I’ve become very convinced that this problem has to be fought from both the grassroots level and from the top down,” said McClain. “This coalition is proof that we have people very close to the problem on the ground ready to deal with it on a day-to-day basis, and from the governor to the legislators to the prosecutors, there is a great commitment to fight this problem.”
While he said “law enforcement gets it” and police are being trained to cope with the problem, “the bad news is that the judiciary has been lagging behind in terms of appreciation of this problem” and, by treating prostitution as a low-level offense, “has been reluctant to come to terms with it.”
McClain said that attitude harms victims who are forced into the sex trade.
“I have yet to meet a woman who has been involved who was not coerced — through physical threats, mental threats, or intellectual, emotional, and physical domination,” he added.
All too often judges believe “human trafficking is putting some 500 women in a boxcar, sending it over here, and having it come across the border from Canada,” McClain said, “not a man dominating two young women in Camden and running them down to Atlantic City.”
Following McClain, Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp told coalition members that human trafficking occurs in affluent counties such as his own as well in less wealthy areas of the state.
“People just don’t know about it,” he said. But when the coalition began organizing efforts to slow down the sex traffic in New Jersey in the months prior to the 2014 Super Bowl, which was held in the Meadowlands that year, many discovered that the problem of prostitution — and the trafficking that goes with it — was in their suburban backyards.
“Our county was part of the efforts because of the corridor from MetLife Stadium [in Bergen County] all the way out here because of all the hotels and motels on Route 10 and Route 46,” explained Knapp. “It is a local issue. It is not just a state issue; it is everywhere.”
Later, Neigher presented a $200 first prize to Oratory Preparatory High School in Summit for designing the best of 17 silhouettes decorated to depict aspects of human trafficking. The statewide contest, designed to raise awareness of the crime, was conceived by Neigher, sponsored by the coalition, and financed by a grant from the Atlantic Health System.
The winning entry was a four-part depiction of the estimated 250,000 children who are forced to fight as soldiers in at least 18 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.