Detectives from the Attorney General’s office and the FBI arrested a Ventor man and charged him with using cocaine and heroine to lure teenage boys and young men into prostitution with male clients. Attorney General Jeff Chiesa has told NJ Today that human trafficking is one of his priorities. It’s also a major cause for Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) who chairs the Human Services Committee. Huttle spoke with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about legislation to crack down on this growing problem.
Huttle says the first step in tackling the problem is raising awareness that human trafficking is taking place right here in New Jersey.
“Most people think it happens only in under-developed countries, or nations in war and we can see right here today that it’s happening in New Jersey,” said Huttle. “So number one – awareness, number two – prevention and treatment, and really opening up a safe haven for the victims and instituting larger penalties for the perpetrators and making them know that this is not going to be tolerated in New Jersey.”
According to Huttle, the crime is under-reported and more pervasive than most people imagine. “There’s only about 179 cases that have been reported in New Jersey … but the U.S. State Department has numbers in the thousands.”
Victims are reluctant to come forward and it is common for there to be a language or cultural barrier, she says. Human trafficking is a global problem and often involves immigrant victims whom perpetrators lure with the promise of the American dream.
“They’re being promised to come here with green cards [and] the minute they come out of JFK, those passports are taken away and they are now enslaved by these perpetrators.”
Victims are also solicited and targeted on the Internet and other publication outlets. Huttle says new legislation would require publishers to conduct bona-fide searches to prevent people from soliciting themselves in advertisements on back pages.
“We will hold everyone accountable whether they are hotel operators or transportation limo drivers, spa operators, we will hold everyone accountable if they are recklessly involved, if they have conscious disregard that this is going on.”
Under the bill, additional measures would come in the form of increased penalties that would go towards a survivors/victims fund to promote prevention and awareness.
“We just passed in the Assembly — January 11 as human trafficking awareness day and January is human trafficking awareness month,” said Huttle, who adds that bipartisan support is critical to an the issue that transcends politics. She hopes the governor signs the bill by January so that they can promote its major objectives — prevention, treatment and protection.
“I think the more that people are aware that it is happening in New Jersey, we then, of course, have the ability or opportunity to eradicate it,” Huttle said. “It’s modern day slavery [and] is on everybody’s lips. President Obama is speaking about it at the Clinton Global Initiative, Secretary of State [Hillary Clinton] is speaking up against it of course and there was just a documentary on PBS a couple weeks ago. … So this is a heinous crime and we need to address it here.”
New Jersey will host the Super Bowl in 2014. Huttle hopes the law is in place by then, saying “large sports venues really are a haven for and breeding ground for trafficking, not only sex trafficking but drug trafficking … and labor trafficking as well.”
Huttle says the bill is targeting not just sex trafficking but is intended to protect underage runaways.
“For example, in 72 hours they can be picked up by a pimp and they can become enslaved,” she said. “So they’re very vulnerable and these are the people we need to give protection for and train our law enforcement officers as well to make sure … they’re trained and they’re able to have these victims come forward without fear of being prosecuted.”