Understanding the link between human trafficking and drug addiction

Terasina Hanna says she was living with her mom and boyfriend when they told her to get out. After running away from a shelter, she fell into a cycle of human trafficking at 11 years old.

“That meant that I had to go sleep with this guy to get the guns, or to get types of drugs, I had no options. There was no choice. And this is what I believed was OK,” she said. “Because I thought this is what family did for each other, I obeyed. I did what they told me to do. This is where I also began using drugs.”

Hanna’s addiction to drugs is one shared by many survivors of human trafficking with 85 percent of survivors of human trafficking having an addiction.

“About 25 percent of those survivors have an opioid problem,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. “So it’s important for us as we’re battling the opioid crisis to keep an eye out for the human trafficking side of this.”

Grewal spoke about that connection at the 9th annual Human Trafficking Awareness event.

“Criminals are forcing women into addiction by providing them strong and potent drugs as a means of exerting control,” Grewal said. “Human trafficking is a transnational problem. It’s a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that affects tens of millions of people across the country and across the world.”

In 2017, 161 human trafficking cases from New Jersey were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“When it comes to combating addiction and sex trafficking it doesn’t take a village, it takes an army,” said Det. Maria Ingraffia, a New Jersey Human Trafficking liaison in the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.

Ingraffia offered advice for her fellow law enforcement officers.

“Next time you’re in contact with an addict or an addicted sex worker, consider just a simple, ‘How are you? Are you safe?’ And connect with local community service providers and resources that can be readily available just to have an option and offer that option every time,” she said.

It was a trip to jail that broke the cycle for Hanna. She connected with a program called Hoving Home, a faith-based program that helps women overcome life-controlling issues.

“When I walked through the door, there’s a board we put at the front of the door, and it has ‘Welcome’ and it has your name on it. And that was life-changing for me because all my life I wanted to be part of a family.”

Hanna joined other women on stage. They’re the people she now calls family.