Law enforcement officials refer to human trafficking as “the crime that happens right under our noses.” When the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office announced in February 2021 that it had busted a human trafficking ring operating in New Jersey and New York, those were the words the chief of detectives used to describe the trafficking of young women.
There were 22 people involved in trafficking the women, who were promised work in the United States, in sexual slavery, to more than 1,500 identified clients. These women were forced to service up to 40 clients a day for 12 hours a day from apartments and condominiums, sometimes driven to clients’ homes and sometimes meeting clients in rooms paid for by the ring. The organization took 50 percent of the money the women made. The women received the other 50 percent, but then had to pay it back to the ring leaders for the debt that was owed for bringing them to the United States.
This organization is, of course, just one group that was caught. Human trafficking is a huge $150 billion international business, with two-thirds of that revenue coming from the sex trades. The crimes are often happening inside homes, hotels, motels, and businesses that people nearby might never suspect. It is believed that less than one percent of these crimes are detected for what is believed to be the enslavement of over 20 million people today.
The estimated number of people trafficked into the United States each year, as opposed to those already in the United States who are trafficked, is 50,000. Some are forced into unpaid manual labor, work that is usually given to males being trafficked. Others are made to work in the sex trades, including prostitution, pornography, and the even child prostitution/pornography. Most of those who are brought in for trafficking are from Mexico and the Philippines, and over half of the humans being sex trafficked are children.
Many teenagers who are trafficked start between 12 and 14 years old. A large percentage of the children being trafficked spent some time in the foster care system, and many are girls who were sexually abused and ran away from home. Many are recruited via online social media platforms. It is important to note that even if there is not a third party involved, any child under 18 years old involved in commercial sex is legally a victim of trafficking.
Stopping this problem, given that much of these crimes happen behind closed doors, is difficult. However, there are signs that someone is being trafficked. Everyone can help by learning the types of trafficking and paying attention to the people around them.
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Who is Most Vulnerable?
Human trafficking is a crime that can happen to anyone, anywhere in the world. Human rights organizations point to two particularly vulnerable groups to this modern slavery: people of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) people.
In its report on human trafficking, the organization Polaris notes that historic oppression, discrimination, and social inequities create a more likely victim from these two groups. However, it really can happen to anyone who fits into any of these vulnerable populations:
- Those Living In An Unstable Living Situation.
- Those Who Have Previously Experienced Domestic Violence Or Sexual Abuse.
- Runaways, Those Involved In The Juvenile Justice Or Child Welfare Systems.
- Undocumented Immigrants.
- Those Who Are Facing Food Insecurities Or Economic Need.
- Those With A Caregiver Or Family Member Who Has A Substance Use Issue.
- Individuals Addicted To Drugs Or Alcohol.
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Who are the Traffickers?
One of the difficult aspects of stopping and preventing human trafficking is that the people who may be selling other people could be anybody. The ringleader in the New Jersey sex slave ring was a 61-year-old woman.
This is a big business, often tied to other businesses, and it is international. The trafficker may be someone in the family, it may be someone the trafficked person is dating, it may be someone considered to be a friend, or it may be a stranger.
What are the Signs of Trafficking?
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, here are some signs that let people know they are being recruited:
- A Potential Employer Will Not Provide A Signed Contract Or Will Ask Potential Employees To Sign A Contract In A Language They Cannot Read.
- Someone Is Being Offered A Job Opportunity That Seems Too Good To Be True, Particularly If It Is In A Distant Location.
- Someone Is Given Gifts And Money From A Romantic Relationship In Which There Is A Large Difference In Age Or Financial Status.
- Someone Who Has Run Away From Home May Be Staying With Someone Who Is Not A Family Member Or Guardian. This Is Particularly True If They Are Showing Signs Of Abuse.
- A Person Is Developing A Relationship That Seems Inappropriately Close With Someone They Know Solely On Social Media.
The following are signs that human trafficking is happening:
- A Person Feels Pressured To Stay In A Job Or Situation They Want To Leave.
- A Person Owes Money To An Employer Or Recruiter Or Is Not Being Paid What They Were Promised Or Are Owed.
- A Person Does Not Have Control Of Their Passport, Driver’s License, Or Other Identity Documents.
- A Person Is Living And Working In Isolated Conditions, Restricted From Interaction With Others.
- A Person Seems To Be Monitored Or Watched When Talking Or Interacting With Others.
- A Person Is Being Threatened By Their Boss With Deportation.
- A Person Is Working In Dangerous Conditions Without Protections Or Breaks.
- A Person Is Living In Dangerous, Overcrowded, Or Inhumane Conditions Provided By An Employer.
- A Person Is Working For An Employer Where Performing Sex Acts For Money Are Commonly Asked Of Employees: Strip Clubs, Go-Go Bars, And Illicit Massage And Spa Businesses.
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What can be Done About Trafficking?
Although it happens all the time, government agencies have several tools to shut down these criminal enterprises. In addition, when such a crime is reported and the claim is substantiated, there are many protections available to human trafficking survivors.
On the federal level, landmark legislation on what the United Nations refers to as a hidden crime was signed into law in 2000. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act created interagency efforts and online campaigns and strengthened trade laws, all designed to prevent and stop human trafficking. With wide bipartisan support, these initiatives have been funded three times since the bill became law in 2000. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act most recently received $250 million from Congress in 2019.
In New Jersey, The Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act became law in 2013. Much like the federal anti-trafficking laws, the New Jersey laws provide protections for survivors. In the New Jersey law, specifically, there is a fund set aside for survivors to help them get into a healthy living situation.
Criminal charges are expected when these slave rings are discovered. However, putting the perpetrators behind bars will not provide the survivors with funds to build the life they hope for once away from the control of the abuser. A civil suit, however, can be brought about by survivors against the accused. As a New Jersey legislator noted in the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act, civil action does not in any way impact criminal proceedings.
New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr Fight for Survivors of Trafficking
Our New Jersey personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr fight for those who have survived human trafficking. To schedule a confidential, free consultation, call us today at 732-537-8570 or contact us online. Located in Highland Park, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout New Brunswick, Somerset, Piscataway, Edison, South River, Sayreville, Metuchen, East Brunswick, South Plainfield, Fords, Middlesex, Old Bridge, Iselin, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, Colonia, Elizabeth, and Newark.