Several years ago I attended a panel discussion where Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D- 37th Dist.) championed legislation to curb human trafficking. She aimed to provide treatment for victims, in a way that would protect, not punish, them.
She appears to have followed through.
Crossing party lines, Huttle partnered with Republican state Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr., to sponsor the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act (A.3352/S.2239).
Signed into law one year ago, it’s among the strictest anti-human trafficking laws in the nation.
At a recent talk hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Morristown Area, at the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy in Parsippany, Huttle said the new law helped convict a man who forced a 15-year old girl into prostitution. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, without parole, and fined $25,000.
When Huttle and Kean were asked where a human trafficker would get enough money to pay the fine, both agreed that such criminals have amassed enough gold jewelry, expensive cars and cash to easily cover their penalties.
The new law stipulates that these fines fund treatment and housing for victims.
“The law sends ripple effects around the globe. Under the new law this particular perpetrator was the first person convicted,” Kean said.
Keyla M. Munoz, a victim specialist with the FBI in Newark, added: “We’re sending a message that we don’t tolerate this kind of behavior.”
An estimated 30 million people worldwide–including an estimated 57,000 in the U.S.–are exploited and treated as property, according to Time magazine. Human trafficking made headlines last month when terrorists abducted more than 200 girls from a Nigerian school and threatened to sell them if their comrades were not released from prison. Most of the girls still are being held by the terrorists.
In a two-week operation preceding the 2014 Super Bowl, the FBI rescued 16 juveniles forced into prostitution, including some reported missing by their families.
FBI officials, in a statement reported by the Associated Press, said the children ranged in age from 13 to 17 and were found in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. More than 50 women who also were forced to work as prostitutes were rescued, too, and more than 45 pimps were arrested, according to authorities.
Under New Jersey’s law, authorities can prosecute:
Licensed auto drivers who knowingly transport victims for human trafficking activities
Perpetrators who knowingly lease property or rent hotel rooms for human trafficking activities
Health Care workers
Massage Parlor workers
Website owners who advertise minors as slaves
People who solicit minors and prostitutes
The legislation protects prostitutes and minors from prosecution since they are usually the victims of the crime.
“Under this legislation minor victims under the age of 18 cannot and will not be charged as criminals,” Munoz said.
“We have shelters and beds for juveniles and funding to train the appropriate personnel to work with them. Minors will often withhold the fact that they are minors. They are a difficult population to work with. We are working in conjunction with social services to position them for a better life.”
Munoz said parents and people who work with children should keep a file of updated photos. If a child goes missing, a current photo then can be shared with the public.
“If your child should go missing you should report it immediately,” she added.
“It is not necessary to wait 24 hours to file a missing persons report. If your local police department advises you to wait, you can call the NJ State Police or call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. The hotline goes automatically to law enforcement in the tri-state area.”
Munoz also advised the public at large to be aware of any suspicious activity. You can also report it anonymously and it will be investigated, she said.
For current information about Human Trafficking activity and contact information, visit the Polaris Project.
The panel was moderated by Louise Murray, vice president of the League of Women Voters chapter. Additional sponsors included the Boy Scouts of American Patriots’ Path Council, CASA of Morris & Sussex Counties Inc., Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey, Morris County Professional Counselor Association, the
NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking and the New Jersey PTA.