In light of the recent raids in Cedar Grove, we, the people, need to become more aware of how pervasive human trafficking has become and how it differs from prostitution.
Human trafficking – or modern day slavery – is happening in our own backyard.
Through the grassroots efforts of groups such as Polaris Project, the New Jersey Coalition against Human Trafficking, the Junior Leagues of New Jersey, and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, much awareness has been raised, whereby community members have learned the difference between the willing choice to prostitute versus the forced-upon noose of human trafficking.
On May 6, 2013, Governor Christie signed legislation (A3352), known as The Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act (S2239/A3352) into law, which was authored by Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), giving New Jersey premiere status in the fight against the quiet, still human trafficking that occurs in the midst of our plush Garden State towns and cities.
In September 2011, the Cedar Grove Township passed a new ordinance that placed tough restrictions on massage spas and nail salons for the “health and safety” of patrons and practitioners alike. In cases of human trafficking, victims are exploited and coerced into years of forced prostitution, labor, and drug activity.
I urge Verona to follow suit and introduce a town ordinance similar to the one in Cedar Grove.
Human trafficking can be any of these, namely: for commercial sex in massage/spa parlors, domestic servitude, and as free labor on Jersey farms, in hair-braiding salons, nail salons, and restaurants.
Last week, I called Essex County Acting Prosecutor Carolyn Murray and am grateful to have received her personal call back. Ms. Murray explained that three county-wide trainings will take place for law enforcement officials and for local zoning boards to learn how to identify human trafficking and how best to offer services to rescued trafficked victims.
Awareness is key, so the best thing any of us can do – whether we sit on a town council, lead a community group, or are simply a concerned citizen – is to become more educated and to realize that there is a big difference between the free choice to prostitute and the forced-upon noose of being trafficked into prostitution.
For more information, visit the groups mentioned earlier and search their websites. To learn more about recent New Jersey legislation, find these bills: SJR60/AJR56, Designates January 11th of each year as Human Trafficking Awareness Day; and SJR44/AJR55, Designates January each year as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Just when we thought “slavery” was a historical textbook term, its new generation is the modern day slavery of human trafficking.
It may be cliché, but knowledge is power.
Verona resident Liz Santeramo is involved in three key community grassroots organizations that work to raise community advocacy and awareness of human trafficking.