New Jersey volunteers mobilized this weekend for SOAP-up NJ, an effort on behalf of the NJ Coalition against Human Trafficking to raise awareness around missing children, human trafficking and the Super Bowl.
Two trainings were held by former trafficked survivor, Theresa Flores, who founded S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) to help victims who are forced into sex slavery.
Large sporting events are known to increase the demand for commercial sex. Sadly, many of the women and girls who are trafficked for sex are often missing children under the age of 18. Because of the high demand, these victims are raped repeatedly as they are held against their will to service around 30 or so male customers.
Following last year’s Super Bowl in Indiana, MSNBC ran marathon reporting on human trafficking. It was then that Verona resident Elizabeth Santeramo, co-chair of this year’s SOAP-up NJ effort, saw Flores share her story as a trafficked survivor. Santeramo’s co-chair, Sue Flynn, got a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of New Jersey to cover awareness materials–bars of soap and the phone number for the national human trafficking hotline (1-888-373-7888)–and a total of 450 volunteers attended the training this weekend to learn how to alert staff and managers that missing children who may have been kidnapped into sex slavery may be brought into their establishment during Super Bowl weekend. Volunteers went in groups of four and collectively, visited 300 motels and hotels in the area. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Most accepted the materials, which included pictures, names, and ages of missing children from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, and the bars of soap.
“Human trafficking is modern day slavery,” said Santeramo. “Victims cannot simply run or leave. They are under watch, are often chained, and have no documentation or belongings.”