September 23, 2018 | ° F

Experts talk human trafficking

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Tracy Thompson, assistant attorney general of the NJ Division of Criminal Justice, speaks about the severity of human trafficking at the Busch Campus Center.

It is a common misconception that human trafficking, also dubbed modern day slavery, does not happen close to home, in New Jersey or throughout the United States.

The Rutgers University Campus Coalition Against Trafficking hosted panelists who work in various fields dealing with human trafficking at the Busch Campus Center on Friday.

The panelists discussed the severity of this issue and its prevalence in New Jersey and throughout the country.

The coalition consists of undergraduate students who meet once a week to work toward spreading awareness about human trafficking and to raise money for organizations with the aim to help eliminate this issue.

Panelists included Tracy Thompson, assistant attorney general of the NJ Division of Criminal Justice, Patricia Devine Harms of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Victim Specialist of the FBI Newark Division Keyla Munoz and Tina Kelley of Covenant House, a national charity organization that provides services to homeless youth.

The panelists shared their experiences working with victims of human trafficking, which Thompson said exploits people with no regard to race, gender or age.

The panelists agreed that victims come from all walks of life. The panelists shared their experiences with victims who were nurses, high school students, transgender adults and a Rutgers student who was trafficked right out of New Brunswick.

“We recently recovered a Rutgers student who was working to pay for her books,” Munoz said. “She needed everything that you need, and one thing led to another, and she was lured into the sex trade.”

Harms said human trafficking is usually hidden in plain sight.

“Gangs in northern Virginia are recruiting girls and trafficking them right out of their bedrooms after school,” Harms said. “Those girls are going to school, going home and doing their homework when they’ll get a text message or call saying they need to sneak out right away to work.”

Priscilla Etienne, a member of the coalition, said she is very aware of the current issues regarding human trafficking, but still found information like this astounding.

“The fact that a girl was trafficked right out of her room means that this is really big — it’s happening right under our noses, and it’s crazy,” said Etienne, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior.

Kelly said found that many of the victims come from broken homes, and a predator will usually approach them within 48 hours of them being out on the street, promising them lavish places to live and expensive clothes in exchange for their services.

For these victims, these offers may be better choices than their current situations.

“Some of these kids are from houses where they’ve been repeatedly abused or mistreated, so when someone comes along and tells them that they’re beautiful, that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them,” Kelley said.

One of the biggest issues with human trafficking is the lack of awareness. Harms said the NJ Coalition Against Trafficking has hosted more than 30 awareness events and utilized social networks like Twitter to help spread awareness.

Thompson has been a part of the state’s media campaign where a number of colleges created billboards, reinstated hotlines and held lectures to teach students about human trafficking.

Thompson feels that men and boys need to be educated about respecting women as individuals.

“We need to help them understand that exploitation is victimization,” she said.

In writing her book, “Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope,” Kelley found that the victims are almost always overwhelmed with shame, but the people who caused this shame feel no remorse.

Kelley believes American culture, specifically its music industry, glorifies men who pay for sex.

The panelists concluded that increasing citizen awareness, holding businesses that facilitate sex trading, such as hotels and Craigslist, accountable and increasing laws to prevent trafficking are only the beginning in putting an end to the human trafficking industry.

By Erin Walsh

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