By Linda Ocasio/The Star-Ledger – It’s a shocking fact to contemplate in the 21st century: There are more people in slavery worldwide today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
That point comes fromPolaris, a nonprofit organization with offices in Washington and Newark. It is devoted to strengthening the framework of laws to better support survivors and prosecute traffickers, and to providing victims safe passage to freedom and normal lives.
Trafficking networks have been expert at evading laws here and abroad. Last week,the state announced arrests in a human trafficking and diamond smuggling operation that stretched from Manhattan and Atlantic City to Las Vegas and beyond. Women were ensnared in a prostitution ring they could not escape. State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said the victims were “degraded, threatened and isolated from any support in their lives.” It is the modus operandi of trafficking.
Polaris rates the states on the statutes they have in place to effectively prevent and prosecute human trafficking. New Jersey rates 6 out of 12 possible points — in the middle of the pack — and a new bill is pending in the Legislature. The state has sex and labor trafficking laws and penalties, including asset forfeiture, but still needs to allow victims to have removed or “vacated” convictions that occurred as a result of being trafficked, among other things. Law enforcement officials, in many cases, mistake trafficking victims for criminals who have been willing accomplices. More training is also needed to help police recognize a trafficking victim.
Congress last week passed a bill reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act. The trafficking reauthorization allocates $130 million to prosecute traffickers and provide recovery assistance to victims, including housing and legal services.
Star-Ledger editorial writer Linda Ocasio spoke with Mary Ellison, director of policy for Polaris Project, about what we know and don’t know about human trafficking.
What do people misunderstand about human trafficking?
The biggest misunderstanding is that it only happens somewhere else, not on U.S. soil. Not true. Modern-day slavery happens right here, in the most free and democratic country in the world. People think victims are complicit in their own exploitation. With sex trafficking, people think that “they’re just prostitutes.”
All sex trafficking victims have been forced, defrauded or coerced. A child cannot consent to his own sexual exploitation. With foreign nationals, people think they’re essentially illegal immigrants who have been smuggled in because they wanted to be. That’s not the case. They have been forced against their will to work here, and that is clearly a violation of U.S. and international law. Read more…