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Human trafficking growing in metro-NY/NJ

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent

KEARNY –

Kearny’s governing body has proclaimed Jan. 11, 2014, as Human Trafficking Awareness Day – and will be so designated each year following.

It is being done, the proclamation says, “to raise awareness about the signs and consequences of human trafficking, to promote reporting mechanisms and opposition to human trafficking in all of its forms, and to encourage support for the survivors of human trafficking throughout the State of New Jersey and across the world to put an end to this criminal activity and to restore freedom and dignity to its survivors.”

The mayor and Town Council acted at the behest of Jersey City resident/New York attorney Stephen DeLuca, a volunteer with the N.J. Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which, with traffickers likely to use the upcoming Super Bowl as an opportunity for exploiting victims, is providing outreach to law enforcement agencies, health care representatives and the tourism industry on the “red flags” to watch for in recognizing potential victims and what they can do to help.

DeLuca said the Coalition has trained volunteers to go to hotels, for example, to place literature in maid carts and at registration counters, along with bars of soap containing a national coalition hotline that victims can call for assistance.

On Friday, Jan. 10, the Coalition will conduct a training session in Jersey City for local hotel operators – an event backed by Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. “We’d like to extend beyond just Jersey City,” said DeLuca, “and hopefully the Hudson County freeholders will advance the ball.”

And, he said, “with the Super Bowl coming up in February, we have a great opportunity to put a nationwide spotlight on this issue.”

DeLuca said that it is estimated that there are anywhere from 12 million to 30 million “modern day slavery victims, globally. An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 are trafficked into the U.S. each year,” with many of those coming from former Soviet Union satellite states.

Unfortunately, said DeLuca, “We are now one of the largest users of foreign sex tourists.”

“For someone trapped in commercial sex exploitation, the average age of entry is 12 to 15,” DeLuca said. “This has become an industry that is second in scale only to illegal drugs; it’s on par with the worldwide arms industry as the fastest growing and with the largest profit margin potential.”

Some alarming facts, provided by DeLuca, include these:

* One in three runaways in the U.S. will end up in the sex trade within 48 hours.

* One out of four girls and one of every six boys will be molested by the time they turn 16 in the U.S.

* Between 100,000 and 300,000 persons are at risk of being lured into the sex trade – brothels, strip clubs, escort services – every year in the U.S.

Law enforcement agents are doing what they can to put a dent in the industry, DeLuca said. This past July, 150 people nationwide – nearly half from Jersey City, Fairfield and the Atlantic City area – were arrested in what was described as the largest sex trafficking bust in the U.S.

With help from agencies like the FBI, N.J. Attorney General’s Office, State Police, Prosecutor’s Office in several northern and southern counties, about 100 youth-age sex trade victims were rescued nationwide this year, DeLuca said.

Jersey City and Elizabeth are examples of cities that attract a lot of trafficking activity, said DeLuca, because “we’re in a major metropolitan area with transportation networks, attracing a high number of transients, undocumented workers working for contracts paying less than the minimum wage. It’s convenient for the traffickers to bring them here.”

The Rev. Timothy Graff, director of the Human Concerns Office of the Archdiocese of Newark, working in cooperation with the state Coalition, said that Catholic Charities actually began working with trafficking victims about a decade ago.

“Victims include a lot of children as young as 12,” Rev. Graff said. “They tend to be from Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe – everywhere where you have poverty and the victims are the ones most vulnerable.”

In the labor trafficking enterprise, he said, a typical scenario finds a large family in Honduras, for example, knows someone in the U.S. who offers to take care of one of their daughters and send money back home but when the daughter arrives, she finds herself working in a sweat shop, restaurant kitchen or as a nanny for little or no money. “They fall into involuntary servitude and if they protest, the trafficker tells them, ‘We know where your family lives.’ ’’

To counteract that exploitation, the Human Concerns Office is participating in what Rev. Graff described as “the Amistad movement: we train leaders of vulnerable populations in the Newark Archdiocese to recognize likely victims, like very young employees in a nail place or hair salon who tend not to communicate. We also develop cooperation with law enforcement such as Homeland Security, FBI, the county prosecutor. And we work to find housing for victims.”

It is estimated that there are between 600,000 and 800,000 trafficking victims in the U.S., according to Rev. Graff.

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