MODERN DAY SLAVERY — why you may soon see human trafficking signs conspicuously posted publicly in New Jersey

Photo illustration

It was just a couple of months ago when The Observer’s Lisa Feorenzo was at a pub and grill in Sussex County. The food was great. The atmosphere was fantastic. The people who were there, from fellow patrons to the staff, even better. But then something very bizarre happened.

She got into a conversation with one of the owners — and that person, a woman, told her signs would soon be going up on the walls of bars, restaurants and many other locations throughout the state.

What was going to be on the signs was not so much shocking to Feorenzo since she’s seen the gamut of signs (think just a few months ago when those “See Something, Say Something” terrorism signs started appearing on Jersey’s highways.) But to anyone who may not have access to these kinds of signs on a regular basis, or know what they mean, these new one were going to be nothing short of shocking, disturbing really — and they were going to appear with absolutely no explanation (not shocking) from the State of New Jersey.

And that’s where Feorenzo got to work. She wasted very little time and reached right out to the office of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. She got an answer quickly so together, she and I composed a series of questions after we found exact examples of the signs, which were to alert patrons of the dangers, the horrors, of human trafficking.

Frankly, after seeing the signs, she had more questions than answers. And then, finally, after a little longer than a month’s time, Allison Inserro, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin’s public information officer, responded to the questions.

We’ll get to the Q&A shortly, but before we do, first, an explanation of what the signs said, a graphic of which is included with this story for illustrative purposes.

The blue and white signs, which by law must be posted in certain establishments — if they’re not displayed, business operators are subject to potentially significant fines … and we’ll explain later how this is all enforced) ask some stunning questions following a large-sized headline asking: “Is this you or someone you know?”

Then come the questions, which are:

• Are you being forced to work or perform sex acts against your will?

• Are you working a job for little to no wages?

• Are you threatened, tricked or controlled by someone you know or someone you just met?

• Is someone holding your identification and documents?

• Are you afraid to leave?

These questions are designed to help anyone who may be or who may know someone who is being sex trafficked. And they note there is help, since victims are fully protected by New Jersey, federal and international law.

Since it is often difficult for people in these situations to get help, there is a dual option for calling or texting for that help. Victims may call (888) 373-7888 or text BE FREE to 233733 to reach the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The state has a hotline as well — (855) 363-6548 — where one may call with sex-trafficking tips or for information.

Now, let us backtrack a little.

Once Feorenzo first saw these signs, her primary thought was, “What the?” She was concerned they would, perhaps, prompt more confusion than they would help, especially since some of the people who worked at that aforementioned establishment had no idea why they were mandatory. That person was alerted by her local Alcoholic Beverage Control about the signs in what had been a mandatory Zoom meeting.

Now, here’s what we learned.

The Observer: Give us some background on human trafficking.

Allison Inserro, attorney general’s public information officer: Every year, millions of adults and children in the world, including in the U.S., are bought and sold for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation. Human trafficking is a crime whose victims are often hidden in plain sight and signs of human trafficking often go unnoticed because the relationship between trafficker and victim masquerades as consensual romantic or familial relationships, or as legitimate employment relationships. Often times, human trafficking victims have been so coerced or traumatized they don’t view themselves as victims at all. For these reasons, it’s difficult to estimate the extent to which the problem exists in New Jersey. However, the FBI considers New Jersey to be a “hub” for this type of activity, in part because the state is positioned between several major metropolitan areas including New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

The posters you (The Observer) asked about were announced by the governor in 2021: Read more at

In January 2023, Platkin announced a new unit in the Division of Criminal Justice to combat these crimes. Read more at

The Observer: Where do business owners get the posters?

AG’s OFFICE: The State of New Jersey has published two posters: one on the Governor’s website (seen within this story) and one on the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking website at 

The Observer: Where do the signs have to be placed?

AG’s OFFICE: Pursuant to section 1 of P.L. 2013, c.51 (C.52:17B-237), the following establishments to the extent practicable shall display the public awareness sign described in subsection a. in a place that is clearly conspicuous and visible to employees and the public:

Strip clubs or sexually oriented businesses as defined in subsection a. of section 2 of P.L.1995, c.167 (2C:33-12.2), including, but not limited to, within every dressing room and within every restroom and restroom stall.

• Places of business of employers of massage or bodywork therapists, which employers are subject to registration, and which therapists are subject to licensure, pursuant to P.L.1999, c.19 (C.45:11-53 et seq.) and section 13 of P.L.2007, c.337 (C.45:11-68 et al.), including, but not limited to, within every dressing room and within every restroom and restroom stall

• Bars

• Airports

• Passenger rail or light rail stations

• Bus stations

• Welcome centers

• Truck stops

• Weigh Stations

• Emergency rooms within general acute care hospitals

• Urgent care centers

• Farm labor contractors and day haulers

• Privately operated job recruitment centers

• Service areas and safety rest areas located along interstate highways in New Jersey

• All forms of public transportation, including every railroad passenger car

• Hotels, motels, bed and breakfast establishments, campsites, and similar places of public accommodation.

Owners and operators of private and public school buses are encouraged to display the public awareness sign described in subsection a in a place that is clearly conspicuous and visible to students.

The public awareness sign to be posted pursuant to subsection b and shall be no smaller than eight and one-half inches by eleven inches in size, printed in 16-point font in English and Spanish.

A business or establishment that fails to comply with the requirements of this section shall be liable for a civil penalty of $300 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

The Observer: Who enforces the law? Is it local ABCs? Police departments?

AG’s OFFICE: Generally, any government agency may enforce a statutorily authorized civil penalty under the “Penalty Enforcement Act of 1999.” In this case, an agency with regulatory oversight authority over entities subject to the requirements of the law could exercise enforcement authority, so in this case the ABC could bring enforcement actions against businesses or establishments that they license which do not comply with the statutory provision requiring them to display the human trafficking public awareness poster.

Editor’s note: It appears local, county, state and federal law-enforcement agencies may cite violations of the poster law. However, based on conversations with several high-ranking law-enforcement officers, do not expect cops to be out on patrol searching for such violations.

The Observer: Are there statistics available for the number of reported sex-trafficking cases in New Jersey?

AG’s OFFICE: Between 2017 and 2022, 68 defendants were charged with a total of 144 counts of human trafficking or facilitation of human trafficking. Most of those cases are pending.

The Observer: Are there programs in schools that expose younger kids to the dangers of sex trafficking? If so could you detail them?

AG’s OFFICE: Human trafficking is included in the 2020 NJ Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education under Personal Safety for the eighth grade. Find more at NJSLS-CHPE.pdf.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a multiple-part series on the sex trafficking industry. Check back in the coming weeks for more.

Learn more about the writer ...

Editor & Broadcaster at 

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, an organization he has served since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and X, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.