With Super Bowl Expected to Increase Problem, Bergen Lawmaker Takes Aim at Exploitation
Building upon nearly a year’s worth of research and consultations with experts and advocates, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle has introduced sweeping legislation to crackdown on human trafficking, which is estimated to claim up to 20 million victims worldwide.
“Until recently, human trafficking has remained largely in the shadows of society,” said Vainieri Huttle. “Victims are often children and vulnerable women who are too afraid and dependent on traffickers to break their silence and seek help. Many times they are exploited for years and coerced into prostitution, labor, and drug activity. When they finally have a chance to regain their freedom, they are prosecuted for the crimes they were forced to commit while enslaved, while the real perpetrators remain untouched by the law. This bill will put an end to those practices”
Vainieri Huttle noted that although the Division of Criminal Justice has reported 179 cases of sex and labor trafficking in New Jersey in the past seven years, experts estimate that there are actually thousands of incidents occurring each year in the state. On a national level, the U.S. State Department estimates that 50,000 men, women and children are trafficked into the United States annually, on top of the 100,000 victims who are already in the country when they are enslaved. This reporting discrepancy is often attributed to victims’ fear of coming forward.
The comprehensive legislation (A-3352), known as the “Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act,” seeks to crack down on every aspect of trafficking by revising and expanding the state’s current laws to create a new human trafficking commission, criminalize additional activities related to human trafficking, upgrade certain penalties on existing human trafficking or related crimes, increase protections afforded to victims of human trafficking, and provide for increased training and public awareness on human trafficking issues.
In drafting the legislation, Vainieri Huttle spent the better part of this year gathering input by meeting with experts and advocates, including the NJ Coalition against Human Trafficking, an alliance comprised of diverse organizations, including the Junior League, the NJ Catholic Conference, The League of Women Voters, the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations and the Polaris Project.
“Many of these organizations share our concerns and, together, we are committed to preventing trafficking, prosecuting perpetrators, and providing a safe haven for victims,” added Vainieri Huttle. “There are two important messages contained in this bill. To victims: You’re not alone. To perpetrators: We’re coming after you. We’re taking a spotlight and shining it on this issue so that it can’t operate in the shadows anymore.”
The bill was officially introduced last week.