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Assistant Attorney General Thompson Visits Montclair to Discuss Human Trafficking

Natalie Heard Hackett

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 • 8:15am

MONTCLAIR, NJ - Assistant Attorney General Thompson gave a presentation on Human Trafficking to a packed room at Union Baptist Church in Montclair on Thursday.

Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern-day slavery.  Expanding rapidly across the nation, this growing criminal industry is known as second to drug dealing.  Human trafficking also involves the use of force or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.

The U.S.. State Department indicates that over a half-million slaves exist in the United States.  The U.S.. State Department estimates that between 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked in United States annually.

In an effort to end human trafficking in our state, advocates have agreed that educating the community on the subject is the best remedy.

At the top of the program, Thompson informed the crowd that human trafficking is everywhere, even in Montclair.  Although few cases exist in Montclair, she said that it is prevalent in suburbs despite awareness.

Thompson said, “What we are here to talk about is what is human trafficking, who is vulnerable, and what New Jersey is doing about it.” “Human trafficking must be called by its real name, modern slavery.” 

"Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, it is a crime, and it is a violation of human rights," Thompson continued. "Human trafficking in our state is rated a first-degree crime.”

Thompson displayed a PowerPoint presentation on human trafficking and informed residents that New Jersey is a hub for several reasons that includes the close proximity to New York, that it is a major national tourist center, the diversity, dense population and that New Jersey has highways such as I95, thus making it an international transportation center. 

The purpose of the forum was to bring awareness to the community so that communities can be proactive in addressing it.  Residents were encouraged to make anonymous calls to the Human Trafficking hotline.

Thompson informed residents that Human Trafficking takes on many forms such as labor, agricultural, landscaping, housework, aupair/nanny labor, servitude, prostitution, exotic dancing and the like.  Thompson further expressed that it becomes trafficking when someone is forced to perform the services. 

After the PowerPoint presentation, panelists gathered for an open discussion on the topic. 

The panel, moderated by Pastor Dr. Campbell B. Singleton III, included Assistant Attorney General Tracy Thompson, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray, Mayor Robert Jackson, Councilor Renee Baskerville, Police Chief David Sabagh, Detective Kim Nelson-Edwards and Montclair Public Schools Chief Talent Officer Michelle Russell. 

Among the questions and concerns that were raised, residents asked whether Human Trafficking exists in Montclair.  The assistant Attorney General informed residents that human trafficking exists in many forms and that they even have had a few cases that have occurred in Montclair and the surrounding vicinity.

Baskerville told the audience and Pastor Singleton, “Your vision and mine are totally in alignment.” “We should band together as a network and community.” 

Assistant Attorney General Thompson said, "This is an activity that is going on everywhere especially where there is money to be made.  If Montclair is as affluent as you say it is, then there is money to be made here, because there is low risk and high profit."

Thompson continued, “The last I checked, Montclair has two known strip clubs, spas, people need landscaping, there are hospitality needs, there can be residential brothels, people need factory workers, and these are all the places that there is a demand for cheap labor.” “The victim could be anyone.”

“Traffickers are usually known by the victim.  They could be family members, could be boyfriends or someone the victims trust,” added Thompson. 

More than 50 percent of victims worldwide are estimated to be under the age of 18.  Under the United States law, any person under 18 involved in the commercial sex industry is considered a human trafficking victim.  

“Traffickers are predators, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They’re not going to approach our children with a name tag on or a stamp on their forehead.  They're going to seduce, lure, groom, trick and convince the young person that this is something they want to do or that they're there to help them.” Thompson told the audience.  “Children are usually not put in jail when caught in Human Trafficking.  Instead, they are part of a rescue operation and we want to get them help.”

"This is an epidemic that we have to address," Mayor Jackson told the audience. "I am a Montclair exceptionalist.  I think that Montclair is the best town in the world, however, we are not perfect.  The thing that makes us exceptional, is that we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves and say that there's a problem."

Police Chief Sabagh said, “We want everyone to understand how seriously we take this issue and the resources we have to address the issue.”  "We have liaisons in every school and stay in touch with them."  "Our resources are not what they used to be because there's never enough out there." 

Of the issues discussed, few stood out, such as, how women and young girls were lured into the lifestyle through those they trust, through boyfriends, addictions, or naivety. 

"It is a huge problem and by the time you are aware of it, it is too late." Baskerville told the crowd.  "Now is the time for us to come together and have preventive measures."

When asked to explain why she attended, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Murray said, “The prosecutor’s office prosecutes these cases, although there’s a small number of cases.”

The panel also discussed rehabilitation for victims and the expungement of records if victims were forced to commit a crime for their captors.  Lastly, panelists discussed educating children early to avoid them choosing the wrong path.

Detective Nelson-Edwards is also a School Resource Officer (SRO) in the high school, “As a School Resource Officer, working in the schools, I talk to young ladies all the time about their safety. One of the passions that I have is to educate them and to teach them about safety.”  “On the law enforcement side, we are trying to come up with programs to educate people and bring awareness to this issue, Nelson-Edwards continued.

Pastor Singleton told the audience, "We are partnering with the Montclair Public Schools to host a forum similar to this for our young people."

Michelle Russell said, “ Where law enforcement represents the end of the road, the school system represents the beginning of the road.”  “It is important to educate our young people to advocate for themselves.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, the panelists answered questions from the audience.

 "We are much stronger if we work together.  The information that you receive is more powerful if we work together.  We rely greatly on the information that you give to us," continued Sabagh.

At the close of the meeting, residents were encouraged to report suspected cases of Human Trafficking to the Hotline at 1-855-END-NJ-HT or 1-855-363-6548.  For more information, log onto www.NJHumanTrafficking.gov

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