On Monday May 6, Governor Christie signed the legislation (A3352), known as the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act into law. The NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking made up of more than 40 diverse organizations advocated strongly for this measure. In addition, the Governor signed resolutions to make January 11 Human Trafficking Day in New Jersey and January to be Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
"Human trafficking is a horrific crime that is vastly underreported, making it all that much harder to crack down on," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) who authored and championed the bill. "Because the victims, often children and vulnerable women, are too afraid and dependent on traffickers to break their silence, human trafficking has remained largely in the shadows of society. Many times they are exploited for years and coerced into prostitution, labor, and drug activity. This law will help raise awareness and toughen prosecutorial tools, two key elements needed in the fight to end this modern day slavery."
In New Jersey, human trafficking occurs when someone knowingly holds, entices, harbors, transports, provides or obtains by any means another person to engage in sexual activity or to provide labor or services. Human traffickers use threats of serious bodily harm, physical restraint and coercion to keep their victims captive. The “Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act,” S-2239, expands the definition of human trafficking to include actions involving abduction, fraud, deceit or other deception and abuses of power as a means of accomplishing human trafficking. 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 Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ (Federation) and the Jewish Women’s Foundation are proud to add our voices to those of human trafficking survivors, the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and everyone fighting human trafficking in our state. We believe the Jewish community needs to do all it can to combat modern day slavery. We commend the Governor, NJ Legislators, and the Attorney General for making this issue a priority for NJ,” said Melanie Roth Gorelick, facilitator of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking and director of Federation’s Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ.
According to Patricia Devine Harms, the Coalition legislative chair “Today is a victory for training, prevention and in turning the tide against perpetrators. Today we say to perpetrators, if you financially benefit from enslavement, if you get sexual gratification from an enslaved person, you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
About the Law
The comprehensive law will 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. Among the many important avenues of redress offered in the law for victims are: Unjust convictions can be removed from a survivor's criminal record so they will no longer be denied housing, higher education, or a promising career because of convictions that occurred as a result of being trafficked. A 15-year-old sex trafficking victim will be able to testify against her trafficker via closed circuit television, saving her from a re-traumatizing confrontation. A survivor of labor trafficking whose abuse left him with years of medical bills can sue his trafficker for their cost. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline will be posted where victims are most likely to see it, putting them one phone call away from hope and help. Specifically, the law will establish a 15-member Commission on Human Trafficking, to be located in the Department of Law and Public Safety, which would evaluate existing laws concerning human trafficking and enforcement, as well as review existing victim assistance programs, and promote a coordinated response by public and private resources for victims of human trafficking. Additionally, the law will establish a separate, non-lapsing, dedicated fund known as the "Human Trafficking Survivor's Assistance Fund," which will be administered by the Attorney General's Office with recommendations from the commission, to provide services to victims of human trafficking and promote awareness of the crime. To that end, the law takes aim at those that promote or enable human trafficking by sharply increasing fines and penalties for activities associated with human trafficking. All fines collected will be deposited in the "Human Trafficking Survivor's Assistance Fund," including:
* Any form of criminal human trafficking, such as recruiting individuals or financing an operation, will be a crime of the first degree with a fine of at least $25,000;
* Anyone who knowingly owns, controls, manages, leases or supervises a premises where human trafficking is carried on, and fails to make a reasonable effort to eject the tenant or notify law enforcement authorities will be charged with a crime of the first degree, carrying a term of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years, a fine of at least $25,000, or both;
* Anyone who promotes prostitution by transporting a person into or within the state for that purpose or knowingly leases or permits a place to be used for that purpose will be charged with a crime of the third degree, punishable by imprisonment of three to five years; a fine of up to $15,000; or both; and
* A person will be strictly liable for a crime of the first degree for holding, recruiting, luring, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining, by any means, a child under 18 years of age to engage in sexual activity, whether or not the actor mistakenly believed that the child was 18 years of age or older, even if that mistaken belief was reasonable.
* Anyone who advertises commercial sexual abuse of a minor, such as escort services, will be charged with a crime of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment of 10 to 20 years, a fine of at least $25,000 but not more than $200,000; or both.
A 2012 report by Polaris Project – a national nonprofit organization that works to prevent human trafficking and modern-day slavery – ranked New Jersey as a tier-two state in combating human trafficking, meaning that New Jersey has passed numerous laws to combat human trafficking and should take more steps to improve and implement its laws. Twenty-one states received a tier-one rating, the highest awarded by the Polaris Project. Now that this legislation has been signed into law, New Jersey has one of the most progressive and comprehensive anti-trafficking statutes in the country.
MetroWest Legislators Respond
“Seven years ago, human trafficking became a crime here in New Jersey,” said Senator Gill, D-Essex and Passaic, lead sponsor of the original law making human trafficking a crime. “With the enactment of this legislation, we are sending the message that those who perpetrate this crime will be found and punished for their actions. Today, we are continuing New Jersey’s legacy of creating strong laws against human trafficking and providing the victims of this crime, mostly women and children, with the help they need.” Assemblywoman McHose R-Sussex, Warren and Morris and a sponsor of the bill said: "I commend Governor Christie and my legislative colleagues for taking action on this issue which, for far too long, has been ignored by society and especially those in positions of authority," said McHose, "Unfortunately, this modern day slavery is very real today and is going on all around us. Increased education and awareness are some of our best weapons against this despicable crime… Not only will this law help to better inform the public, but it sends the message to those who engage in all aspects of human trafficking that there will be dire consequences for their actions."
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union, Morris, Somerset) applauded Gov. Christie for signing into law today the "Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act," of which he is first co-sponsor. "Millions of human trafficking victims are tortured in New Jersey and the world over via a growing, underground enterprise," Kean said. "In this state, people of all ages and backgrounds are now better protected from this form of modern-day slavery. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors are more empowered to prevent criminals from physically and emotionally destroying lives in New Jersey."
Nancy F. Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset was a primary sponsor of the bill: "This law is a critical step in protecting the victims of this despicable crime and sends an unmistakable message to those who seek to exploit our youth that New Jersey will not tolerate such repulsive actions. Just last week, another horrible incident of sex trafficking was reported where dozens of women and girls — including one as young as 14 — were sent from Mexico to be put to work in the sex trade in the New York area, including on New Jersey farms. Imposing significant penalties on those who believe anyone, especially our youth, who are viewed as their property or a commodity that can be traded at their discretion is an appropriate punishment for those who have so little regard for the dignity to which all human beings are entitled."