“Debbie” is a fifteen year old straight-A student and the middle child in a close knit family. One night she was called by a casual friend who came to her house with two older men. When Debbie hugged her friend goodbye, she was pushed into their car and taken to an apartment miles away from her house. Threatened with her life, she was forced to engage in prostitution, giving all the money she earned to her captors. She was kept in a dog cage for days on end and endured threats to herself and her family. Debbie is one of thousands of American teenagers who are victims of human trafficking which is becoming increasingly common around the world and in communities throughout the United States.

Not only is human trafficking prevalent in the United States, but we have become a safe harbor for those who traffic innocent women and children for exploitation in street prostitution, massage parlors, brothels and strip clubs.

Recently, the U.S. Government released their annual Trafficking in Persons report which calls attention to frightening statistics regarding human trafficking for sex and labor exploitation. The report is a provision of legislation created by Congressman Christopher Smith, whose groundbreaking U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act was signed into law in 2000. This report illustrates how the practice of human trafficking has become widespread in the past ten years.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Office, more than 12 million people worldwide are trafficking victims. Free the Slaves, a highly respected anti-human trafficking organization suggests that there are actually over 27 million victims. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children believes that at least 100,000 of these victims are American children - with an average age of 13 years old.

In fact, United States citizens are the most frequent victims of human trafficking, especially in the commercial sex industry. The reason for the prevalence of human trafficking is simple: the International Labor Organization suggests human traffickers make profits in excess of $31 billion a year.

One of the ways we can combat human trafficking is by imposing stringent penalties on those who traffic innocent victims. Current penalties for sex trafficking range up to life imprisonment with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for sex trafficking of minors and 15 years for sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion or sex trafficking of minors under the age of 14. Laws against human trafficking should be enforced and harsh sentences should be ordered for anyone who breaks these laws.

Another front in this battle is targeting one of the primary methods that traffickers utilize to ply their trade. There is significant research that shows that sexually suggestive advertisements- often placed right in our daily newspaper- promote human trafficking and criminal activity. In order to combat this problem, I introduced legislation that would prohibit content suggestive of a sexual encounter from being included in advertisements for massage and bodywork therapies. These advertisements which frequently utilize sexually suggestive language and depictions to appeal to more male customers, are clearly aimed at facilitating sexual encounters. Further, they help criminals traffic women and damage legitimate businesses that maybe unfairly associated with illegal activities. This legislation would help to prevent human traffickers from using legitimate businesses as a front for criminal activity.

Under A-4147, all advertisements would also have to include the telephone number for the NJ Human Trafficking Hotline and the employer’s registration number or therapist’s license number.

While, it is the responsibility of Legislature and the United States Congress to pass laws addressing this issue, the public also plays an essential role in protecting our community from these criminals. There are complex intersections between local businesses and illegal human trafficking and increasingly, the private sector is recognizing their responsibility to prevent human trafficking. I urge the public to take interest in where and how goods are produced and to advocate for ethical codes of conduct.

Concerned citizens can help combat human trafficking by rejecting any businesses that may encourage this exploitation. In addition, by supporting legislation that imposes harsh penalties on those who traffic innocent people, we can help protect our citizens from the heinous practice of human trafficking. If we can save one innocent woman from suffering, as Debbie has suffered, we have been successful. 

Mary Pat Angelini, Assemblywoman
11th Legislative District