The issue of human trafficking has come to the forefront of people’s minds and caught the attention of New Jersey Attorney General Jeff Chiesa who intends to crack down on the practice. Representatives from the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking Ingrid Johnson and Patricia Devine Harms
say that human trafficking is a form of slavery that is occurring throughout the state and the country and they hope to raise awareness and create harsher penalties for offenders.
Harms explained that wherever money can be made, there is an opportunity for trafficking, which doesn’t only include prostitution. “You hear a lot about sex trafficking because everyone can acknowledge there’s a horror involved in that. Then there’s also labor trafficking. It can take place in nail salons, hair braiding salons, farm workers can be trafficking victims,” she said. “It’s different from labor exploitation but it is happening, across the state and across the nation.”
Johnson has a personal connection to the issue of human trafficking. In 2004, her daughter ran away from Irvington and Johnson recovered her from New York City 11 months later where she had been forced into prostitution. “I worked closely with law enforcement and the New Jersey State Police,” Johnson said of how she was able to find her daughter. “And my daughter made one phone call and it took a few months, but they followed the tip and I was able to then scour New York City posting up fliers and petitions, working with the New York Police Department and eventually people heard her mother was in town and they did not want to go back to jail so they encouraged her to be released.”
Johnson’s daughter has moved passed the ordeal and is now a junior in college. Both mother and daughter have spoken publicly about what happened. “We’ve talked publicly about it because quite frankly we believe faithfully that if God could give my daughter back to us that we owed it to America to be public about it to help other families,” Johnson said. “So we do talk about it. We talk about the issues of teenage people, teenage youth hanging out. And that parents should be aware and talk to the youth about the risk.”
Sugar coating those involved is another problem, according to Harms. She said referring to people as “Johns” doesn’t express what’s really happening. “Those people are exploiting victims. They’re, in some cases, pedophiles, they are sexual deviants. We’re not talking about someone who goes to a prostitute that’s of legal age who makes a decision. We’re talking about human trafficking victims,” Harms said.
Learn more at Mike Schneider’s NJ Today article: Mother of Human Trafficking Victim Works with Coalition to Raise Awareness, Increase Penalties.