Elected officials, survivors of human trafficking and other guests including First Lady Tammy Murphy, Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Senator Nellie Pou gathered at Montclair State University on February 3 to discuss human trafficking law and policy in New Jersey.
The event, a legislative breakfast put on by the Global Center on Human Trafficking, capped off Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January and included discussions on the impact of laws and policies on the lives of survivors of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking has the potential to affect every community,” Murphy said in her remarks at the event. “Eradicating it starts with strong laws and smart policies that prohibit that crime, but also improve trust and communication between law enforcement and the public, all while providing meaningful, holistic, trauma-informed support for victims.”
Throughout the month, the Center collaborated with students, faculty and people around the world to provide education and awareness about the pervasiveness of human trafficking as part of its mission to mobilize collective action and develop solutions to one of the world’s most pressing challenges.
Cosponsors of the legislative breakfast included numerous University departments as well as the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Covenant House – New Jersey, Legal Services of New Jersey, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice and the Family Service League/SAVE of Essex County.
During his opening remarks, Montclair President Jonathan Koppell underscored the importance of embracing community partnerships to address issues that affect many.
“This center is working with partners in everything that it does, whether it’s in law enforcement, in advocacy, in finding solutions,” Koppell said. “We will not get traction on global problems like human trafficking if we try and do it alone.”
In January, the Center also announced a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations Newark Division to develop an app and website providing information and resources to New Jersey law enforcement agencies that may encounter victims of human trafficking.
Programming for the month also included an introductory presentation on human trafficking from a global perspective and a discussion from survivors who shared that they are more than just their stories and how the community can effectively and ethically engage survivors in anti-trafficking work.
The bright blue silhouettes seen around campus in recent weeks also meant to draw attention to the global issue of modern slavery by telling the stories of trafficked victims. The silhouettes are a part of the “Out of the Shadows” campaign to raise awareness, launched on January 21, 2020. Observers can scan a QR code on each cutout to read about the experiences of the victims.
Ali Boak, the director of the Global Center on Human Trafficking, says these are important educational initiatives.
“I hope that students in our community understand that human trafficking isn’t something that just happens in other countries, it’s something that happens in our own backyard. These initiatives are here to provide our students with information about where to go and what to do to safely respond.”
Boak says the Center’s initiatives and events also aim to educate students and the general public to counteract how human trafficking is often inaccurately depicted in media and entertainment. Labor trafficking, for example, is “the number one kind of trafficking happening in the world,” Boak says, but it is rarely depicted in news, television or movies.
The month’s events are just a small portion of the work being done by the Center. In order to ensure that no one is subjected to human trafficking, the Center prioritizes survivor and victim experiences and devises novel approaches to the issues that it raises.
“Our mission at the Center is to engage survivors in the work so that we can influence policy practice and research and have their experiences embedded in the response,” Boak says.
For more information on the Global Center on Human Trafficking, visit its website.
Story by Rosaria Lo Presti. Photos by John J. LaRosa.