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S. Jersey Magazine looks at trafficking in NJ, Smith's law:Stolen from the Suburbs of SJ
Article focuses on trafficked Jersey teens, Smith's law to combact modern day slavery
Sep 22, 2012
While most people think the crimes of human trafficking and sex slavery
take place in impoverished countries, it happens right here in SJ.
teen girls are easily lured to lives they never wanted. Few
By Jayne Jacova Feld
During the summer between eighth and ninth grades, Holly Austin Smith had some heavy issues weighing down her
14-year-old mind. Growing apart from her middle school friends and scarred by sexual abuse at the hand of a family
member, she dreamed of leaving SJ behind in pursuit of an acting career.
She has since realized what easy prey she was for the man who would lead her into prostitution.
"The way he talked to me, it was like I was an adult,” recalls Smith, now 33, a Mount Holly native who met her pimp during a typical outing with friends at the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing. "In middle school, when everyone is sarcastic and it’s hard to have a genuine conversation with anyone, it meant a lot to me. I really felt comfortable with him.”
After two weeks of intense phone conversations, Smith was taken in. She trusted this suitor would help her start a new, better life.
But after she arrived at the mall with her packed bag, she realized the man with the warm, inviting smile was not as he seemed. Over the next 36 hours, she would dye her hair and don a fake name and persona as he instructed. She turned tricks on seedy Atlantic City streets – servicing men who said she reminded them of their granddaughters – and endured rape by her trafficker. Smith says she felt like the "old Holly” was gone. In order to survive, she had become a prostitute.
For many, human trafficking conjures up disturbing images of child prostitutes in faraway, impoverished locales, but the crime also occurs in SJ communities, says Kaitlyn Keisel, program director of Polaris Project New Jersey, one of a handful of organizations working to combat human trafficking, which has been estimated to generate more than $30 billion a year.
In New Jersey, 533 children were reported missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children between 2007-2011, including 34 children suspected or confirmed to be involved in prostitution. During the same time period, the Center turned over 3,725 tip-line reports related to child sexual exploitation to New Jersey law enforcement.
The exploitation of people for sexual and commercial purposes is age old, but the situation grew exponentially by the late 1990s. The break up of the United Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1980s, followed by the advent of the internet, were "the perfect storm” that opened the flood gates for modern-day slavery, says U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-4), author of a landmark 2000 U.S. law which was the first to recognize that people trafficked against their will, as well as all minors in the sex trade, are victims of a crime.
For Holly Austin Smith, her physical ordeal ended when police took her into custody and returned her home, but it took well over a
Holly Austin Smith, now married and working as a marine biologist, was forced to work as a prostitute on the streets of Atlantic City. Smith’s trafficker was a man she met at the Hamilton Mall.
decade and a suicide attempt to come to terms with her victimization. Now, 20 years since she escaped "the life,” Smith is a newly married, Virginia-based marine biologist. She feels compelled to tell her story because she knows that skilled predators are still using the same tactics to lure youngsters into prostitution – in places as close to home as her former hang-outs in Southern New Jersey.
"Pimps are always actively looking for girls to recruit into the sex industry,” says Carole Smolenski, executive director of End Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) International, which works towards the elimination of child prostitution and pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. "They’re always in need of new meat and they do actively look for vulnerable kids, those who don’t have a loving family taking care of them, runaways, those homeless on the streets, foster kids or those who have been sexually or physically abused at home.”
As Smolenski frames it, child prostitution, a form of human trafficking, is the modern day equivalent of slavery. And while trafficking has been identified as the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, a growing number of activists have made strides in recent years to raise awareness, provide support for victims and strengthen law enforcement’s ability to combat these crimes. In addition, a wave of books and memoirs of survivors, as well as documentaries, are shedding more light on these dark issues.
"It really is a crime hidden in plain sight,” says Keisel. "We hear a lot about how trafficking is about the movement of people. In fact, movement is not a requirement of trafficking. You don’t ever have to leave the state of New Jersey to be a trafficking victim.”
To be sure, a large percentage of victims are imported from foreign countries, taken by force, fraud, drugged or lured by deception, which include tales of better jobs and the chance to live out the American dream. Yet among the 90 trafficking survivors that Polaris N.J. has helped within the past year, nearly 40 percent were U.S. citizens, says Keisel. Many were New Jersey residents who were never taken across state lines. Moreover, most were lured into the business as 12 to 14-year-olds and were often young adults, from 18-20, by the time they managed to escape.
While Polaris is able to meet many of the short-term needs of victims, including food, emergency shelter and legal assistance, much more is needed to ease victims’ reintegration to society. Keisel says there is great need for stable housing and a chance for former prostitutes to erase their criminal record. Moreover, she adds, demand won’t diminish until prostitution is made riskier for the "Johns” whose money fuels the business.
Garden State Trafficking
It’s not surprising that New Jersey is a prime location for domestic and international human trafficking, given its central location on the I-95 corridor between New York and Philadelphia. It also has a dense and high immigrant population, as well as the lure of Atlantic City gambling and nightlife.
But it’s not just the big cities where the criminal activity takes place. New Jersey is home to hundreds of massage parlors serving as fronts for prostitution activity. A recent Polaris survey found 525 of them statewide, with large concentrations in North Jersey and Atlantic City. The trafficked women are traditionally Asian, Latino and Eastern European girls, Keisel reports.
Big, hyped-up sporting events, like the boxing matches commonly held in Atlantic City, are also occasions when trafficking activity is almost expected, says Congressman Smith. The events that take place over the course of several days are particularly troubling, says Smith. Typically a trafficker will arrive at an event by van with three or four girls and then move quickly to another event.
Among the most sensational New Jersey cases in recent years, police in Plainfield uncovered a brothel with teenage girls smuggled into the United States from poor Mexican villages. The girls came willingly, after whirlwind courtships and promises of marriage.
Instead of marital bliss, the girls were virtually enslaved, forced to sell sex at $35 per customer. According to press accounts, the brothel was virtually undetectable. It was broken up in 2002 after a convenience store worker tipped police about the flood of cars that would congregate on the otherwise quiet one-way street on weekend nights and about the girls who would leave the apartment about once a week to visit the store, buying candy and soda but never asking for help.
The horrific case was a milestone on several fronts. It represented the first use in New Jersey of the 2000 federal law that increased penalties for trafficking in child sex (and was prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie) and paved the way for new legislation in New Jersey mirroring the federal government’s more serious stance on trafficking, says Amari Verástegui, staff advisor for Rutgers Campus Coalition Against Trafficking (RUCCAT).
The case also brought the issue home to many New Jersey residents, says Verástegui.
"It galvanized people to understand that this happens right in our backyards,” says Verástegui, former New Jersey State Director of the Not For Sale Campaign, another non-profit organization working to eradicate human trafficking.
Several organizations throughout the state work to combat human trafficking. RUCCAT, for example, was formed three years ago to raise awareness on the Rutger’s campus and to support organizations that help victims of trafficking.
Among the most active groups is one led by tweener abolitionists hoping to spread their message to other students through social media. Project Stay Gold was inspired by Jefferson Township Middle School history teacher Dan Papa’s seventh grade lessons on the American slave trade, in which the teacher drew connections between America’s past and the modern trafficking issues. Unable to let go of the lessons, a few students started Stay Gold as a special project that caught fire.
Students established the website, projectstaygold.org, consisting of their original videos on human trafficking and the ways people can help combat the problem. They have presented their campaign to the New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force and, most ambitiously, hope to bring their message to top National Football League officials in advance of the 2014 Super Bowl, which is taking place at the new Meadowlands stadium on Feb. 2.
Their concerns are well founded. Well aware of the dark, seedy side to sporting events, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa says the state’s law enforcement officials will also be well prepared, thanks to a new trafficking initiative he announced in July.
"My motivation was knowing what kinds of victims these young girls are,” says Chiesa, a former federal prosecutor. "They’re so vulnerable because of their age. They’re vulnerable because of language barriers, and because of the nasty and violent circumstances they find themselves in. We want to be in the best position to find them, help them and prosecute those responsible for enslaving them.
The new directive creates a Human Trafficking Unit within the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, adding a lieutenant, sergeant and detective to work with already designated staff to increase the ability of law enforcers to investigate suspicious trafficking activity in coordination with local, country, state and federal prosecutors. Just as importantly, all law enforcement officers will be trained to recognize trafficking and to provide services to victims.
Keisel, of Polaris, praised the new efforts, especially the increase in law enforcement staffing and the pledge of more services for survivors. It’s a start but so much more is necessary, she says, including transitional housing, transit and a reliable funding source to help them find employment and truly reintegrate in society.
As Congressman Smith sees it, human trafficking would diminish if it were made a societal and law enforcement priority to end modern slavery. Under the 2000 Act, the U.S. government rates other countries’ records on human trafficking and can apply economic sanctions on those that aren't making efforts to improve them. A later piece of legislation makes it a crime for any person to enter the U.S., or for any citizen to travel abroad, for the purpose of sex tourism involving children. The sentences are severe: up to 30 years imprisonment for each offense.
The latest U.S. Department report sites Libya, Myanmar, Sudan and Iran among countries considered the worst internationally for human trafficking. The analysis, released in June, ranks more than 180 countries on three levels, or "tiers,” depending on conditions that subject men, women and children to sex trafficking and forced labor. It also examines how traffickers operate, who is exploited and what the government is or isn’t doing to protect citizens from human traffickers.
While the United States has taken the lead among nations working to end trafficking, other countries, including the Ukraine and Russia, have used the U.S. laws as their model to fight the crimes. In addition, several businesses that are in the position to make a difference are working with law enforcement. For example, the Radisson Hotel and American Airlines are among major corporations that require "situational awareness” training. Employees are instructed to contact law enforcement if they see suspicious activity, such as an older man with a young girl who doesn’t appear to be his daughter going into a hotel room, Smith says.
Another creative attempt to end the supply is "John’s Schools,” in which men arrested for soliciting sex pay to attend an eight-hour course to avoid a criminal record of their arrest, Smith adds. The course is meant to both shame and teach about the many ill consequences of having sex with prostitutes.
While such efforts are making dents, the U.S. State Department still calculates that 27 million people worldwide are victims of trafficking.
"It makes you angry and it breaks your heart at the same time,” Smith says. "The fact that people would do this with young girls and women and say, ‘Who cares? They’re throwaways.’ It motivates me.”
Trafficked: Jennifer Lyn Nelson
The original article can be found at:
Carole Nelson remembers her granddaughter as a loving child who idolized her dad, made friends easily but had difficulty in school due to a reading problem. She was also troubled by her parents’ separation.
"I just think she was gullible,” says Nelson, 74, of Hightstown.
That beloved granddaughter, Jennifer Lyn Nelson, was 19 when she was found murdered in Miami in 2003. Her body was found, partially clothed, in the middle of a busy downtown street. The killing would likely have gone unsolved had not Nelson’s son gone down to Florida to demand attention be paid to the case, she says.
In press accounts of the crime, Jennifer was described as a prostitute murdered while working the streets. To those who knew and loved her, she was a young adult struggling to cope with some tough issues. She was lured into a life she would never have chosen.
"She wasn’t a prostitute. She was a victim,” says Nelson, who travels throughout New Jersey and beyond to tell Jennifer’s story. "The police didn’t even look at the side of her being victimized, and that these people will do whatever they can to trap girls and keep them trapped.”
Nelson recalls being worried from the start when Jennifer called to say she was taking off with a new boyfriend and a group of friends for the summer.
"She told me she wasn’t sure where they were going,” recalls Nelson. "It was never anything definite, even though I kept trying to pin her down. You could never get a straight answer. It was ‘Grandma, don’t worry. I’m fine. We’re having fun.’ Yeah right.”
The last they talked was on August 31, her 19th birthday. A month later, the call came from Miami police about her murder. The family also learned that a homeless man had given police a composite sketch of a man’s face seen dumping Jennifer’s body, but that they weren’t actively pursuing this man, she says.
Nelson says she believes the crime would have remained unsolved had not her son taken time off from his job to demand attention be paid to the case. After the family buried Jennifer in New Jersey, Allen "Clark” Nelson returned to Miami to hand out thousands of flyers of the sketch on the streets of Miami. Following media attention, the police put more manpower into the search for Jennifer’s killer, says Nelson.
Three weeks and a day after the murder, police arrested David Tejera, a 28-year-old man from Miami who confessed to the crime. Tejera was sentenced to life in prison. However, Nelson says, to her frustration, the police never pursued the men who lured her granddaughter into prostitution and kept her enslaved.
"If you’re being held captive, it shouldn’t matter what your age is,” says Nelson. "It just blows my mind that, because she was 19, the case never went further. I can’t bring her back, but I just want to see that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Note from website content manager: bolded areas in above text related to Congressman Smith are emphasized for the convenience of viewers of this site. Also, Holly Austin Smith, human trafficking victim-turned-advocate, and Congressman Smith, who represents larges areas of Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, are unrelated.