Human Trafficking

Human TraffickingWe hear the phrase “human trafficking” often. But what does it mean? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking crimes focus on the act of compelling or coercing a person’s labor, services or commercial sex acts. But recognizing a victim is another story. Officials at the New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force advise that a victim may look like many of the people you see every day, and that asking the right questions and looking for clues is paramount. Your observations could be vital. You may be the only outsider with the opportunity to talk to a victim.

The New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force combats the crime through education, collaboration and prosecution. January was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and this year, New Jersey’s annual Human Trafficking Prevention event was combined with the task force’s 10-year anniversary. The event raised awareness about the crime and commemorated the many accomplishments of the task force.

Three Wilmington University adjunct faculty members are helping to fight human trafficking in New Jersey. Assistant Attorney General Tracy Thompson, former Deputy Attorney General Linda Rinaldi, and Deputy Attorney General Marsetta Lee attended the event, and were joined by WilmU’s Sherry Wilson, assistant professor and assistant chair of criminal justice programs in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Clearly, the WilmU representatives are making their marks.

Thompson was appointed director of the New Jersey attorney general’s human trafficking program in January 2013, following a 22-year career as a state and local prosecutor. She chairs and oversees task force operations, which trains and assists police officers to recognize human trafficking signs and victims. It also teaches community members to recognize and intervene if trafficking is suspected.

Rinaldi was recognized at the event for authoring the original grant that established the task force. Now retired after 25 years of service in the New Jersey attorney general’s office, she continues to battle human trafficking and serves on the board of B.E.S.T., which stands for Building Empowerment by Stopping Human Trafficking. “Many victims will not self-identify, so it’s important to train law enforcement to recognize and acknowledge that some offenders may be victims,” says Rinaldi, also a certified Victims of Human Trafficking coach. “It’s critical to provide victims the tools and opportunities to move forward in their lives, and to become emotionally healthy so he or she can testify against their traffickers.”

Lee was appointed director of the Victims of Crime Compensation Office in 2009, following two decades of service in the division of criminal justice, where she worked with crime victims, including those of human trafficking.

An estimated 14,500 to17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, and 50 percent of those are children.  Says Rinaldi: “The only way to stop trafficking is to deter those who prey on the vulnerable and to put behind bars those who continue to traffic.” WU

—Lori Sitler

For more, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888.