On a cold and rainy Friday, legislators, community organizations, government officials, social service agencies, and concerned citizens convened on the front steps of the State House in Trenton, N.J., on January 11th , National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Armed with hats, scarves and umbrellas, gatherers huddled together in a display of public solidarity to draw attention to this latent and thriving crime. State and federal legislators alike, including Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri-Huttle and Congressman Chris Smith, spoke about the importance of advancing legislation that will not only obstruct the evolving tactics used by perpetrators, but also ensure that victims and survivors are receiving the proper protections.
Leading up to the event, Polaris Project asked the survivors we serve if there was anything they wanted the public to know about trafficking on this particular day. One survivor, Sandra, wanted the public to know that human trafficking dehumanizes you. “It makes you scared and neglected,” she said. She urged the public to know that there are victims, even if you cannot see them or help them. Sandra came to the United States under the false pretense that she would be attending school. Instead, she was forced into a life of domestic servitude where she endured mental and physical abuse. After connecting with Polaris Project through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (1-888-373-7888), Sandra is an extremely positive individual. What makes her so happy? The simple fact that she is able to eat, drink, and go to school on her own accord.
Luisa, who was forced into commercial sex by a trafficker who she thought was her boyfriend, also wanted to share a few thoughts. Luisa was physically abused and threatened in a foreign country where she did not speak the language or understand the culture. She connected with Polaris Project and began receiving supportive services. A lover of dancing, Luisa wanted other victims to know, “Remember you are not alone. You are not alone.” Luisa asked the public to help expose traffickers and hold them accountable for their crimes.
As a child who grew up in an abusive home and subsequently became homeless, Rachel was particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. After courageously escaping her violent pimp, Rachel received services from Polaris Project’s New Jersey office. What does she want you to know about human trafficking? She wants you to know that the crime will not go away on its own. That we can stop this issue if we all come together to fight like we do for other causes. She urged the public to become proactive rather than wait until someone they know falls prey to the crime. “Be a true American Idol by contributing to our efforts to end trafficking,” Rachel said.
The Program Coordinator of Polaris Project’s New Jersey’s office, Kate Keisel, shared these words and more at the rally. In doing so, Kate was able to bring Sandra, Rachel and Luisa’s real voices to the audience, and prove that this victimization is occurring in New Jersey. One simply cannot speak about human trafficking without acknowledging the courageous and resilient men, women, and children who have been victimized by human trafficking. Their voices remind us of how important proactive efforts and supportive services can be and help to rally more supporters to take action and refuse to allow these crimes to continue.