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SAYREVILLE, NJRobert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) hosted their third community forum on human trafficking, entitled “Human Trafficking: Let’s Make This the End of the Road Part III,” in partnership with American Academy of Pediatrics, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.

The event, held at the Middlesex County Fire Academy in Sayreville, had about 100 registrants, with professionals from the healthcare, social services, law enforcement and other fields.

Diana Starace, Injury Prevention Program Coordinator at RWJUH and Safe Kids Middlesex County, has been working at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJ) for 20 years and has been working for RWJ’s Level One Trauma Center for the past thirteen.

She says she mainly deals with unintentional injuries and trauma resulting from accidents, but she was inspired to begin working with human trafficking victims after being introduced to the epidemic at a screening of the film “Tricked,” which is mainly about the operations behind sex trafficking and those involved: “the exploited, the pimps and the johns.”

The screening was hosted by Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey (PCA-NJ), an educational nonprofit dedicated to ending child abuse in New Jersey and based in downtown New Brunswick.  The phone number for Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey is 732-246-8060 ext.112.

“I was just blown away,” Starace told New Brunswick Today about how she felt when she started to learn about the lived experiences of trafficked individuals after seeing the movie.

She said she reached out to Prevent Child Abuse-NJ soon after seeing the film. Since then, she has been hosting events and workshops on the topic of the sex trafficking, forced labor and abuse of both adults and children.

Love True, a group that is dedicated to the fight against trafficking and that provides awareness also had a presence at the event, and provided a hotline for people to contact in case they needed help finding care after exploitation.

Also present at the event were the Rutgers School of Social Work, Middle Earth, a 21st Century Learning Center and community group located in Bound Brook, the Middlesex County Office of Health Services as well as several other advocacy and educational organizations.

RWJUH, thanks to a grant provided by Church & Dwight Company, Incorporated, was able to fly professionals and survivors into the area in order to participate in the forum, which also served as a form of networking event and as three hours of continuing education credits for professionals at the hospital.

Co-founder and chair of Abolition Ohio, Anthony N. Talbot, was the keynote speaker that evening. In addition to a Talbot’s speech, a series of workshops took place.

Each workshop, led by a different speakers, focused on one specific professional field each and how human trafficking can be prevented in each of those fields: healthcare, law enforcement, social services, community advocacy and education.

One thing everyone seemed to be on the same page about at the event, was that there was no easy way to identify victims of any kind of trafficking.

Sergeant Rajesh Chopra of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO, along with attorney Matthew Pulso, led a workshop entited, “Who’s to Judge?” on the topic of how law enforcement handles issues involving traffickers and victims of labor trafficking, sex trafficking, child abuse, child pornography and other crimes.

Chopra explains MCPO keeps an internal record of who, in their office, speaks what language in part to prepare for dealing with victims of trafficking who have immigrated from a different country.

“Linguistic problems [for law enforcement] are big problems in being to identify who is here for forced labor and who is not,” he explained.

Pulso said, in order to change the way human trafficking is dealth with at the law enforcement level, “we need to change the overall political and social agreement of what’s going on.”

He says that typically, an indictment of human trafficking is harder for prosecutors to prove than offenses like kidnapping and abuse in the court system.

In recent years, Middlesex County and New Brunswick specifically have seen a number of incidences involving child sexual abuse, forced labor, sex trafficking and a brothel ran by New Brunswick Police officers.

According to PCA-NJ, there are over 100,000 individuals—adults and children—that fall victim to human trafficking each year in the United States of America.

The evening ended with a presentation from PCA-NJ and a “survivor panel.”

“Is it really a choice when you’re 14 or 15 years old?” asked one of the panelists. The panelists spoke about how victims become susceptable to abuse, and how often times it happens at a young age.

Survivors of human trafficking spoke at the end of the evening on their experiences from the past, and their road to recovery from the trauma of being trafficked.

A video of an interview with survivor Jerome Elam was played for the audience of about 150 individuals, many of whom were nurses and other healthcare professionals, students, social workers and a few law enforcement officials.

Jerome Elam was originally scheduled to appear at this event but his flight was cancelled due to the recent snowstorm.

Elam, who survived several years of child sexual abuse and other terrible crimes, is now a dedicated author and advocate speaking out against trafficking and child abuse.

Panelists also spoke about the sex trafficking industry and how many you victims can be spotted in casinos working the floor in order to be exploited for sex and labor.

Often, it is not until surviviors reach a hospital in an emergency situation that healthcare professionals recognize signs of abuse, such as bruising.  Other times, it is teachers and guidance counselors who spot the signs and who can help a child who may be suffering from being exploited.

However, many children will not appear to suffering from abuse or exploitation, because they will show up to school each day and behave normally. The panelists agreed that the signs of child abuse, trafficking, or any form of exploitation are not always blatant as people might think.

Anyone in need of help, or who knows someone who might be, can contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 3737-888 or text “HELP” or “INFO” to BeFree (233733).

Reporter at New Brunswick Today

Molly O'Brien is a law student and reporter in the city of New Brunswick.

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Molly O'Brien

Molly O'Brien is a law student and reporter in the city of New Brunswick.