Officials Ramp Up Human Trafficking Initiative [AUDIO]
In order to combat human trafficking during the 2014 Super Bowl and beyond, state officials are asking local governments, religious groups, community outreach organizations, and others to have a part.
A symposium, held Tuesday at the Regional Operations & Information Center, featured Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, who noted events like the Super Bowl are prime targets for pimps and traffickers because it attracts huge crowds and huge amounts of money.
Hoffman explained while human trafficking is a serious problem both nationwide and in New Jersey, support from the community is needed because most of crime's perpetrators "exists in the shadows", noting it's "not a readily apparent or a easily identifiable crime."
"The more community involvement we get, the easier it is to detect and to let victims know there is a support group for them," Hoffman says.
While the Super Bowl will bring additional trafficking concerns because of the sheer volume of visitors, New Jersey has always been a hotspot for human trafficking because of its location near major cities, it's population, and the amount of ethnic enclaves within the state.
"And sometimes there is a lack of knowledge about what kind of assistance and service are out there," says Assistant Attorney General Tracy Thompson.
Statistics kept by the Division of Criminal Justice indicate 179 reported human trafficking victims from Sept. 16, 2005 to March 1, 2012, including 93 victims of labor trafficking, 60 of sex trafficking, and 26 of both labor and sex trafficking.
Additionally, data from the National Caner for Missing and Exploited Children shows 533 children from New Jersey were reported missing from 2007 to 2011, including 34 who were suspected or confirmed to be involved in prostitution.
The FBI believes that pimps in northern New Jersey traffic child victims into New York and other cities for prostitution, and the Atlantic City area is targeted by criminals, who exploit children because of the many visitors to the casino resorts.
Thompson notes getting non-profit, outreach, and most religious groups is important because in many instances they could be dealing directly with exploited individuals and not even realize it.
"These victims they still worship, sometimes churches have their doors open to offer assistance, shelter, or food, so sometimes victims will come there."
While February 1st's big game at Metlife Stadium will be the first time New Jersey has hosted a Super Bowl, law enforcement is learning from those who have been there before and taking a proactive approach.
Louisiana State Police Sgt. Chad Gremillion worked in preparation for several of the Super Bowls held in New Orleans. He notes cooperation between local and state law enforcement helped them identify exploitation scenarios.
"We've got to work at this together, because if not we will be going down two different streams and clearly the road to success is down one path."