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Ingrid Johnson

Publicly posting the trafficking hotline number -- 1-888-373-7888 - is a powerful tool against human trafficking, Seton Hall alumnae Ingrid Johnson told her audience.

More than 25 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking. They are modern-day slaves pushed into sex work and forced marriages, they are men, women and children exploited and made to work for long hours often in miserable conditions on construction sites and farms, in sweatshops and nail salons.

"Slavery never ended around the world, in the U.S. or in New Jersey," explained Kate Lee, deputy administrator of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Lee spoke recently at a program attended by students, staff and community members, examining the current crisis of slavery. Hosted by the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, in partnership with the Slave Free Community Project and NJCAHT, the event provided a window into the stark reality of slavery in the 21st century and the work being done to protect the vulnerable, aid its victims, and punish the perpetrators.

In his remarks, Andrea Bartoli, dean of the School of Diplomacy, began by welcoming the event's speakers and an audience of 100 guests. He urged everyone to think of the millions of people "who never receive a word of welcome, and who are forced into the most unwelcoming space of slavery."

Bartoli introduced U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, who joined the panel by phone from Washington. Representing New Jersey's 4th district since 1981, Smith is the prime author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, along with three other major laws aimed at combating trafficking. Smith talked about the early challenges the national effort faced. At the time, he recalled, "the growing number of reports of vulnerable persons, especially women and children, being reduced to commodities, and their cruel exploitation, were met with incredulity or indifference." It took two years for the first piece of legislation to make its way through Congress. Today, Smith shared, there is broad agreement and policies and programs at the national, state, and local levels that are having an impact. An international trafficking bill, inspired by Megan's Law, now exists to thwart the exploitation of children in the U.S. and overseas through a comprehensive system that alerts law enforcement about traveling sex offenders.

Despite progress, human trafficking still demands engagement on the state and local level as well. With more than 38,000 identified victims, New Jersey is among the states with the highest number of calls to the trafficking prevention hotline - 1-888-373 7888. Smith explained that merely posting the number in public places "is the surest way to increase rescues and arrest traffickers."

Adding a very personal perspective on the issue, Seton Hall alumnae Ingrid Johnson, shared the story of how her teenage daughter, a high school honor student from Newark, disappeared in 2004 for almost a year. "One day my daughter was hanging out, like kids do, and never returned," she said. Johnson, who worked as a nurse at night, spent her days searching for her daughter, posting signs, working with law enforcement. She kept her pain private because of the stigma she worried it would bring. "I was out there by myself," she remembered. "I hadn't even heard of human trafficking. All I knew is that I was looking for my daughter." Johnson's daughter was rescued in New York and was able to return home and rebuild her life. "God is good," said Johnson, the recipient of Seton Hall's Humanitarian of the Year award in 2015. "People can be found, and people can be helped. We cannot give up on our children. This has nothing to do with the financial status of their parents. It has to do with humanity. And this great country should care about all our young people. The eradication of human trafficking starts with us. If you see something, say something."

Why does slavery and human trafficking remain a serious problem even in developed countries like the U.S.? Bernard Freamon, who has taught courses on slavery, human trafficking and the law at Seton Hall Law School, explained that migration, climate change, conflict, and, shockingly, the legalization of slavery in some Islamic countries, has fueled the crisis and "lulled us into an acceptance of slavery." The problem is both a human rights issue and one involving organized crime, he explained. It is supported by both criminal enterprises such as the mafia, as well as married couples running businesses that exploit the vulnerable, most of whom are women and children.

Human trafficking is a $150 billion annual business, according to Bob Boneberg, who leads local efforts aimed at building awareness and involvement in the issue. To understand how slavery touches each of us, he explained, pay attention to what's on the shelves at your grocery story. For example, chocolate and coffee may have been processed, at least in part, with slave labor he told the audience. "Every part of society has to work together to eradicate slavery," he said. Acknowledging that slavery has existed throughout recorded history, Boneberg, who coordinates the locally-based Slave Free Community Project, said that while laws and regulations are vital, there is a need for engagement at the community level as well. He believes that the problem requires an integrated solution, one in which police officers are trained to effectively protect people against slavery, school systems bring awareness to the issue, and consumers, including those affiliated with schools and universities, use their purchasing power to ensure slavery is not involved in the stream of commerce.

"In this day and age, it can be surprising to students, including myself, that this type of injustice still goes on," freshman Art, Design and Interactive Multimedia major, Miree Kim said after attending the event. Kim previously served as student representative from South Korea to the Students Opposing Slavery Summit in Washington D.C. in 2016, which served to unify youths from around the world to raise awareness on slavery and human trafficking.

"The problem as I see it is in raising awareness. I feel it's so important that we as students have these opportunities to understand, discuss and potentially do something to help those in trouble," Kim added.

Categories: Nation and World

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  • Elizabeth Halpin
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