Bill To Fight Human Trafficking Signed Into Law

TRENTON – An omnibus human trafficking measure that broadens the definition of and penalties for human trafficking, putting New Jersey in the forefront of protecting victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking was signed into law today.

“As public officials, we have a solemn responsibility to prevent and protect citizens from the dark world of human trafficking,” said Gov. Chris Christie. “This comprehensive and bipartisan approach strengthens and expands the state’s ongoing efforts to aggressively combat this brutal practice, and also ensures that the victims of human trafficking receive the treatment they need. This bill is a big step forward toward protecting the most vulnerable members of our society, and I am proud to sign it into law.”

In New Jersey, human trafficking occurs when someone knowingly holds, entices, harbors, transports, provides or obtains by any means another person to engage in sexual activity or to provide labor or services. Human traffickers use threats of serious bodily harm, physical restraint and coercion to keep their victims captive. The “Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act,” S-2239, expands the definition of human trafficking to include actions involving abduction, fraud, deceit or other deception and abuses of power as a means of accomplishing human trafficking.

“Right here in New Jersey, men, women and children are being enslaved through means of human trafficking – put to work in the sex industry, and in such jobs as domestic servants or as farmhands,” said state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, a sponsor of the bill. “Often due to cultural and language barriers, victims of human trafficking can’t self-identify as victims of human trafficking or are too frightened to speak out, and because of that crimes continue to go underreported. This law gives advocates the tools necessary to end the enslavement of people in New Jersey.”

The law expands the penalties for the crime of human trafficking by ensuring that those who are convicted of human trafficking-related crimes are subject to a minimum fine of $25,000, which will be deposited into a newly-formed Human Trafficking Survivor’s Assistance Fund. The fund will provide assistance to victims of human trafficking and promote human trafficking awareness across the state.

Additionally the law will expand penalties as follows:

  • Establish the crime of the first degree for anyone who knowingly owns, controls, manages, supervises or otherwise keeps any premises – such as a residence, apartment, hotel, motel or other lodging establishment – where human trafficking is regularly carried on, leases a premise used for human trafficking or fails to make a reasonable effort to abate this use.
  • Make it a crime of the first degree to knowingly publish, disseminate or display any advertisement or to knowingly purchase an advertisement for a commercial sex act depicting a minor.
  • Upgrade the criminal penalty for transporting a person into New Jersey to promote the person’s engaging in prostitution and for knowingly leasing a place to be regularly used for prostitution.
  • Establish the crime of criminal recklessness for licensed owners or drivers of commercial passenger vehicles that transport human trafficking victims.
  • Increase the criminal penalties for knowingly possessing or viewing any photograph, film, videotape, computer program or file, video game or any other reproduction which depicts a child engaging in a prohibited sexual act or in the simulation of such act.

The law will also allow victims of human trafficking to seek civil damages against the perpetrators for their injuries.

The law creates a 15-member Commission on Human Trafficking comprised of state agency officials, law enforcement, prosecutors, social service providers and advocates. Among other responsibilities, the Commission would be tasked with reviewing and evaluating current law and assistance programs and making recommendations for legislation. The Commission will report their findings to the Governor and Legislature annually.

Besides the Human Trafficking Survivor’s Assistance Fund, the law includes numerous additional provisions to provide services for victims of human trafficking including a rehabilitative program to educate those convicted of engaging a prostitute on health risks, legal ramifications and the correlation between prostitution and human trafficking; a 24-hour hotline to report suspected human trafficking; and a program to train law enforcement, judges, hotel and motel owners and health care personnel on how to respond to and investigate human trafficking.

Due to the underground nature of human trafficking and the use of fear and abuse, self-reporting of human trafficking is extremely rare. The Senators note that a broad awareness campaign to inform and educate the public of the signs of human trafficking and to ease the reporting of trafficking, will be the most effective way to end sex and labor slavery within New Jersey. These advocacy efforts, paired with training programs for both governmental and nongovernmental organizations, will help to bring those perpetrating human trafficking-related crimes to justice.

A 2012 report by Polaris Project – a national nonprofit organization that works to prevent human trafficking and modern-day slavery – ranked New Jersey as a tier-two state in combating human trafficking, meaning that New Jersey has passed numerous laws to combat human trafficking and should take more steps to improve and implement its laws. Twenty-one states received a tier-one rating, the highest awarded by the Polaris Project. Now that this legislation has been signed into law, New Jersey has one of the most progressive and comprehensive anti-trafficking statutes in the country.

The Commission on Human Trafficking and the Human Trafficking Survivor’s Assistance Fund will be created immediately. All other provisions of the law will go into effect the first day of the second month following enactment – or July 1.

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