Are you a victim of human trafficking?
Human trafficking is a worldwide crime against humanity with an increasing impact. After the drug trade, it is considered the second most lucrative crime. Despite widespread misconceptions, human trafficking is occurring at high rates not only in the United States, but right here in New Jersey. Human trafficking is the illegal trade or use of a person against their will through the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit individuals for labor or sex.
Although individuals are exploited at an alarming rate, victims rarely self-identify. There may be several reasons why. There could be a general lack of awareness of about human trafficking or understanding of a healthy relationship. Also, exploitation is commonly experienced with guilt and shame because the victim has to live with the memories of the abuse. Due to the trauma, a victim may cope through addictive behaviors, which may also prevent her/him from stabilizing and finding assistance. Certain factors make some groups more vulnerable than others and may increase their risk of victimization. For example, individuals of color, and those who identify as LGBTQIA+ are victimized at higher rates than their peers. Other “vulnerability factors” are poverty, intellectual disability, and a history of childhood sexual abuse. Traffickers seek out these identifiers in their targeted victims. Traffickers can be skilled in manipulation and have honed their exploitative behaviors over years. Exploited individuals are often targeted for their positive attributes such as a trusting nature and an openness to strangers.
How do I know if what’s happening is really trafficking?
There are many red flags that suggest someone is a victim of trafficking. (See the chart below). If you feel you may be in a trafficking situation, consider asking yourself the following questions:
If you said yes to any of these questions, you may want to seek help from providers in your area.
Involved in controlling relationship
Feel pressured to stay at the job
May dress inappropriately for the weather
Is not in control of personal documents
Frequently travels without explanation
Not being paid what was promised
Presents with unexplained injuries
Owe a debt to the employer
History of pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted illnesses
Lives in same location of work, or is transported by employer
Does not appear free to make decisions
Is working in isolating conditions
Fearful of law enforcement
Not performing the same work that was promised
How do I get help?
In New Jersey, there are many advocates, case managers, lawyers, and survivors working to end trafficking and help survivors.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline
Hotline workers are trained to assist during a crisis and can direct the callers to law enforcement, legal assistance, and case management organizations. They can be reached by calling 1-888-373-7888 or by texting BEFREE (233733).
In New Jersey, you can also connect to these local resources directly.
How do I report human trafficking?
For a self-identified victim of human trafficking, another option for assistance could be through law enforcement. Depending on your comfort level with law enforcement, there are three options:
Coping with trauma
Many survivors struggle to overcome the invisible wound of trauma. Trauma is caused by exposure to an extremely distressing or disturbing experience. Symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, hyperarousal, disruption in memory function, depression, and anxiety. Often, a survivor of a traumatic event is diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To meet the diagnostic criteria, a person would have to experience specific symptoms that negatively impact their life over a specific period of time. Once diagnosed, a survivor can begin the journey to emotional stability and safety through therapy.
Unfortunately, what many survivors of human trafficking are left with is a more complicated version of PTSD, termed complex PTSD. Complex trauma results from a layering of traumatic events in quick succession. Layering entangles the memories and makes it more difficult to clearly recall them, which leads to barriers in treatment.
Repeated, lengthened exposure to traumatic events can cause the brain to adapt. Such change often minimizes the area for long-term thinking and reasoning, and increases the area for instinctive survival responses. This results in behavioral red flags interpreted as impulsivity, paranoia, a quick temper, and general personality changes.
If you can relate to some of these symptoms and responses to trauma, you may want to review the self-assessment questions below:
If you answered yes to multiple questions above, you may be experiencing trauma responses. These physical and behavioral changes are completely normal and expected from a person’s body to protect their functioning. It is recommended that you contact a therapist for an assessment, or one of the service providers who specialize in human trafficking.
What if I need legal help?
One final pathway for assistance in New Jersey, could be contacting an attorney to assess options. If you have criminal charges pending, you should contact the nearest Office of the Public Defender. For all other legal needs, call Legal Services of New Jersey PROTECT at 1-844-LSNJ-PROTECT (1-844-576-5776). PROTECT was launched in March 2020 to provide holistic legal and social services to victims of human trafficking. PROTECT has several attorneys to address the ongoing legal needs, and an in-house social worker to provide support and referrals to assist in stabilization.
It takes a lot of strength and resiliency to make a call to one of these agencies. However, there is a lot of support out there, if you just know how to access it.
This information last reviewed: Jan 26, 2024