Human trafficking at the big game
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Human trafficking at the big game

Vehicular traffic will be heavy in the Meadowlands when the big game comes to the MetLife Stadium.

For members of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, however, traffic of a much more sinister nature is the main concern, at this game and at any large sporting event.

“People go to the Super Bowl for fun, and oftentimes use the services of trafficked victims,” Melanie Roth Gorelick said. Ms. Gorelick, the director of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, is a co-founder of the coalition. “They are under the illusion that girls and women are making a choice to be in the sex industry,” she continued. “We believe once they’re informed about sex trafficking, it may take the fun out of it.”

One of coalition’s projects in the weeks before the February 2 game will be “S.O.A.P. UP New Jersey,” set for Sunday, January 26, at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey in Paramus. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., volunteers will learn how to distribute bars of soap imprinted with the Human Trafficking Hotline phone number to hotels and motels in a wide radius of the Meadowlands. The project is run by S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), a national nonprofit founded by a survivor of the sex trade.

“We’d heard it was effective at past Super Bowls, but this is the first time it is being brought to New Jersey,” Ms. Gorelick said. “We raised $13,000 to bring S.O.A.P. here and to mobilize several hundred volunteers to carry out the initiative.”

In November, the coalition ran an awareness program for motel and hotel managers, urging them to put a protocol in place so that no staff member will turn a blind eye to suspected human trafficking victims in their establishment. “It is often cleaning people who see something, and they need to know how to share that information without being at risk,” she said.

Human trafficking, a modern form of slavery affecting an estimated 27 million men, women, and children worldwide, is defined as the use of force, fraud, and/or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. In the United States, it is estimated that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked annually, and this rapidly growing criminal industry is second only to drug dealing and equal in scope to arms dealing.

New Jersey is a prime location because it is a major national and international transportation and shipping hub. At the same time, the Polaris Project, a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking, rates New Jersey Number 1 among the 50 states for its laws to combat human trafficking, punish traffickers, and support victims. For the first time in New Jersey, January has been designated as Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In 2011, President Obama declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and January 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

Why is a Jewish federation involved in this issue? Aside from the reality that Jews are among human trafficking victims, Ms. Gorelick believes Jews should be leaders in the effort to eradicate slavery.

“The first time I heard of this in the United States was when the Polaris Project opened in Newark and we gave them a grant,” she said. “We cover a large catchment area, and I am responsible for public policy issues, and this kept popping up in terms of people’s interest.

“So I started asking who was doing what, and found that nothing cohesive was going on, so I offered to bring everyone together.”

Since the coalition was formed in early 2011 with 20 partners – among them the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New Jersey, an advisory council of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ; the National Council of Jewish Women, and other faith-based and community organizations – it has grown to include 90 diverse groups.

To prepare for the Super Bowl, the coalition has teamed up with the state attorney general’s office to deter human trafficking and to educate at-risk populations and the general public.

At the urging of the community relations council, 15 synagogues in greater MetroWest agreed to sponsor an End Human Trafficking Shabbat during January.

On January 15, a Human Trafficking Awareness Day program was held at bergenPAC in Englewood. On January 21, a UJA Federation of NYC-based training for rabbis and Jewish leaders was sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

On game day, the #HT Super Bowl Challenge – a social media campaign to publicize the issue of human trafficking – will be kicked off online.

On March 28, the Greater MetroWest Federation will host a public program at its Whippany headquarters to inform people about how human trafficking affects Jewish communities in the United States and Israel, and how to advocate for change.

“Our coalition has been focusing on awareness,” Ms. Gorelick said. “We had first focused on strengthening laws, and last year helped get the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act passed. Then, to create community activism, we worked with high school and college students, and organized with our partners more than 30 local programs where we gave out a mobilization kit.”

For more information, go to www.jfedgmw.org/endhumantrafficking or http://www.njhumantrafficking.org/, or call (973) 929-3096.

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