AG: Human Trafficking A Priority [AUDIO]
Cracking down on gang violence and public corruption are two priorities for State Attorney General Jeff Chiesa. Human trafficking is another and he warns that it is happening right here in New Jersey.
"The myth being that it's only from other countries," says Chiesa. "It's absolutely not. Those cases are going on for our own citizens here in addition to the people that are brought in from other countries……..If we're not taking as look at those cases and making sure that they're a priority that stuff will go on forever because these people (traffickers) make money doing it."
A Human Trafficking Awareness Day was held at the State House last month. There were videos, songs and speeches. Clearly the most moving segment of the program occurred after Chiesa introduced Holly Austin Smith, a native of South Jersey. Holly is a human trafficking survivor.
Holly was born in Mount Holly and grew up in the Pine Barrens. Although she now lives in Richmond, Virginia Holly says, "I think I'll always be a Jersey girl."
Recently, Holly came across a writing assignment from elementary school. She was asked to answer a series of questions about herself. She described herself at the time as having long blond hair, blue eyes and freckles. She hated peanuts, peas and orange juice with pulp. She wanted to have dinner with Punky Brewster. Holly loved to watch TV and play. She loved chocolate ice cream and her grandparents. She wanted to be an archeologist. The very young Holly wanted to be rich and she wanted her cat 'Bigfoot' to have kittens. That's all typically adorable little girl stuff, but Holly's life changed dramatically not long after completing that assignment.
"I wanted to be an archeologist like Indiana Jones," said Holly yesterday. "I also wanted to be a gymnast like Mary Lou Retton and a comedian like Joan Rivers, but never did I ask to be a prostitute. Never had I asked to be raped and manipulated by a man 17 years older than me until I no longer knew who I was or what I wanted to be, but that's what happened."
In the summer of 1992 Holly was 14-years-old. She had just finished 8th grade. Holly was confused, afraid of the prospect of high school and the possibility of losing her friends. That's when she met a man at a mall.
"I wanted someone to listen to me," explains Holly. "I wanted someone to understand. He did. He listened to me….He said I was too mature for high school. I just needed to run away. He could get me a license and a job in Hollywood acting with Julia Roberts."
Just 36 hours after running away with the man, Holly was arrested for prostitution on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City. 6 days after that she was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for an attempted suicide. One month after that Holly was arrested again on the same street in Atlantic City.
The story ends well for Holly. She eventually escaped. She graduated from Richard Stockton College in New Jersey in 2000. Now in her early 30s, Holly lives in Virginia and has achieved her dream of becoming a biologist. She plans to write a memoir about her ordeal.
Holly is warning anyone who has kids or even knows kids to be aware that human trafficking is happening. She explains, "Traffickers prey on all children, all the boys and girls at the mall, at the movies or on the streets as runaways. All of those kids are up for grabs to sexual predators."
In honor of national "Human Trafficking Awareness Day," Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle announced plans to introduce a measure in the legislature that would declare January 11 of every year as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in New Jersey to help highlight the issue at home.
"The sad reality is that human trafficking flourishes in the shadows, overlooked by most of us because we're so accustomed to our government-protected freedom," says Vainieri Huttle. "But throughout the world there are millions who are forced into modern slavery, under deplorable circumstances, and many of them are predominantly women and children. It's time we start raising our consciousness and doing all we can to fight the proliferation of this practice."