Human trafficking is a big, yet often overlooked problem throughout the country.

New Jersey officials are stepping up efforts to crack down on this crime that's happening right in our own neighborhoods.

Attorney General Jeff Chiesa issued a new statewide law enforcement directive to increase investigations and prosecutions of sex- and labor-related human trafficking crimes in New Jersey, identify and rescue human trafficking victims, provide comprehensive services to victims, and train police to recognize telltale indicators of human trafficking when investigating other offenses.

Cheisa also announced the formation of a Human Trafficking Unit within the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, adding a lieutenant, a sergeant and a detective to work with the deputy attorney general and detective already assigned to those crimes.

"We need to be on the lookout for this, we need to check out situations where it doesn't make sense that young people are engaging in this kind of behavior without being coerced by someone for profit."

The Human Trafficking Unit will increase the capability of the Division of Criminal Justice to perform proactive, long-term sex and labor trafficking investigations in coordination with local, county, state and federal partners. It will also lead efforts to train law enforcement, monitor such cases, and provide services to victims of human trafficking.

"As a federal prosecutor, I oversaw cases of human trafficking and learned firsthand why it is called modern-day slavery," said Attorney General Chiesa. "Human traffickers take those who are most vulnerable - whether because of their youth, immigration status, or lack of a network of family or community support - and steal their freedom, subjecting them to forced prostitution or labor. These victims of exploitation, degradation and torture are often hidden in the unlighted corners of our society. We intend to find them, help them and prosecute those responsible for enslaving them."

New Jersey is a prime location for domestic and international human trafficking because of its central location between the New York metropolitan area and the tri-state metropolitan region of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. It is the most densely populated state in the U.S. and has the third highest proportion of foreign born residents at nearly 20 percent.

In addition to the high immigrant population in the dense northeast quadrant of the state, there are many migrant farm workers in other areas, including over 300 migrant labor camps and an average of 32,000 migrant farm laborers and family members who come to New Jersey annually to work.

"We had a case that we successfully prosecuted last year where there was a group of young girls lured here from Africa, their parents were told they were coming here to get an education and they were forced to work in a hair salon for no money and were not given an education" said Chiesa.

From 2007 to 2011, 533 children from New Jersey were reported missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, including 34 children who were suspected or confirmed to be involved in prostitution.

The FBI believes that pimps in northern New Jersey traffic child victims into New York and other cities for prostitution, and the Atlantic City area is targeted by criminals who exploit children because of the many visitors to the casino resorts.

Statistics kept by the Division of Criminal Justice indicate 179 reported human trafficking victims from Sept. 16, 2005 to March 1, 2012, including 93 victims of labor trafficking, 60 of sex trafficking, and 26 of both labor and sex trafficking.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Call Data Breakdown, New Jersey had nearly 500 human trafficking hotline calls in the past two years, the eighth highest number among the states.

"The creation of a Human Trafficking Unit with increased staffing within the Division of Criminal Justice reflects our commitment to aggressively investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes, whether they involve prostitution, forced labor, or both," said Stephen Taylor, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice. "We're determined to increase interdiction of human trafficking and rescue more of its victims."