NEW JERSEY – As crimes involving forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation continue to grow nationwide, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin Thursday announced a new unit within the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) that will focus exclusively on investigating and prosecuting these types of human trafficking crimes in New Jersey.
The newly established Human Trafficking Unit will spearhead New Jersey’s fight against human trafficking through aggressive pursuit of criminal networks that trade in people and exploit them for profit.
“Human Trafficking is a despicable crime that exploits the most vulnerable members of society, subjecting them to unspeakable emotional, physical, and psychological trauma. Today we are sending a message to those engaged in these heinous acts: your days are numbered,” Platkin said. “Our newly created Human Trafficking Unit has but one mandate, to identify and dismantle human trafficking networks operating in New Jersey and bring justice for those they’ve harmed.”
Attorney General Platkin announced the new unit during his remarks at DCJ’s 13th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Event at the Trenton War Memorial today. The day-long event, held each year during January’s National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, brings together members of law enforcement, community partners, advocacy groups, and survivors of human trafficking to educate and raise awareness of this global health issue and collaborate on ways to end it.
“Victims of human trafficking are subjected to the most reprehensible physical and emotional abuse that results in psychological scars that last a lifetime,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The creation of the Human Trafficking Unit allows us to partner with the Division of Criminal Justice and shows our dedication to utilize every resource at our disposal to bring these criminals to justice. We remain committed to working with our partners to aggressively target these offenders, but we remind everyone to remain vigilant and report these heinous crimes to law enforcement.”
DCJ Director Pearl Minato said the creation of the Human Trafficking Unit is a game changer.
“I want to thank Attorney General Platkin for prioritizing our mission to end modern day slavery in New Jersey by providing DCJ with the resources needed to tackle the problem of human trafficking head on,” said Director Minato. “This team of seasoned litigators and investigators, under the leadership of Deputy Director Theresa Hilton, will be capable of pursuing complex trafficking networks across jurisdictional boundaries and bring charges that result in significant prison sentences.”
Deputy Director Theresa Hilton, a veteran litigator with extensive experience prosecuting sex assault crimes, was brought on by the Attorney General in September to oversee sexual and domestic violence prevention policy and criminal enforcement work – a role General Platkin created within the Division of Criminal Justice. In that role she will also now lead the new unit. Prior to joining DCJ, Hilton led the domestic violence unit at the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, where she revamped policies to remove artificial barriers to justice, including those that unfairly placed the weight of prosecutions on the shoulders of victims.
“I am honored and humbled for the opportunity to lead the Human Trafficking Unit in spearheading statewide efforts to identify criminal trafficking rings, hold perpetrators accountable, and empower survivors with tools for recovery,” said Deputy Director Hilton. “I look forward to working with all levels of law enforcement, government and community stakeholders, and trafficking survivors to bring an end to the scourge of human trafficking in our state.”
Every year, millions of men, women, and children in the world, including in the U.S., are bought and sold for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation. Human Trafficking is a crime whose victims are often hidden in plain sight and signs of human trafficking often go unnoticed because the relationship between trafficker and victim masquerades as consensual romantic or familial relationships or as legitimate employment relationships. Often times, human trafficking victims have been so coerced or traumatized they don’t view themselves as victims at all. For these reasons, it’s difficult to estimate the extent to which the problem exists in New Jersey. However, the FBI considers New Jersey to be a “hub” for this type of activity, in part because the state is positioned between several major metropolitan areas including New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
The Attorney General, DCJ, and NJSP work collaboratively to combat human trafficking through education, collaboration, and prosecution. Those efforts include: training and assisting federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to identify the signs of trafficking and its victims; coordinating statewide efforts to identify and provide services to victims; investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases; and raising public awareness through public outreach and educational materials.
NJSP administers a NJ Human Trafficking Hotline to identify and intervene in human trafficking cases. Last year, the hot line received 97 tips on suspected human trafficking. All tips are screened and forwarded to DCJ or other appropriate law enforcement entities, including municipal police departments and county prosecutors’ offices.
To better understand and address the problem of human trafficking in New Jersey, the Attorney General and DCJ convened the New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force (NJHTTF) in 2005. Comprised of state and federal law enforcement agencies, state regulatory departments, advocacy groups, and social service providers, the NJHTTF shares intelligence and insight into where and how traffickers target victims in New Jersey. That information is used to coordinate and drive investigations, law enforcement training, and victim outreach and public awareness efforts.
Since January 2018, approximately two dozen human trafficking cases in New Jersey have been prosecuted by county prosecutors’ offices and the Division of Criminal Justice. The new Human Trafficking Unit was created to enhance and expand New Jersey’s efforts to end human trafficking by assembling a select group of professionals within DCJ who are uniquely qualified and experienced investigate and prosecute these crimes.