N.J. considers strengthening penalties for human trafficking

A bill that would crack down on human trafficking is under consideration by New Jersey lawmakers.

The measure would expand a law passed in 2005 by criminalizing additional activities, increasing protections for victims, requiring training for law enforcement, and raising public awareness.

Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle says victims of human trafficking are often children and women who are exploited for years and coerced into prostitution, forced labor, and drug activity.

“When they finally have a chance to regain their freedom they are prosecuted for the crimes that they were forced to commit while the real perpetrators remain untouched,” said Huttle, D-Bergen. “So for many victims, there really is no hope. Hopefully, we can change that by passing this legislation.”

Ingrid Johnson of Newark told an Assembly committee Tuesday that her daughter was victimized by human traffickers for two years.

After she ran away from home as a teenager, the girl was coerced into prostitution, Johnson said.

“The passage of the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act will bring hope to the homeless and send a message to New Jersey’s victims of human trafficking that freedom, true freedom, is in the air,” she said. “Help in the name of victims’ services and treatment that will lead them to a brighter future is on the way.”

The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee voted to advance the measure. The two Republicans on the panel abstained because of constitutional concerns.

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