Law-enforcement officials say human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that is occurring in New Jersey.
A survivor described her ordeal at a conference at the Statehouse Wednesday.
Former Mount Holly resident Holly Austin Smith said she was angry and confused when she was 14 years old and ran away from home with an older man she met at the mall.
“He understood that I wanted to travel. He understood why I hated school. He understood so much that he wanted to help me make it on my own,” Smith said. “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.”
Instead, Smith was forced into prostitution in Atlantic City. She eventually managed to get away and is now a biologist in Virginia.
Some victims are lured into the country with promises of a job, only to be forced into servitude doing domestic or factory work, said deputy Attorney General Asha Vaghela. Others, such as Smith, are pushed into prostitution.
“They are either physically forced to do it with physical violence, threats of violence to themselves or their family members,” Vaghela said. “They’re told that, if they don’t do it, they will get in trouble with the law because they’re engaging in criminal activity themselves.”
Vaghela says it’s difficult to detect and prosecute human trafficking because victims are fearful of cooperating with authorities.
The key, she said, is to have a network of social-service support groups in place to help victims get to a safe place.