By: Najla Alexander
NJ AG authorities announced the launch of a new public awareness campaign to combat human trafficking.
Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said the campaign seeks to increase reporting of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation crimes and to bring victims to safety.
The campaign, called S.T.A.L.L.S., or Sanctuary from Trafficking: Awareness & Linkage to Law Enforcement & Services, was unveiled today at the Trenton War Memorial in front of law enforcement, victim service providers, and community leaders, who gathered from across New Jersey to mark Human Trafficking Awareness Month, officials stated.
The 14th annual event, officials say, is centering this year around the theme of “Truths about Human Trafficking,” also marked one year since Attorney General Platkin launched a unit within the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) to focus exclusively on investigating and prosecuting these types of crimes.
“We all have a role to play in raising awareness about this issue, and we must provide an easy and visible way for victims of these horrific crimes to reach out and get help,” said Attorney General Platkin.
“My office is dedicated to not only bringing traffickers to justice, but we are just as committed to restoring dignity to these survivors and offering them resources on their path towards healing and recovery.”
The S.T.A.L.L.S. campaign posters, available in English and Spanish, will be displayed in bathroom stalls and other areas of airports, passenger rail or light rail stations, bus stations, highway rest stops, welcome centers, truck stops, and other public locations, officials said.
According to officials, the placement of the posters in bathroom stalls is meant to bring to human trafficking victims information on accessing help when they are likely alone and, at least temporarily, safe from their trafficker.
Authorities say victims will be able to obtain numbers for the New Jersey Human Trafficking Tip Line and the National Human Trafficking Hotline quickly and discretely by scanning the QR code at the bottom of the poster.
“Human trafficking happens everywhere,” said J. Stephen Ferketic, Director of the NJ Division of Criminal Justice.
“It exists in New Jersey and across the country, but by working collaboratively with our state and federal partners and by educating the community about how trafficking occurs, we can prevent future tragedies and recover victims of these heinous crimes.”
While DCJ always investigated and prosecuted human trafficking crimes, in January 2023, Attorney General Platkin established a dedicated Human Trafficking Unit within DCJ to spearhead New Jersey’s fight against this exploitation through aggressive pursuit of criminal networks that trade in people and exploit them for profit, officials stated.The unit is led by Deputy Director Theresa Hilton.
Officials say during Thursday’s event, Deputy Director Hilton gave an update on the work of the unit. In 2023, the unit connected 23 suspected victims of sex trafficking with service providers, partnered with 25 different law enforcement agencies across the state to investigate suspected trafficking, is actively prosecuting 11 human trafficking cases, and has sentenced five offenders for human trafficking-related charges.
Many of those cases began with a tip through the New Jersey Human Trafficking Hotline, 855-END-NJHT (855-363-6548), operated by the New Jersey State Police, authorities say.
Last year, the hotline received 166 calls, officials stated
Officials said all tips are screened, forwarded to DCJ, and shared with other appropriate law enforcement entities, including municipal police departments and county prosecutors’ offices.
“As a law enforcement officer, it pains me to think of a crime more horrific than human trafficking, which hides just out of sight but is visible if you know the signs,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
“The business of exploiting other humans must end, whether it is forced involuntary household labor or sexual exploitation or some other coercion for profit of another person against their will.” Also, at today’s event, the Sergeant Noelle Holl Recognition Award was presented to a law enforcement officer for going above and beyond in helping victims of human trafficking by aggressively pursuing traffickers through investigation and prosecution and raising awareness in New Jersey communities.
Officials say as a Sergeant with DCJ, Holl worked tirelessly to end human trafficking in New Jersey and received numerous awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Jersey Women in Law Enforcement before she died in 2019.
The award, which has been given annually since 2018, was presented by DCJ Director Ferketic to Detective Joshua Treusch of the Mt. Laurel Police Department for his numerous proactive investigations and dedication to earning the trust of human trafficking survivors through a victim-centered approach that enabled them to connect with services, move past their trauma, and aid in the investigation of their traffickers, officials said.