On Thursday, September 6, Passaic County CASA hosted a Volunteer In-Service Training Session with Susan Panzica from the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NJCAHT).
In addition to providing a general overview of human trafficking, or the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor or sexual exploitation, Susan discussed why this topic is of particular relevance to CASA volunteers.
She stated that globally, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 24.9 million victims of human trafficking, and that the #1 force that contributes to a rise in human trafficking is poverty. When statistics focus on the US, however, the main driving force is the breakdown of the family. Whether it is coercing individuals into forced labor or sexual exploitation, traffickers seek out people who are vulnerable and are skilled at identifying them. This includes anyone without a family or without someone who will raise an alarm if they go missing. Unfortunately this means that children in the foster care system are actively targeted for trafficking.
Other vulnerabilities include being homeless, having an intellectual or physical disability, identifying as LGBTQ, having a prior history of sexual abuse, and a history of drug addiction.
Many people perceive the human trafficking issue as a problem that only happens “elsewhere.” Statistics show that unfortunately this isn’t the case. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, New Jersey ranked as the 14th highest nationwide in human trafficking cases reported in 2017.
The reality of this problem was particularly well illustrated by a map of where calls to the National Hotline come from geographically, as well as several recent news stories of trafficking that Susan cited from the Passaic County area.
CASA Volunteers can help by remaining mindful of the fact that this is a problem in our area, and keeping an eye out for red flags in the people they encounter (see illustration below). Just being a volunteer advocate for a child in foster care is doing a large service in helping to combat this problem because it ensures that child has a caring adult watching out for him or her.
If you would like to report any suspicion of human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) is toll-free and available from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year in more than 200 languages. The National Hotline can also be accessed by emailing email@example.com or texting 233733.
Passaic County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) empowers volunteer advocates to champion the best interests of children in the foster care system. Our monthly In-Service Series features expert speakers on topics of relevance to CASA volunteers with the goal of promoting continual learning and advancing effective advocacy of children in the foster care system.