In Washington and Whippany, coalition combats sex trafficking

In Washington and Whippany, coalition combats sex trafficking

Local Jewish activists helped wage a two-pronged assault on human trafficking, attending a conference held by the Obama administration and planning an educational campaign about sex trafficking associated with the Super Bowl.

The New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking has been gearing up for next February’s game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, citing studies that show an increase in prostitution and sexual exploitation surrounding the sporting event.

On Sept. 16, coalition organizer Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, was in Washington, DC, to attend a national one-day conference on human trafficking convened by the Obama administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

That same day, some 190 coalition volunteers met on the Aidekman campus in Whippany to discuss how to enlist hotel employees in the fight against sex trafficking surrounding the game.

Gorelick was one of more than 100 leaders of religious and nonprofit groups who gathered at the Old Executive Office Building to discuss ways to eradicate what the administration calls “modern-day slavery.”

“We were brought together to discuss how we share resources and activities to create more leverage and more of a movement to end human trafficking, rather than just have individual organizations doing their own thing,” she told NJ Jewish News.

The national effort, she said, will focus on “how to end the demand and raise awareness so we can stop it, like we ended slavery. People are literally talking about human trafficking as ‘21st-century slavery,’ and stopping it can only come from a national movement.”

Gorelick said she returned home with a sense that “New Jersey is a leader in coalition work. We should be proud, and we look forward to being on the ground floor of creating a national movement,” she said.

In Whippany, the coalition volunteers learned how to approach managers and workers at some 600 hotels in New York and New Jersey. Small teams were chosen to study tactics and talking points before each was assigned to contact five hotels.

“We are asking hotel managers to set protocols for their establishments and attend a training meeting on human trafficking,” Gorelick said.

On Oct. 15, the coalition will take part in Project Stay Gold — an anti-trafficking program created by students at Jefferson Township High School. The students are holding a summit called “Not On Our Turf: Students For a Traffic-Free Super Bowl.”

In late January, the coalition will launch what it calls the S.O.A.P Project, an awareness campaign financed by a $13,000 grant from the Community Foundation of New Jersey. The plan is to place small bars of soap in hotel bathrooms with wrappers imprinted with the phone number of an anti-trafficking hotline.

“We will tell hotel managers, ‘We are concerned about exploited and missing children’ and ask for permission to place bars of soap in their bathrooms,” Gorelick said.

The coalition is also planning to spread its message to college campuses on Jan. 11, Human Trafficking Awareness Day. “We want to make people understand that not all women in the sex industry choose to be in the industry,” she said, adding that efforts will focus not only on sex traffic, but on labor trafficking as well.

Gorelick said she is seeking broader support in the state’s Jewish community.

“I feel very strongly about this because I think the Jewish community can be a leader in fighting modern-day slavery,” she said. “When you know that people are being held as slaves in your own community you can do all you can to reach out and do whatever you can to help them.”

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