Maybe not.  But we’re probably close.  Because of our location, transportation network and diverse population, New Jersey, like New York City, is a hub for all kinds of human trafficking.  Just recently, The New York Times reported that eight people were indicted in Brooklyn, NY on charges that include sex trafficking or promoting prostitution of women and girls as young as 15 years of age from local schools.  A simple Google search shows that victims in a Jersey City prostitution ring were induced to use heroin and cocaine and beaten if they did not turn a daily quota of tricks. Girls as young as ten were discovered to have been trafficked from West Africa to work in hair braiding salons in Newark, only to be enslaved braiding hair for 14 hours a day.  The same Google search in any city in the country will yield similar results.

So there’s no denying the problem is real – and it is happening locally under our noses.

But what does it matter to you, me and our children?

A lot.  Victims of human trafficking can be young children, teenagers, men and women.  Even if we avert our eyes from the horrible impact on the victims of forced labor and prostitution, human trafficking also contributes directly to illegal immigration, drug sales, violence against women and children, illiteracy, and street crime.

But human trafficking is not just a civic inconvenience, it’s modern-day slavery.   Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.

It’s also a big business.  After drug dealing, the “trafficking of humans” is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and also the fastest growing.

Human trafficking is happening here under our noses.  And, even with estimates of 17,000 trafficked people arriving on our shores each year, it’s not just international victims.  Human trafficking also involves U.S. citizens, often children.  Estimates put the number of American kids under the age of 18 who are victimized through the practice of child prostitution at anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 a year.  This is not just prostitution – it’s human trafficking on a grand scale.

But there is something we can do.

In New Jersey, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 877-986-7534 if you suspect human trafficking is happening your community.  The 24-hour hotline is an initiative of the State Public Affairs Committee of the Junior Leagues of New Jersey.  NJ SPAC is a statewide, non-partisan committee made up of representatives from each of the eight Junior Leagues in New Jersey who join together to take action on select state and national public issues.  Combating human trafficking has been a priority for NJ SPAC for many years.

Talk to your local police and county prosecutors’ office.  The New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety works closely with local law enforcement throughout the state to combat human trafficking through education, collaboration and prosecution.

For more information about the problem—and what you can do about it—go to the Somaly Mam Foundation, a nonprofit charity committed to ending modern day slavery in North America and around the world. Founded by sexual slavery survivor Somaly Mam, the foundation works to eradicate human trafficking, liberate its victims, and empower survivors so they can create and sustain lives of dignity. The Somaly Mam Foundation also runs awareness and advocacy campaigns in North America and around the world that shed light on the crime of human trafficking and focus on getting the public and governments involved in the fight to abolish modern day slavery.

So there’s our choice.  Do nothing, and let the problem get worse.  Or get involved.

Contributed by guest author, Kate Lee. Kate is a member of the Junior League of the Oranges and Short Hills and the Junior Leagues of New Jersey State Public Affairs Committee.