The 2014 Super Bowl, like other large events, creates new markets and opportunities for traffickers, said Assistant Attorney General Tracy Thompson. The football game will be held in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2.
“The massive crowds essentially allow pimps to go unnoticed,” Thompson said during a human trafficking symposium at State Police headquarters Tuesday.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman said the conference – which included law enforcement agencies, non-profits and other groups from around the state – was the first step in establishing a strategy and training program aimed at stopping human trafficking ahead of the Super Bowl.
Public awareness is one of the most effective methods at fighting human trafficking, he said, because it is “a crime that operates in the shadows.”
New Jersey law enforcement agencies reported 179 trafficking victims between Sept. 16, 2005, and March 1, 2012, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Officials say the state is particularly vulnerable to trafficking because of its dense population and large foreign-born population.
Traffickers “prey upon the weak and the defenseless,” Hoffman said, by taking control of a victim’s housing, immigration paperwork or other necessities. They can force their victims into sex work or other labor.
Last month, Governor Christie signed a law toughening penalties for trafficking. It imposes a $25,000 fine for anyone convicted of a crime associated with human trafficking, which can already carry lengthy prison terms.
New Jersey is also looking to states that hosted recent Super Bowls to identify anti-trafficking strategies.
At Tuesday’s symposium, Louisiana State Police Sgt. Chad Gremillion said his department spent a year preparing to fight trafficking ahead of the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. He said police were “proactive,” checking website advertisements to find potential targets.”