Here’s What You Can Do to Protect At-Risk Youth From Sex Trafficking
This is a guest post from Janette Scrozzo, Development Director at Covenant House
My name is Janette Scrozzo. I work at Covenant House New Jersey serving homeless and at-risk New Jersey youth, and I am a member of the New Jersey Task Force to combat Human Trafficking. I am also the mother of two beautiful girls.
As a mom who lost her own mother as a child, I have found my vocation at Covenant House. I believe strongly in our mission to take in any kid who comes to our doors— feeding them, clothing them and giving them a safe place to live. But nothing prepared me for meeting the girls who had been victims of human trafficking. Their stories shocked me. They were hard to comprehend. Thoughts of these girls kept me up nights, and I began looking at my own girls in a different way. This part of my work has been excruciating.
Jessica was like many of the young women who come to us with a history of parental neglect, abuse and instability. She came to live at one of our Crisis Centers and relayed her story after we had earned her trust.
She ran away for the last time at 15-years-old and ended up in New York City. While traveling on the subway, she met a man who was later to become her pimp. He told her she was pretty, bought her food and clothing, and eventually gained her trust.
But that trust soon led to horror. Jessica went to an apartment and was immediately forced into submission. She was told to sell her body for an expected quota of $2,000/night, and she was beaten if she did not reach this quota.
She was trafficked to various places (Boston, Missouri, Chicago, Atlantic City and others) and stayed for about a week at a time with other victims until they saturated the area. Her “johns” were typically middle-aged white men.
Jessica was too frightened to escape; one girl who tried to escape was beaten, and the other girls never saw her again. Then Jessica became pregnant, but she was still forced to sell her body.
Finally, while Jessica’s pimp was passed out from crack cocaine use, she found his keys and let herself out of the apartment. She left New York and went to Atlantic City.
Our staff reached out to another human trafficking victim and mother who are part of Newark Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and they talked to Jessica. Law Enforcement was called and the NJ State Police and Division of Criminal Justice Office met with Jessica within 12 hours.
Jessica was connected with mental health counseling, pre-natal care and access to public benefits with the assistance of CH and Safe House. Jessica then met with FBI agents.
I wish there were no other stories like Jessica’s, but there are thousands. We must continue our fight to be the voice for the voiceless. Human trafficking robs our children of their most basic human rights and dignity. We must implement policies and pass laws that will stop trafficking before it begins – before young women like Jessica find themselves on the street, hopeless, terrified and damaged beyond repair.
It helps my heart rest knowing that, wherever Jessica is today, she knows that there are people all across America who are fighting to bring human trafficking to an end, and fighting to rescue young women just like her still out there.
Please visit Not a Game to learn more about sex trafficking in the U.S. and what you can do to help.
Covenant House rescues homeless kids from a life on the streets, many of whom are victims of sex trafficking. Since 1972, Covenant House has reached more than one million young people and provided them with the life-saving care they so desperately need.
Photo Credit: Covenant House