By Andrew Harrison
TOMS RIVER- Residents filled the seats at the Ocean County Library recently when they came to learn more about the crimes of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Victoria Spera gave the presentation on Oct. 25, which was held in the library’s Mancini Hall.
Spera is a program specialist on human trafficking for the non-profit organization Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey.
“It is really important to have community presentations like this,” Spera said. “At the heart of prevention is community mobilization. Awareness is really key for an issue like this. Human Trafficking is such an underground and illicit industry. The more you are able to educate at a community level helps with better outcomes.”
According to Spera, in 2016, New Jersey had 193 reported human trafficking cases. In the same year, there were 596 hotline calls on human trafficking.
She said it is important to know the red flags and signs for those who may be seeing someone in this type of trouble.
“It is also important to know that it is not always appropriate to be the superhero and go try to rescue someone in a situation like human and sex trafficking. It can be dangerous for you, it can be dangerous for the youth or individual caught in that situation,” Spera said.
The Ocean County Department of Human Services sponsored the event and asked for Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey to come back to speak on this issue at the Toms River Branch of the Ocean County Library.
“I hope people took away from the presentation that they can be an essential part in the movement,” Spera said. “Human and sex trafficking is a very overwhelming thing. You can never underestimate the power of one person with knowledge. I just hope everyone knows that you can do something and that you can make a difference.”
Dusty Devlin was one of the guests in attendance at the event.
“I am interested in being a foster parent. I thought this would tie in really well. I thought that this would perhaps give me more insight into what some of these kids might be experiencing,” Devlin said.
She said she feels more informed from the presentation.
“I found the information helpful,” she said. “The segment on how we use our words and the differences in the word choices we make. Learning about the perceptions that those words can evoke has helped me.”
Terese Strada, who is an English teacher at Donovan Catholic High School, will further use the information that she received to teach her students.
“At Donovan Catholic, we do a service project in regards to human trafficking. I think being here tonight and taking away more information will help us and the project going forward. I have definitely walked away with more informed,” Strada said.
She said it was crucial to get the phone numbers and references for the county.