January 9, 2024

Two Youth Who Were Victims of Trafficking


January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and we want to share a story of two youth who were victims of trafficking.  According to the US Department of State, more than 20 years ago, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)  enshrined the United States’ commitment to combating human trafficking domestically and internationally.

At Covenant House New Jersey (CHNJ), we have been serving youth facing homelessness since 1989.  Over the years, our work with our youth has indicated that roughly 10% have also been victims of human trafficking.  Yes, human trafficking occurs right here in NJ to victims of all ages and all nationalities, including US citizens.

Quick Youth Indicators for Trafficking

As a result, as part of our support work at CHNJ, we have developed specialized care models for those who have been trafficked.  We are pleased to report that we are now moving the dial not only in NJ, but across North America through education and training to identify victims of human trafficking through our work at CHART.  We have developed four key questions to screen for lifetime experiences of human trafficking, called QYIT – Quick Youth Indicators for Trafficking. Over the past three years, we have presented QYIT in the training of non-profit agencies, law enforcement agencies and hospitals throughout North America to identify and better serve victims.

Our efforts in this area have also led us to be designated by the State of New Jersey as the provider of services for victims of trafficking regardless of age or housing status. In this capacity, in the past fiscal year, we served 180 victims at CHNJ.  Here is one story of our work.

Miguel and Jose* – Their Background:

Miguel and his cousin Jose worked at an out of state farm where they had experienced labor trafficking.  (Of the 180 victims we served last fiscal year, 40% experienced labor trafficking and another 9% experienced both labor trafficking and sex trafficking.)  Working with federal authorities, they were able to leave the farm, provide testimony against their traffickers and receive some immigration relief.  Through relocation to New Jersey, they fell under our jurisdiction to provide support services.  

When we met them in July 2021, they were working on a farm in Southern New Jersey, where they also lived on the property.  Our Human Trafficking Victim Specialist did a safety plan with them that included home visits.  We helped the young men open bank accounts so that they could deposit their paychecks.  To obtain driver’s licenses, we took them to the Division of Motor Vehicles. We also connected them to a legal service provider to work on immigration relief that they were eligible for as trafficking victims. 

As the farm work was seasonal, Jose left to look for farm work on the West Coast and Miguel came to live at our Newark Youth Engagement Center (YEC). The YEC houses 45 youth aged 18-21, both non-trafficked and trafficked. In addition to food and shelter, the YEC provides an array of services such as education, employment, legal and more. 

Both youth had Employment Authorization Documents, which are work permits based upon eligibility requirements via the United States Custom and Immigration Service.  Miguel was able to quickly find work in a warehouse.  Miguel worked diligently and within a few months of working there, he was made a supervisor.  Working with the YEC staff and his HTVS specialist, he continued to accomplish his short-term goals in a bid to leave the YEC as soon as practical.

Miguel – Now:

Based on these support services, along with Miguel’s terrific warehouse work performance he was promoted to a supervisor. And, we are pleased to report that since January 2023 he has been living in his own apartment.  Miguel was eligible for government funded grants that we secured for victims of human trafficking.  With these funds and with the support of our Housing Department, he was able to find an affordable apartment.   He has thrived in his new environment and because of his resiliency, hard work and determination, we are certain that he will continue to succeed.  

Our relationships with those we serve don’t end when young people move into their apartments. Our staff went to visit Miguel in his new apartment, and we continue to make sure he feels safe, connected, and has his needs met. We are proud of all that Miguel has accomplished so far.

*The story is real but the names have been changed to protect their identities.