Lanning spoke before an audience of about 30 members of the clergy, most if not all from Hudson County, at St. Henry's Parish Center as part of a workshop designed to teach local groups about trafficking, how to recognize it and how to help its victims.
The workshop, held on Dec. 16, was collaboration between the Archdiocese of Newark and the New Jersey Statewide Anti-Trafficking Initiative.
Northern New Jersey - particularly Hudson County - is a potential hotbed of trafficking, Lanning said, because of the large immigrant population.
The federal government, which put resources behind anti-trafficking laws earlier this year, defines trafficking as "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons" by means of threat or coercion, abduction, fraud for the control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. This could include forcing people into prostitution, servitude or even for the removal of vital organs for sale.
In November, the U.S. Justice Department put up more than $7 million to help communities uncover and stop human trafficking in the United States for the purpose of identifying and rescuing the victims. Task forces were established around the nation as part of the FBI's Operation Innocence Lost - which the FBI started two years ago to stop child victims of interstate sex trafficking.
According to FBI statistics, an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are brought across international borders each year to become virtual slaves. These same statistics claim nearly 18,000 come into the United States each year - a figure Lanning said is probably far too low - and many of these victims may be found in Hudson County.
Victims of trafficking can come from any country, although many come from Eastern Europe - especially women and girls - who may be attracted to prospects of well-paid jobs as a domestic servant, waitress or factory worker, only to learn later they have been duped. Although Lanning said she first became aware of the problem when she met a woman kidnap victim at a conference in Europe, most victims entered into some kind of agreement with the traffickers, and are betrayed by the traffickers later.
Many arrive in the United States where they are held in captivity and exploited to earn revenues for the traffickers through work or prostitution. Many are physically confined. Their identity papers are taken from them and the traffickers often threaten them with violence or threaten to do harm to the family members back in the country or origin. Even when allowed to go out to work - such as men working illegally at construction sites - the victims live in fear of local authorities because the traffickers claim the victims will be arrested or worse if discovered.
Lanning said one young boy was convinced local police would shoot him if they discovered he was in the United State illegally.
Last July, the Department of Justice hosted a national training conference in Tampa Florida designed to help combat human trafficking. As a result, Rev. John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark, issued a statement in August, encouraging the churches to take part in the initiative to help find and rescue victims.
"Evil is always with us in one form or another," he said in this statement. "As human being, as people of faith, it is our responsibility to ease suffering, to help those hurt by wrongdoers, to act at every opportunity to build a more just society."
The Dec. 16 workshop in Bayonne was designed to help spread to word, getting churches and their congregations involved in the process.
The Jersey City-based International Institute of New Jersey helped develop step by step protocol for helping the victims of trafficking. Lanning said the federal program provides help to victims, but with a catch. Adult victims must cooperate with law enforcement efforts to catch the traffickers in order to qualify for a temporary visa and other benefits.
This is not smuggling
Lanning made a distinction between smuggling people into a country and trafficking.
"With smuggling, the relationship between the person and the person doing the smuggling ends with the border crossing, with the trafficker, the relationship begins at the border and continues," she said.
While smuggling people across borders is illegal, it is usually done for a fee and with the consent of the person being smuggled. Trafficking can begin as a smuggling operation, but ends with the person becoming a victim.
Lanning also noted that anyone can be a victim of trafficking: man, woman or child. Victims are not always poor and uneducated. One woman Lanning met had been a nurse in Russia kidnapped during a vacation and forced into sexual labor in another country.
"Most victims are not kidnapped," she said. "Most of the victims have had some agreement with the trafficker and the trafficker did not live up to their part of the agreement."
Many times, traffickers or people to whom the traffickers bring the victims, use the victims for labor and this includes domestic service, factory or farm labor, construction, hotel or motel work even begging. At times, these exploited victims work side by side with other workers, and bring home their pay check to the traffickers. Nail salons and other such institutions are frequent places where victims are employed.
Victims are frequently accompanied by someone who seems controlling, often speaking for the person and sometimes the victims seems afraid, submissive or shows signs of physical abuse.
Often it is difficult to get victims to report their captors, partly because mistrust of the new place, language barriers, even may feel loyalty to the trafficker.
Even when a victim is willing to cooperate, he or she faces many needs such as a place to live, food, medical treatment, protection and often needs translating, counseling services, and potential for income, not to mention legal status such as a temporary visa.
"The first thing most victims of traffickers ask about is getting a job," she said. "Most want to work."
For more information about the anti-trafficking initiative contact Lanning at 201-653-3888 ext 139 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.