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Bridgewater-Based Program Helping Victims of Sex Trafficking

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BRIDGEWATER, NJ - January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month, and Street Smart, launched in 1998 at the Somerset Home for Temporarily Displaced Children headquarters in Bridgewater, is working to make the streets safer for teenagers.

According to a release from the organization, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that in 2013, one in seven runaways reported were likely sex trafficking victims, or sold into slavery.

Street Smart works to help combat human trafficking and protect youth.

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The team’s outreach workers canvas popular teen hangouts, and work with local schools, houses of worship and police departments to identify teens that might be living on the streets or other unsafe environments. According to the release, workers provide food, clothing, blankets, easy access to shelter, crisis intervention counseling, transportation to services, referrals to health care, HIV/AIDS, rape crisis information, substance abuse education and help finding jobs.

According to the release, “Amanda” was an 18-year-old who had been having sex for money, food and clothing since was 12 years old, and had been exploited by an abusive boyfriend.

Street Smart outreach workers worked with community organizations and secured housing for her where she received basic needs, case management, individual therapy and group counseling. Eventually, the release said, she was able to get back on her feet, and she is able to stay in contact with Street Smart when she is in need of assistance.

“As research has shown, many runaway and homeless youth like ‘Amanda’ trade sex for basic necessities in order to survive,” said Tayeesha Ruff, Street Smart’s outreach supervisor, in the release. “Our outreach workers are able to build trust with youth over time and provide them with the help and support they need. While they may not take advantage of our services initially, they know the help is available. In 2014, we were able to serve over 600 clients. It’s rewarding to know we are impacting lives and playing a role in combatting human trafficking.”

The Street Smart program was awarded federal and state grants in 2013 to establish satellite offices in East Orange, Hackensack and Morristown to assist homeless youth in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Morris, Somerset and Union counties.

For more information, visit somersethome.org, or call executive director David Walker at 908-526-6605, ext. 304 or swalker@somersethome.org.

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