SOMERVILLE, NJ –​Bored with life, sick of their hometown, the three young runaways headed to New York City, emboldened by the movie “Pretty Woman” knowing that should they become desperate for cash, they could prostitute themselves.

A fourth teenager who had decided against going along stayed home and shared the girls’ plan with families and friends.

What the girls hadn’t anticipated were the two most notorious traffickers in New York City shadowing their movements as they left Grand Central Station; fortunately, their rescuers, alerted by family and friends, were there to stop their flight and return them home before they were engaged by the criminals.

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Sometimes, as in the situation with the three runaways, young people manage to avoid the stalking traffickers, but the number of those who do not fare as well are very high, with an estimated 100,000-300,000-plus victims of trafficking in the United States alone, according to Love True, an organization dedicated to providing support for victims of trafficking as well as their families

Love True, a non-profit organization based in Bridgewater, hosted a professional training session on Friday at the Somerset County Human Services Building on Warren Street.

Sponsored by the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the county Youth Services Commission, the three-hour session focused on the warning signs of sex trafficking, the situations in which trafficking aare most likely to occur, appropriate responses to trauma caused by trafficking, and more.

 Emily Rutt, Love True’s associate director, moderated the opening session followed by Alec Shover, the Prevention Education director for True Love.

Rutt explored how and why individuals end up becoming victims of trafficking, introducing the concept of Abraham Maslow’s pyramid, a diagram that displays the layers of the human nature. On the bottom level sits basic needs such as food, water, and shelter, while the top contains a category entitled “Self-actualization” with things like morality, purpose, creativity, and inner potential.

 Rutt explained how traffickers will identify an area on the pyramid in which a victim is lacking, and exploit such vulnerabilities for their own gain. As a result, many victims of trafficking find themselves in their situation through a boyfriend/girlfriend, a friend, and peer pressure.

Rebecca Brender, a young woman who was forced into the business by a man she had dated for six months, was drawn by the love he showed for her and for her daughter, as well as the financial security he provided.

But the relationship had a decided downside, leading to seven arrests for prostitution, as well as multiple threats against her daughter if she did not comply with his orders – there were days when she was forced into having sex up to 15 times.

Brender had suffered abuse with a person she had grown to trust, and came out of it mired in poverty and with a criminal record.

Rutt said 71 percent of victims say they were recruited by someone they knew. In many cases, these people don’t even realize they are being trafficked, and require help recognizing that they had been manipulated.

There is a bill pending in the state Assembly that would overturn the convictions of prostitutes who can demonstrate they were victims of trafficking, according to Rutt.

 Rutt saId that many participate in trafficking because they feel that it is necessary for survival.

 “What youth chooses to sell themselves for sex?” she asked. “I don’t believe we were supposed to ever be sold by another person.”

 Shover focused on the trauma and negative effects on the victim, alluding to the Stockholm Syndrome, a condition that causes sufferers to sympathize with their abusers, often exhibiting positive feelings or a strong emotional attachment to them.

 He also played a video that detailed the long term effects of trauma and how the amygdala, the section of the brain that creates the “fight, flight, or freeze” response, may be triggered by certain objects/environments, and how it can cause victims to not be able to recall certain events as a result of their neurotic response.

 “I never stop to think that the person in front of me or behind me can be a victim of sex trafficking,” said Cristina C. Curto as she left the conference.

Rev. Timothy J. Wolf, pastor of the New Horizon Christian Fellowship in Hillsborough, said “any young person is vulnerable-and so I think it’s important not that parents haunt their children, but know where they are and what they’re doing.”

Love True’s goal is to continue to make others aware of the facts through professional workshops, as well as other presentations tailored specifically towards youth. With continued education on the growing phenomenon and increased awareness of the issue, more victims may be able to find their way back home-and many more cases of trafficking could be prevented in the future.

Further information is available by e-mail, or by phone, (732) 649-8783