By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Sold for sex and forced to work as a prostitute.
That’s what police say happened to a 26-year-old woman brought from South Carolina to New Jersey.
It’s called human trafficking and authorities in New Jersey are cracking down on the crime they say happens more often than you’d think.
On March 25th, authorities received a 911 call from a woman who claimed she was being held captive at the Fairfield Inn in Deptford Township and forced to perform sexual acts for money with numerous men every day for a week.
The woman told authorities the man who she only knew as “Lotto” would beat her if she did not comply. She managed to call 911 because “Lotto” had left the room.
The woman is believed to have been brought from South Carolina with other women and sold into prostitution.
Robert Murray of Voorhees, N.J. is the man believed to be “Lotto.” Murray has been charged with human trafficking, promoting prostitution and assault.
The CBS3 I-Team tracked down Murray who is currently out on bail, and found he doesn’t exactly fit the bill of a pimp.
The 40-year-old lives in a wealthy Voorhees neighborhood where a Jaguar and Escalade sit in the driveway. His lawyer, Robert Wolf, says Murray is married with an 11-year-old daughter and has coached little league baseball.
“You know it shocks the conscience,” said Joe Caruso, a neighbor and family friend. “I just don’t believe that he would do something like that.”
“The people we deal with you’d be very surprised are involved with something like this,” said Stacie Lick, Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office.
Lick is the lead detective on the Murray case and the state’s human trafficking liaison and says human trafficking is a growing problem for New Jersey.
“I think there’s a lot of it going on right under our noses and I think we don’t even see it.”
In 2013 calls from New Jersey to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline nearly doubled. NHTRC is operated by Polaris Project and partially funded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Last year the FBI conducted its largest ever nationwide human trafficking sweep. Atlantic City was one of 76 cities raided by authorities. The FBI made 70 arrests across New Jersey.
Experts say human traffickers are master manipulators who lure in vulnerable women who are often from other states and countries with the promise of legitimate work.
“But then once (the victims) get there and once they start working for this person (the victims) realize it is not what they were told initially. They are forced to do things that they don’t want to do,” says Lick.
When asked how a woman can potentially be held against her will in a hotel room Lick said often times traffickers play mental games with their victims and the threat of violence keeps the victims from escaping.
“There is a misconception in human trafficking when you say that women are held against their will that they’re chained somewhere, they’re tied up somewhere, that’s not the case.”
Danielle Douglas knows that first hand. She was forced to have sex with strangers for money for two years before she finally escaped.
During a previous interview, Douglas told WCBS that she thought she was attending a party but it turned out to be a set up and she was sold into prostitution.
“He came into the alley, beat me severely and threatened my life and told me if I didn’t get in a car and start making him money, that he would kill me. So that’s exactly what I did,” Douglas told WCBS.
Douglas is featured in a new documentary on sex trafficking in America called Tricked.
Directors Jane Wells and John-Keith Wasson follow pimps, johns, survivors, parents, social workers and law enforcement agents to create a comprehensive portrait of the sex trade today.
Human trafficking is commonly referred to as “modern day slavery” and it has become big business, fueled by online advertisements and the “Johns.”
New Jersey has become a hot spot for human trafficking.
“It’s a tremendously heinous crime,” said New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman who has made cracking down on the crime a top priority for law enforcement state wide.
Hoffman says New Jersey is an attractive base for traffickers for a number of reasons including the state’s dense population, proximity to several large cities and its high concentration of homeless and foreign born residents.
“Some of the victims of human trafficking are individuals that are brought in from abroad who don’t have the education or the language or the social services network to protect them,” Hoffman said.
To combat the crime, the state strengthened its human trafficking laws in New Jersey. The changes make it easier for law enforcement to find and prosecute suspected traffickers.
Hoffman pointed to other efforts his office has made including the establishment of a human trafficking prosecution unit and a human trafficking task force which has coordinated with the New Jersey Bar Association to provide services for victims thanks to a recent $350,000 grant.
When CBS3 asked Murray about the allegations he did not comment and drove off.
In court, Murray’s attorney said he has obtained “certain facts” that contradict the allegations. The I-Team reached out to Wolf to ask for further explanation but so far calls and e-mails have gone unanswered.
Meanwhile, Murray remains free on bail while the case goes to a grand jury.
Additional human trafficking resources:
— Individuals who are, or believe they may know, a victim of human trafficking can:
- Call the NHTRC hotline at 1-888-373-7888
- Text NHTRC at BeFree (233733)
- File a NHTRC report online at: http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/report-a-tip
- Call New Jersey’s Human Trafficking Hotline at 855-END-NJ-HT (855-363-6548)
- Report human trafficking to the FBI at: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/human_trafficking
— The Polaris Project is a national organization and their office in N.J. is the only service provider devoted to only human trafficking in New Jersey. More information on Polaris Project’s New Jersey victims services office can be found online at: http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/client-services/new-jersey-office
— For more information or to report human trafficking to the FBI : http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/human_trafficking
— To request a screening of the documentary Tricked, copyright © 3 Generations visit: 3generations.org.
WATCH: An Extended Interview with Detective Stacie Lick of the Gloucester County Major Crimes Unit