By Gianluca D’Elia
A 17-year-old girl found walking along the shoulder of I-295 in Lawrence was a victim of human trafficking who was forced into prostitution at hotels in the area, according to the New Jersey State Police.
Police recovered the victim around 11 p.m. on Jan. 18. She told police she was being prostituted at a motel and that a couple was selling her through suggestive backpage.com ads. The couple allegedly transported her to local hotels frequently, forcing her to have sex with multiple men.
She escaped by sneaking out of the motel while the couple was asleep, police said.
After interviewing the victim, detectives were able to identify the suspects and locate them at a Lawrence Township motel. Ashley Gardener, 29, and her partner, Breon Mickens, 26, both of Trenton, were charged with human trafficking and taken to Mercer County Correctional Center, police said.
“The allegations in this case starkly illustrate how traffickers will isolate young victims from any support network and force them into a cruel life of sexual slavery,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. “Fortunately, this victim was able to escape, and a concerned motorist called police to report that the victim was walking alone in the dark on Interstate 295. I urge the public to alert law enforcement whenever they see children or teens in suspicious circumstances so we can investigate, rescue victims of human trafficking and bring traffickers to justice.”
The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached 24/7 in over 200 languages for help, to report trafficking or to seek information: 1-888-3737-888.