To bring attention to human trafficking and exploitation, The Salvation Army New Jersey Division has partnered with the city of Elizabeth to host The Red Sand Project.

Participants fill sidewalk cracks with red sand, take a photo and share the hashtag #RedSandProject.

Pouring the sand in the cracks is a symbolic commitment not to let people vulnerable to human trafficking fall through the cracks.

National artist Molly Gochman first launched The Red Sand Project in 2014 in Miami, where she filled the cracks of sidewalks in and around the Art Basel Miami Beach pavilion with red sand. Her Red Sand Project installations have been done in all 50 states and 70 countries, with more than one million participants.

Red Sand Project (Photo Credit: Salvation Army NJ Division)
Red Sand Project (Photo Credit: Salvation Army NJ Division)

“By sharing that hashtag and having this high impact public commitment, allows us to continue the conservation around human trafficking," said Victoria McCombs, director of Anti-Trafficking and Pathway of Hope for The Salvation Army New Jersey.

"We are really interested in having students and youth participate because we understand the vulnerabilities that make someone have a higher propensity to be exploited or contacted by a predator."

It’s important to get the word now and let the community know, “What is the definition of human trafficking?” “Where is it happening?” “What can we do to end it?”

The Salvation Army among other service providers in New Jersey is training all of its employees, officers, and volunteers as well as going out into the community to provide anti-human trafficking one-on-one training, McCombs said.

The Salvation Army NJ is also engaging street teams and outreach teams to go into areas like Elizabeth, to areas of commercial sexual exploitation, to areas where people have a higher propensity and vulnerability to labor trafficking and letting them know what their rights are, and letting it be an opportunity to get out of that life, she said.

Elizabeth High School students participate in the Red Sand Project (Photo Credit: Salvation Army NJ Division)
Elizabeth High School students participate in the Red Sand Project (Photo Credit: Salvation Army NJ Division)

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in New Jersey, in 2020 alone, 146 human trafficking cases were reported, and this was only through the 24/7 hotline. The numbers are highly underreported, McCombs said. They do not include law enforcement, social service organizations, hospitals, or other interventions and service providers.

Since the City of Elizabeth is a major transportation hub, near Newark Airport and the New Jersey Turnpike, many face increased vulnerability to human trafficking, McCombs said. Elizabeth is also particularly interested in the fight to end human trafficking.

The Salvation Army is in constant contact with the City of Elizabeth’s Opioid Response team because there’s intersectionality there, she said. The Salvation Army continues to talk to the City of Elizabeth police department so they can come together and form a multi-disciplinary team of street outreaches that will be planned for the future.

She said it’s important to align ourselves with the federal definition of human trafficking and that we understand the AMP model. It requires an act, a means, and a purpose.

The means can be forced. Hollywood will tell us it’s always by force. It’s the person scooped up on the street. But McCombs said the truth is when it comes to youth, it’s important to focus on internet safety. Predators will prey on the vulnerabilities of youth and what is called “the boyfriend fraud.”

Elizabeth HS students participate in the Red Sand Project (Photo Credit: Salvation Army NJ Division)
Elizabeth HS students participate in the Red Sand Project (Photo Credit: Salvation Army NJ Division)

She said they present themselves as someone loving and caring, but they turn into an exploiter.

Coercion is the hardest to understand. McCombs said people can be coerced into doing something they don’t want to do. It’s by holding something of value over that person, giving and taking it away. It can be housing, food, love and it can even be drugs.

The Red Sand Project is not intimidating, said McCombs. People don’t have to mention all the ugly parts of human trafficking to pour red sand into a crack in the sidewalk. It’s a universal call to action, that it’s happening in so many places besides Elizabeth.

McCombs said the hope is that other cities in New Jersey will participate in The Red Sand Project because human trafficking is happening not only in Elizabeth but throughout the state.

“It’s a complex problem and it requires a complex solution,” McCombs said.

For those who want to help, encourage suspected victims to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733 and to visit The Salvation Army at

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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