A Tribute to Joan Levy

ECPAT-USA sadly acknowledges the passing of Joan Levy, a long-time friend, board member and Representative to the UN Department of Public Information.  Joan was an active member of the ECPAT-USA board for more than twelve years. She was a regular presence at ECPAT-USA events, very often pitching in to support our work with good humor and a willingness to do whatever needed to get done.  She was an ideal representative at the UN for ECPAT-USA. Thanks to her commitment to protecting exploited children, her knowledge about UN systems and the respect she gained from staff at the UN Department of Information she always had the answers that a small NGO needed to navigate the organization.  Joan brought good humor, a positive attitude, strengthen and grace to the work she did for ECPAT-USA. She had a powerful concern for human rights and for protecting children from sexual exploitation. She will be very much missed.

Joan’s family has requested that the above post include a link to make a donation to ECPAT-USA in honor of her legacy of advocacy and generosity. You can give to our programs here.


Announcement: Day of the Girl Celebration!

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ECPAT-USA is proud to announce its upcoming fall fundraising event in recognition and support of the global movement to better girls’ lives and empower them to reach their full potential.

By championing their rights and protecting them from harm, we can support girls' opportunities to realize their goals, and in doing so create a better and more equitable world. 

Join us in shining a spotlight on girls' rights this October 10!

 

 

Presented by American Airlines, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, and Viacom

 

Invisible Walls

I saw a story on Facebook this week from the Irish Times, one of Ireland’s major papers, entitled We Owe Sinead O’Connor an Apology. And I thought, what? I had not heard that name in years. But I remember very distinctly what she did in 1992 on a live broadcast of Saturday Night Live. She tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II. And I was watching. Like any other good Catholic boy, I was outraged. This was John Paul, the Polish Pope, the anti-communist Pope, the man people rank with Ronald Reagan for ending the Cold War. He was beloved by Catholics and millions outside the faith for his strength and courage. He restored prestige to a Papacy that had been tarnished by its mixed record during the Second World War. The last thing I wanted to see on Saturday Night Live was some counter-cultural nonsense that our Pope was the enemy. I tuned out whatever message she was sending with her music, and happily joined the popular outrage at her actions.

But many decades later, it turns out the message I refused to hear when it was given was that children were being abused by the Catholic Church. I built an immediate mental barrier to this new information. And sadly, that is the normal human response. Some psychologists refer to it as the “invisible wall” effect that has us running into the same facts again and again, but never willing to accept them. It is the wall we build between reality, and what we want reality to be. And unfortunately, this invisible wall is particularly high and pernicious in the context of child sexual exploitation.

In modern times, the sexual exploitation of children is perhaps the only crime for which society has no tolerance. The mere mention of it frequently brings out a medieval mindset in people who will exclaim “castrate them all” or “kill them all” even in polite company. And yet it happens, and by some measures, is happening more frequently now than before. And so, the invisible wall goes up. Rather than accept that piece of unnerving information, we filter it away and pretend it does not really exist. Why? Because accepting the information would require us to take action and make fundamental change. Since humanity prefers not to do that, we turn a blind eye instead. Would prostitution really be an institution if men did not build an invisible wall filtering out evidence that it is frequently child rape? Would police departments still arrest child victims of trafficking, instead of perpetrators and pimps, if there was not an invisible wall concerning child sexual trafficking? Would parents ignore signs of sexual abuse from people they trust, if not for the invisible barrier that keeps them from recognizing a horrible truth?

The Catholic Church is not the “true enemy” as Sinead O’Connor declared. ECPAT was founded with the help of Catholic orders that today do amazing work in the field of human trafficking and on a host of other issues affecting children. But the Church does have a very high invisible wall in dealing with clergy that have committed horrible crimes. As nearly everyone is now aware, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a report identifying over 1,000 children who had been abused in the State of Pennsylvania by over 300 clergy over a period of 70 years. The report notes the efforts of Bishops to cover up the cases in a familiar pattern of transferring priests to other parishes and pressuring families to say nothing. Tragically it is a tale we have been forced to read again and again, in Boston, Ireland, Canada, Australia and Chile. And equally tragically, you can watch the invisible walls to this information being built. The President of the Catholic League Bill Donohue, remarked “Most of the alleged victims were not raped: they were groped or otherwise abused, but not penetrated, which is what the word ‘rape’ means.” Meanwhile, in a deposition, Syracuse, New York Bishop Robert Cunningham suggested that since the “Age of Reason” — meaning the ability to tell right from wrong — in Catholic doctrine is age 7, boys who experienced sexual abuse may have some culpability for it. The responses are as predictable as they are disappointing.

Fortunately, today, Pope Francis issued a letter to Catholics around the world, that struck a different tone. He said:

"With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them."

It is an important first step in bringing down the invisible wall that has kept the Catholic Church from making the sort of fundamental change necessary to move past this era once and for all. As has occurred in other jurisdictions, we believe that the statute of limitations should be waived for these cases in Pennsylvania. We also think that the Catholic Church, like other institutions that have adults working in close contact with children, must adopt more rigorous screening standards for clergy and seminarians.

However, an important lesson for all of us is to attend to the invisible walls that we throw up that make it easier to ignore difficult realities. When Sinead O’Connor criticized my Pope, I did not want to hear it. But way back in 1992, she was right. Children were being abused under Catholic care. She was correct to call attention to it. She was correct to protest. And so, I have to accept that like all people I have my blind spots. But that does not excuse us from identifying them and removing them. None of us should turn a blind eye when the lives of children hang in the balance.

ECPAT-USA's Carol Smolenski Joins Nasdaq for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

Executive Director Carol Smolenski joined Nasdaq's Global Head of Sustainability, Evan Harvey, in conversation on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. The day of awareness and action, created by the United Nations in 2013, serves to highlight the problem of human trafficking while calling for a coordinated and consistent effort to end the scourge in all its forms. 

The Nasdaq Live conversation touched on child trafficking prevention, the UN's Agenda for Sustainable Development, corporate social responsibility, and more. Click below to view the full conversation.

Cadence Travel Combats Child Sex Trafficking with ECPAT-USA and The Code

In 2017, Cadence Travel partnered with ECPAT-USA and joined The Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct (The Code) and implemented a policy against child sex trafficking. The Code is an industry-driven initiative to provide awareness, tools, and support to the private sector to help combat the sexual exploitation of children.

Cadence’s policy states a zero-tolerance for child sex trafficking, instructs their associates what to do if they suspect instances of trafficking, and also addresses labor trafficking. Cadence began training their staff to recognize and report suspected instances of trafficking in early 2018.

“We have always been compelled to give back to our communities, both locally and globally,” Cadence CEO and Founder Wendy Burk said. “As a leader in the travel industry, we are especially sensitive to the role that travel brands like hotels and airlines unfortunately and unwillingly play in human trafficking. We are leveraging our connections with travelers and travel partners around the world to join the global fight and raise awareness and kicked off our ECPAT partnership by raising over $23,000 for a local safe house for women rescued from trafficking in San Diego, where we are headquartered. It was disheartening to learn that our own city is among the top ten high-intensity areas for sex trafficking in America, so we knew we had to start here.”

Cadence Travel manages business travel, meetings and incentives travel, and more. By working with their partners to include child protection language in RFPs and contracts, travel management companies like Cadence can have a major impact on this issue.

“ECPAT-USA is proud to partner with Cadence Travel to raise awareness and use their influence to combat human trafficking in the travel industry,” said Michelle Guelbart, ECPAT-USA’s Director of Private Sector Engagement. “They’ve hit the ground running and we are excited to continue this partnership in order to increase ECPAT-USA’s reach and protect children globally.”

ECPAT-USA partners with private sector companies in the travel and tourism industries to combat child sexual exploitation. Click here to see a full list of partners who have signed The Code.

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2018 TIP Report: Good News, Bad News, and A Critical Oversight

 Photo: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report

Photo: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report

Like most things in Washington, the annual release of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report was a good news/bad news story. On the positive front, Acting Director Kari Johnstone of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, appears to be a straight shooter. In past years, the annual Trafficking in Persons report has been subject to accusations of political influence. Countries that are of obvious interest to US diplomatic efforts appeared to be rated a bit better than circumstances on the ground warranted. So there was a lot of trepidation concerning the 2018 report -- the first organized by the Trump administration. Advocates feared that countries like Russia, whose leadership has been praised by the President, might get a softer rating than deserved. This was not the case. Russia remained listed as one of the egregious jurisdictions for human trafficking, joining the likes of Burma and North Korea.  

Additional good news could be found in continental progress. Africa, which has been cited in previous reports for profound difficulties in both labor and sex trafficking, saw the greatest improvement.  More than a quarter of the nations that were reported to have improved status in the trafficking report were found in Africa. Ghana in particular was singled out, and a representative program in Ghana received a “trafficking heroes” award at the ceremony. This elevated status in the State Department’s TIP report correlates with increased efforts by ECPAT International to find African partners to join our network, an effort that has met with real success.

But we cannot let the TIP report pass by without acknowledging an important oversight. In addition to analyzing the anti-trafficking programs of nearly every nation in the world, the TIP report also has a section devoted to the efforts of our own government. The theme of this year’s report is “Effective ways that local communities can address human trafficking proactively and how national governments can support and empower them” or more pithily described at the report rollout as “local solutions to a global problem.”  

However, one vitally important approach to preventing child sex trafficking, and child sexual exploitation generally, is the education of children. Disturbingly, the US section of the TIP report fails to mention this approach at all. The State Department’s omission highlights two concerns for ECPAT USA. First, education policy and curricula in the United States is decentralized and localized. In short, it is exactly the kind of “local solution to a global problem” that the State Department sought to highlight. However, that decentralization and localization makes identifying best practices very difficult and time consuming. Individual school districts across the country are beginning to consider the problem of human trafficking and how to best inoculate their students to the danger. However, while a wide variety of curricula exist, there has been no effort to create a central repository where education policy makers might turn to evaluate the sort of approach that might work best for their school district.  

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Secondly, the TIP report’s neglect of child education emphasizes that the U.S. Department of Education is woefully absent from the national effort to combat trafficking. The Departments of Justice and State have always been at the forefront of Federal anti-trafficking efforts, but other agencies have also stepped up, like the Department of Homeland Security, and more recently the Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, one of the most fundamental tools in the Federal toolbox goes unutilized because there is effectively no element of the Department of Education tasked with confronting human trafficking.  

At ECPAT-USA, we are making the education of children a central part of our work. Because studies show that children in their teens consult with their peers, we seek to arm middle school and high school students with the facts about child trafficking. The aim of this outreach is to assist children in protecting themselves, and aiding them in talking to their friends and peers. Currently, ECPAT has a successful educational outreach program with three distinct workshops  in New York City Schools. Additionally, we have the Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT) program that empowers school children to take the lead in local anti-trafficking efforts. We have found that kids themselves make the most effective advocates in their communities, providing facts about risks and addressing the misconceptions around child sexual exploitation.

So we will continue our work with the U.S. State Department and the Federal Government to emphasize that education is the key to trafficking prevention. And beyond that advocacy mission, we will continue our work with local educators to help train as many kids as we can to avoid the risks of people seeking to exploit them.   

 

Banner image and gallery: 2018 TIP Report


 Read the 2018 Trafficking in Persons report  here .

Read the 2018 Trafficking in Persons report here.

More Information

Read the U.S. State Department's 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Visit our Youth Education page to learn more about Y-ACT and ECPAT-USA's youth initiatives.

View our latest PSA, #AnyKidAnySchool, which spotlights the problem of child sex trafficking in the U.S.