Behind the PSA: Q&A with Janai Smith, Youth Outreach Manager

This week, we speak with Janai Smith, ECPAT’s Community Outreach Director, about our new PSA AnyKidAnySchool.

Tell us a little about the work you do with ECPAT. What are some of the major challenges you face?

I facilitate our Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT) program, which educates young people about domestic sex trafficking, how they can protect themselves, and how to become activists on the issue. Two major challenges are lack of funding and school buy-in.

Did you (and/or the youth in your program) have the opportunity to work on the #anykidanyschool PSA?

The majority of students in the PSA are actually Y-ACT leaders, and some of them provided the voiceovers that can be heard throughout. I worked closely with Creative Director Carla Licavoli to create the script used by the Youth Advocate on stage, as well as the students’ “thoughts.”

The PSA features teenagers in a high school listening to a presentation on sex trafficking. How does this compare to ECPAT’s presentations?

Our workshops are led by me and sometimes our interns, but at times, some of our students have voluntarily stepped forward to speak at assemblies about the issue. Specifically, the Y-ACT leaders of The Young Women’s Leadership School of Harlem initiated and organized a youth-led assembly in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness month.

Some of the thoughts we hear in the PSA express some sense of denial, i.e. “That couldn’t happen here.” How common is that attitude?

These are very common viewpoints. I believe they stem from two places: 1) students knowing that they are loved, and thus feeling that they don’t need a stranger to tell/show them so, and 2) the perception that sex trafficking usually happens as a result of sudden, violent abductions, which is something that anyone would immediately recognize if they witnessed it. The former is a positive thing, really amazing, while the latter is a serious misconception and a big part of what keeps us doing the work that we do. Through our Y-ACT workshops, we make sure to address and correct myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes that students may have about sex trafficking.

What are you hoping viewers will get out of this PSA?

As the name implies, the PSA’s main goal is to inform people that child sex trafficking can happen anywhere to anyone. There are a lot of myths that lead people to think it only happens to the poor people from other countries, or only to girls, etc. These are certainly untrue. There are also misconceptions about how it happens, with many believing that it always includes kidnapping. #AnyKidAnySchool dispels that myth as well.

What should someone do if they feel that they are in a similar situation, or know someone who is?

If someone believes there is an immediate danger, they should always call 911. Otherwise, use the following resources:

  • NYC Human Trafficking Referral Tipline: 212-335-3400

  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-373-7888 or Text BeFree to 233733

To learn more and view our PSA, visit ecpatusa.org/anykidanyschool


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Janai Smith | Youth Outreach Manager

Janai Smith runs ECPAT-USA’s Youth Program which empowers youth to take a stand against child sexual exploitation. Previously, she worked with non­profits such as Global Kids, South Asian Youth Action, and the Advocacy Lab. During her time at these organizations, Janai taught youth about various human rights issues and how they can mobilize to fight for social justice. She has led young people to take action against human trafficking, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, hunger, and more. In addition to her youth development experience, Janai is an alumna of the Public Allies AmeriCorps program. Upon completing her service year, she spent 5 months in Cameroon volunteering at an orphanage and HIV/AIDS NGO. Janai received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Vermont and is currently pursuing her Masters in Global Affairs at NYU.