On November 9, 2017, ECPAT-USA held its first ever Freedom Awards celebration to honor leaders in the fight to end child trafficking. This year's honorees include New York City Police Commissioner, James P. O'Neill; CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, Monique Villa; and Youth Against Child Trafficking co-presidents, Rumana Khan and Julia Zeng. Each of this year's honorees have taken extraordinary action to end child trafficking, whether through protecting children on the street, spotlighting the issue in the media, or educating young people on the signs of trafficking.
James P. O'Neill
New York City Police Commissioner
James P. O’Neill was appointed the 43rd police commissioner of the City of New York by Mayor Bill de Blasio in September 2016. Commissioner O’Neill has been instrumental in developing the Neighborhood Policing philosophy, which is renewing and recasting the NYPD’s patrol function to provide greater police and community interaction and collaboration. When ECPAT-USA co-created the New York City Community Response to Trafficking Project in 2003,Commissioner O’Neill’s support was instrumental in ensuring a culture of cooperation among the diverse members, including service providers, community groups, the FBI, ICE, US Attorney’s offices, District Attorney’s offices, and the NYPD.
In 2017, Commissioner O’Neill launched a bold new initiative aimed at addressing human trafficking. This included adopting the new, more-effective Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) training program, which has been administered to police recruits, school safety agents, principals and hospital staff, and added to the promotional classes for sergeant and lieutenant. His initiative also included the addition of 25 detectives to the Vice Enforcement Division, specifically to investigate trafficking, the placement of crime victims assistance officers in two-thirds of police precincts, and the creation of a 24-hour hotline staffed by specially-trained Special Victims Division investigators, to which people can anonymously report trafficking. Commissioner O’Neill has publicly affirmed that victims, especially youth and children, should not be punished for coerced acts. Keeping with this affirmation, his initiative prioritizes arresting pimps, johns, and traffickers, some of which has been accomplished through increased use of technology to catch individuals responding to prostitution ads. This represents an important shift in law enforcement that addresses the root of the problem: ending demand.
CEO Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monique Villa is CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and founder of TrustLaw. Under Villa’s leadership, Thomson Reuters has strengthened its commitment to free and independent journalism, covering issues that mainstream media often overlook, from human rights abuses to endemic corruption.
Since her appointment in 2008, Villa has launched a number of groundbreaking programs that leverage the expertise of Thomson Reuters to trigger change and empower people across the world. In 2010, Villa launched TrustLaw with the goal of increasing the practice of pro bono law worldwide. Villa also launched the Trust Conference to promote the empowerment of women and to fight human trafficking, and Trust Women, a fast-growing movement to empower women and fight slavery worldwide. At their annual conference, Trust Women delegates take action and forge tangible commitments to empower women to know and defend their rights.
Julia Zeng & Rumana Khan
Y-ACT Co-Presidents, Brooklyn Technical High School
Next Gen Award
Julia Zeng and Rumana Khan are seniors at Brooklyn Technical High School. Together, as co-presidents of Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT), they have built their high school's Y-ACT Club to over 50 members, mobilizing students to take action on child trafficking in their community and around the world.
Since its inception in 2014, ECPAT-USA’s Y-ACT program has served over 3,000 New York City youth. In 2016 a Brooklyn Technical High School (BTHS) student, with the full support of administration, introduced Y-ACT to her school. Since then, the BTHS Y-ACT leaders have taken action to address the issue of child sex trafficking in a variety of ways. They began by creating their own website based on their own research, featuring information, poetry created by survivors, and articles about youth-led anti-trafficking efforts around the world. The club has organized school-wide assemblies, hosted guest speakers, and participated in global art exhibits to spread awareness of trafficking. As a result of their efforts, the BTHS Y-ACT Club is now a fully self-sustaining club with over 50 members. BTHS Y-ACT members are proud to lend their voices and skills to the international anti-trafficking movement.