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The Ordinary Complicity That Puts All Children At Risk

In 1961, Hannah Arendt coined a phrase that seems so very poignant to today’s headlines.  While covering Adolph Eichman’s war crimes tribunal in Jerusalem for The New Yorker, she subtitled her subsequent book, The Banality of Evil.  The work is a meditation on how ordinary people, doing very ordinary things, can participate in monstrously evil acts.  

The Miami Herald’s blockbuster report about the Jeffrey Epstein case reminds us of how profoundly true Arendt’s observations were.  Implicated in the Miami Herald’s reporting is former U.S. Attorney, and current Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. But Epstein’s crimes, like so many human tragedies, go far beyond Acosta’s malfeasance and cowardice in the face of a wealthy child predator. For this outrageous pattern of child sexual abuse to work, many, many people had to be involved.  Drivers, schedulers, cleaning staff. All of them did their jobs. All of them turned a blind eye to what they knew was happening in front of them. “Not my problem” is the human reflex that turns many people into accomplices to tragedy.

Nor is today’s headline the only one. The outrages keep piling on.  The Catholic Church’s hierarchy has covered up thousands of cases of abuse by its clergy of both boys and girls across the globe.  In so many cases, this was done with a wink and a nod from prosecutors and law enforcement who were informed of what was going on, but were not interested in rocking the boat.  The USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar abused children under his care for many years, and while the rumors were everywhere, coaches failed to act. In 2011, Penn State administrators were discovered to have  covered up abuse by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.  The failing in all of these cases is that it is easier for society to point at the monster than to reflect on how our culture enables these monsters to grow and succeed.   

Beyond child trafficking, an even more bleak picture emerges from recent research showing the number of children whose rape and torture is captured in images (often called child pornography) and then shared in large numbers on the internet. How many people are involved in the creation and distribution of this material who say absolutely nothing?

We find again and again, in institutions we rely upon to protect and nurture children, a banality of evil.  An institution is in fact, a collection of individuals. And each of those individuals, whether at a Federal prosecutor’s office, or in a Catholic Bishop’s Diocese, or a child welfare agency, has to make that same decision to ignore the harm being done to children -- keep their heads in the sand, and pretend like nothing is wrong.    

Society’s disinterest in child welfare runs deeper still.  Who do we turn to, to provide witness and protection, to bring child molesters and child traffickers to justice?  More often than not, we place that responsibility on the victims themselves. For example, without the bravery of child trafficking survivors telling their stories while pursuing cases against enablers like Backpage.com, we would not be anywhere in Congress and the courts. Supporting survivors and giving them a platform must surely be one of the ways that our society can begin to undermine the silence that allows these systemic abuses to remain in place.  

But it cannot be the only step we take.  

Our nation is embarking on some soul-searching about sexual violence thanks to the #MeToo movement.  But we also need to have much more stocktaking and a concrete acknowledgment that it is not a child’s role to protect themselves from predators.  It is society’s job.

Our country is defined by our freedom and liberty, our Bill of Rights, our Constitution.  But in 1789, the rights of children were not under deliberation. Children belonged to parents, and little further consideration was given to their rights or legal status.  It was a very English, and property-driven view of childhood. That same 18th century view of children still echoes into our law today. And it is this view that makes it easier to live in a society where children are exploited, but for all of us to say “not my problem.”  

Ultimately, for our country to seriously tackle child sexual exploitation, we need a concrete acknowledgement that children have rights.  And our society has a responsibility to protect those rights. That responsibility is not just a parent’s job. It is not a child’s lawyer’s job nor is it just the teacher’s or school counselor’s.  It falls on all of us, every day. If we see a child being exploited, we have to find the fortitude to speak up. What a better world it would be if good, rather than evil, was the banal expectation for the lives of our children.    

Global Business Travel Association Highlights ECPAT-USA’s Work Preventing Child Sex Trafficking

At this year’s annual convention, our partner Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) put the issue of child sex trafficking front and center. In addition to a convention-wide presentation about the exploitation of children, GBTA and American Airlines sponsored an Awareness 5k Run and Walk that helped raise $20,000 in support of ECPAT-USA’s work. Recently, Michelle Guelbart, ECPAT-USA’s Director of Private Sector Engagement, sat down with GBTA to discuss the impact of their efforts and how the travel industry as a whole can help put an end to child sex trafficking on their podcast The Business of Travel.

“The spotlight shone on the issue is something that you can’t even measure,” said Guelbart. “I had people sending me messages on LinkedIn and on email saying that we’ll never travel and look at the world the same way after seeing the presentation on the main stage. That’s incredible.”

The interview also touched on ECPAT-USA’s campaign in support of the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which GBTA joined previously by adding their name to a corporate sign-on letter urging Congress to pass the bill.

“There’s so much to be said about raising awareness of this issue,” Guelbart said. “I haven’t had a point yet where I’ve walked into a room or done an event where there wasn’t one person who said they’ve never heard about this before. You might believe that you’re talking about it enough because you talk about it once a year, but that really isn’t enough.”

Listen to the full episode below, and learn more about our partnerships with travel and tourism industry here.

ECPAT-USA Director Of Private Sector Engagement Selected As Advisor To US Department Of Transportation

ECPAT-USA is pleased to announce that Michelle Guelbart, our Director of Private Sector Engagement, has been appointed to the Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Guelbart is one of 15 individuals to serve on the committee.

As a member, Guelbart will provide information, advice, and recommendations to the DOT on matters relating to human trafficking. The ACHT will also develop recommended best practices to combat human trafficking for states and stakeholders in the transportation industry.

“I am honored to be selected to the Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking, and I look forward to working closely with other members and the Department of Transportation on initiatives to end child trafficking in the U.S.,” said Guelbart. “It is encouraging to see awareness of this issue being elevated to a national level, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to represent the voice of ECPAT-USA in this conversation.”

ECPAT-USA Director Of Private Sector Engagement Honored For Work In Social Responsibility

Michelle Guelbart, ECPAT-USA’s Director of Private Sector Engagement has been named to BizBash’s list of the Top 500 People in Events in the Sustainability and Social Responsibility category. According to the publication, the list is meant to recognize the best of the meeting and event industry across North America and includes people who lead the largest trade and consumer shows, orchestrate global brand campaigns, and plan high-visibility cultural events that have everyone talking on social media.

“I am surprised and honored to be mentioned in a list with so many amazing leaders in the events industry,” said Guelbart. “It is a privilege spreading ECPAT-USA’s message to the private sector and help build upon the global movement to end child trafficking.”

 Guelbart, left, at the AccorHotels signing of The Code.

Guelbart, left, at the AccorHotels signing of The Code.

For over 14 years, ECPAT-USA has worked with the hotel and tourism industry to combat the sexual exploitation of children. As the Director of Private Sector Engagement, Guelbart has been instrumental to increasing the industry’s awareness of the issue and advising companies in the implementation of policies to identify and prevent child sex trafficking. Under her guidance and leadership, real steps have been taken to better protect children around the world.

ECPAT-USA congratulates Michelle on this recognition!

22 US Business and Trade Associations join ECPAT-USA to Urge Congress to Pass Major Trafficking Bill

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, originally passed in the year 2000, is the United States' groundbreaking legislation to end human trafficking and provides much-needed assistance to human trafficking victims.

The proposed reauthorization, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017, and complimentary Senate bills, emphasize a victim-focused approach to combating human trafficking, while also strengthening restitution to survivors. Critically, a number of new provisions concerning endangered children were also added to the legislation.

Virtually every law enforcement initiative, effort to assist victims or policy to combat child trafficking around the globe stems from this lynchpin of federal policy.

“The reauthorization of this law is vital for our national effort to end human trafficking at home and around the world. We are very proud of the partnerships we’ve built with the business community, and are very grateful to them for lending their voices in support of this bipartisan legislative initiative,” said Jason Matthews, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, ECPAT-USA.

American industries continue to make notable progress in the fight against human trafficking by adopting corporate policies, instituting training, and providing own insights into the best practices to exploitation. Many companies have partnered with ECPAT-USA to develop policies and programs designed to prevent the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children.

“No single group can combat human trafficking on its own, which is why ECPAT-USA partners with both the private sector and governments to comprehensively address the issue,” said Michelle Guelbart, ECPAT-USA’s Director of Private Sector Engagement. “We proudly stand together with our corporate partners and urge Speaker Ryan to pass this bill.”

The 22 companies and associations that signed on to the letter are as follows:

Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA)

American Airlines

Association of Corporate Travel Executive (ACTE)

Cadence Travel

Carlson Wagonlit Travel

CI Azumano

CorpTrav Management Group

EmpireCLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services

Global Business Travel Association (GBTA)

HRS Global Hotel Solutions

IGLTA Foundation

International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA)

International Tour Management Institute (ITMI)

Koncept Events

Lannan Legal PLLC

Maritz Travel Company

Milligan Events

Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Real Hospitality Group

Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE)

Uber Technologies Inc.

Vision Hospitality Group

For a copy of the letter, which was sent to Speaker Paul Ryan click here.

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.

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.  

ECPAT-USA_Education.jpg

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.

 

State Department Report Cites Trafficking Dangers of Family Separation

The State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report last Thursday, warning governments about the dangers of separating families and institutionalizing children. Within the past three months, 2,300 migrant families have been separated at the U.S.- Mexico border, leaving vulnerable children at a greater risk of human trafficking.

“Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers,” the report reads. These institutions, it states, cannot provide the emotional and psychological support these children would get in an intact familial situation.

 An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

The TIP Report’s warning against child institutionalization echoes an earlier statement from Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA: “Children are vulnerable to human trafficking—they are easy to manipulate, trick, and control...When a child is separated from their family for any reason whether poverty, natural disasters, wars, or through government policies they become more vulnerable to human trafficking.” She also said that separation from parents can lead to greater risks later on including mental health issues, namely trauma, “[making] them easy prey for people who want to take advantage of them.”

The TIP Report also states that children leaving or aging out of these institutions do not escape the dangers. “The vulnerability to human trafficking continues, in part due to the physical and psychological damage many of these children have suffered.” Being in a family allows children to “experience common life or social situations, and practice using cognitive reasoning and problem-solving skills.” Without the ability to develop these social, emotional, and psychological skills, these children and young adults continue to be susceptible to traffickers.

The immigration policy widely referred to as the “zero-tolerance” policy was implemented in April, sending minors to government run facilities while they awaited the prosecution of their parents and guardians. Though the policy was ended June 20th, 2,047 children remain in the facilities.  

“What is happening at the U.S. border with children from Latin America is a perversion of law enforcement and migration policy,” said Ms. Smolenski. “It is the antithesis of everything the U.S. stands for (remember “give me your tired, your poor”?)”.


More Information

View the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, in particular the section on Child Institutionalization and Human Trafficking.

Read our Executive Director’s statement on the torture of children at the United States border.