Youth Education

International Day of the Girl: Victories of 2019

Each year October 11th marks the International Day of the Girl Child. This U.N.-declared holiday serves to promote the empowerment of girls and their human rights, and shed light on the struggles they face around the world. In honor of this holiday, we have compiled important victories in the fight against sex trafficking from the past year.

The start of the year saw the release of Cyntoia Brown after 15 years in prison. At just 16 years old Brown was sex trafficked and, fearing for her life, shot the man who picked her up. Brown was tried as an adult and convicted to a life sentence. Her story sparked public interest that grew over the years and even garnered support from celebrates. Finally, in January of 2019 Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency. Following her release, she said in her statement, “I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation.” Brown’s release marks an important shift, culturally and politically, in recognizing children sold for sex should not be treated as criminals but as child sex trafficking survivors.

In July, an FBI operation led to the recovery of over 100 child sex trafficking victims across the United States. Dubbed Operation Independence Day, this initiative involved 400 law enforcement agencies and resulted in the arrest of 67 suspected traffickers. Much of the operation’s success was attributed to its length. In the past, nationwide sweeps by the FBI were conducted in only a week. Lasting a full month, Operation Independence Day allowed agents to build rapport with victims and cases against traffickers. As a result of their diligence 60 new federal investigations have opened.

This year saw an increase in multiple industries’ involvement in combating human trafficking. In June, the American Hotel & Lodging Association launched No Room for Trafficking, a national campaign seeking to advance the hospitality industry’s growing commitment to issue. Delta Air Lines donated 2.5 million dollars’ worth of flights to the Polaris Project through their SkyWish program. Delta, the first carrier to sign on to ECPAT's Child-Protection Code of Conduct, also launched an in-flight video to educate passengers on trafficking potentially occurring next to them. Also this year, ECPAT-USA launched the 20BY20 campaign aimed at training 20,000 employees in the hospitality, airline, and events industry by the year 2020. Awareness of human trafficking is crucial for these employees as they are the first line of defense in combating the issue.

These are just some of the many victories made this year in the fight against human trafficking. Although awareness and commitment to the issue spreads each day, the fight is far from over. In 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people were victims of human trafficking worldwide. The most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation; its victims are predominantly women and girls and nearly 20 percent of all trafficking victims are children. 

Meet Emerald, Our New Y-ACT Intern

The Youth Against Child Trafficking program is pleased to announce our new education and outreach intern, Emerald Lacy. Originally from San Jose, California, she is now attending her final year at Fordham University where her studies focus on anthropology and history. 

She has had a long-running interest in anti-human trafficking and is excited to take on an active role in the fight by creating and impacting real change in the community. She first became aware of the issue in high school when she was startled to discover that her very own home state was the most affected by human trafficking in the nation, with most human trafficking cases reported every year. This catalyst has pushed Emerald’s determination to do her part in putting an end to the practice. 

This combined with her passion for working with children and youth has led her to ECPAT-USA, and she knows she has found her perfect fit. Having experience with children in both the United States and abroad, she has always considered working with youth populations extremely rewarding. She said that, “I find I learn just as much from my students as they do from me,” highlighting the importance of dialogue with underrepresented populations that ECPAT-USA serves. 

ECPAT-USA is extremely happy to welcome Emerald to the team to educate our middle school and high school-aged youths! Y-ACT knows this is going to be an extra special year as we continue our mission to make sure students understand trafficking, engage in healthy relationships, and foster healthy online identities. Our skill-based workshops have been taught to over 6000 NYC youths and we are excited to bring this information to more students!

To learn more about our Youth Outreach Program please visit our page or contact our Youth Outreach Manager at

Making The Grade: Measuring the Impact of Our Youth Empowerment Program

Our Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT) Program is designed to educate, empower and develop the leadership skills of young people. Through our workshops, students learn about the  facts, misconceptions and risks of trafficking and are given the tools needed to identify the warning signs and resources to protect themselves and their peers. Y-ACT empowers youth to be the voices of their communities who are advocating against the commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of children.

In order to assess the impact of the Y-ACT program pre and post testing is used to examine the net change in overall comprehension and understanding of the material. Recently, we analyzed student responses from these tests from the 2017-2018 academic year and compiled them into a new report.  The program reached 2,187 students in public and private schools throughout NYC.   

The report shows students have a 23% increase in an understanding of child sex trafficking.  Alongside this increase in understanding, students shared how the workshop impacts their lives.  One student said “I liked how we learned something so severe is going on. Sex trafficking is a serious problem that can happen to anyone including me.”  The report highlights that students believe these programs are useful in their lives as 83% of students say they will use information from the healthy relationships workshop in their personal lives.  It is not only students that believe the program is useful, but teachers as well. Ninety-three percent of teachers said the child trafficking workshop was “extremely useful” for their students.

The 2017-2018 impact report highlights the increase in knowledge, awareness, and desire to learn more from the workshops.  But one student’s comments highlights what this program is all about. This student wrote, “today's lesson was really interesting and made me interested in this kind of topic. I wasn’t thinking about this kind of issue before.  I wasn’t paying attention but now I will and I’m interested. I want to hear more; I want to know more.” YACT has been a catalyst for this student and thousands of others to understand and advocate on the issue of child sex trafficking.

ECPAT-USA Celebrates The Power of Girls In Annual CSW Panel

Alongside this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), ECPAT-USA presented a panel showcasing how girls can be empowered to become leaders and advocates against trafficking in their communities. Featuring Survivor Advocate Barbara Amaya and Youth leaders Kelly Fang and Ria Gaur, the event discussed what makes girls susceptible to traffickers and how we can combat these tactics by encouraging young girls to be confident and bold, to stand up for themselves and for those around them, and to participate in making sure that women are girls can live in a world free from the threat of sexual violence.

“Trafficking isn’t just a women’s problem,” Ria said, noting the importance of including boys in conversations about recognizing and preventing trafficking.

Through ECPAT-USA's Y-ACT Youth Program, students are empowered to be the foremost advocates in their communities through education. Click here to learn more about the program.

Photos by Carla Licavoli Photography

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.  


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.


ECPAT-USA Panel Highlights The Power Of Youth Advocacy At CSW

ECPAT-USA Panel Highlights The Power Of Youth Advocacy At CSW

Alongside this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), ECPAT-USA presented a panel detailing how youth are using technology to empower their peers and raise awareness of child sex trafficking. The event, featuring Survivor-Advocate Shanifa Bennett and Brooklyn Technical High School students Nasrat Jahan and Rumana Khan, highlighted how important it is for students to take precautions online and for adults to talk to kids about the potential risks.

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

This week, we speak with Janai Smith, ECPAT’s Youth Outreach Manager, 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


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.

Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight

Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight: New PSA Shows What We Fail to See

ECPAT-USA Releases Public Service Announcement “Any Kid Any School” Kicking Off Campaign Empowering Youth to Identify Trafficking

Today EPCAT-USA launched "Any Kid Any School," a Public Service Announcement and campaign that aims to educate and mobilize students, parents, and communities to take action against child sex trafficking in the United States. This powerful PSA sends the message that trafficking can happen anywhere, to any child at any school.

According to ECPAT-USA Executive Director Carol Smolenski, "This is not just a problem in other countries. American children are sex trafficked right here in the United States and we must equip our youth with knowledge and skills so they stay safe. We want to train our young people to become the next generation of empowered activists. We want theirs to be the generation that finally ends child sex trafficking for good."

The United States Department of Education reports that school-age youth are at risk for trafficking, and may be recruited through social media websites or after-school programs, at shopping malls and bus stations, in clubs, or through friends or acquaintances who recruit students on school campuses. High schoolers are not the only minors at risk—pimps and traffickers may prey on children as young as nine years old. 

"Any Kid Any School" highlights the urgent and ongoing need for all individuals, and especially young people, to recognize the signs of trafficking. In response, ECPAT-USA manages a Y-ACT (Youth Against Child Trafficking) program, in which middle and high school students are told the facts, misconceptions, and risks of trafficking. Armed with the tools to identify the warning signs and proper resources to protect themselves and their peers, these young people become advocates for anti-human trafficking efforts in their own communities.

This project was generously funded by Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, and produced in collaboration with BRIC Media Arts, the leading presenter of free cultural programming in Brooklyn. ECPAT-USA's Carla Licavoli served as Creative Director and Producer for "Any Kid Any School," with Janai Smith, also of ECPAT-USA, serving as Youth Manager and Producer. The film's Supervising Producer was Tony Horn of BRIC Media Arts, with Shaun Seneviratne directing.

To watch the Public Service Announcement and learn more about the campaign, visit

Launch of ECPAT-USA Cause Vision Comic Book to Prevent Child Sex Trafficking


Where Is Dylan? is an innovative new tool for preventing the sex trafficking of children in the form of an educational comic book. It was launched last week in New York City by ECPAT-USA in partnership with the Administration for Children’s ServicesCauseVision and JCCA. Fifteen thousand copies will be distributed to at-risk youth throughout the City.

The comic book focuses on the stories of two young people, a boy named Dylan and a girl named Ashley. It delivers a trafficking prevention message to them in a child-friendly format of pictures and simple vocabulary to capture their attention and make the material accessible to a wide range of reading levels. It is a compelling mechanism for the engagement of NYC youth with a tough topic, and in a way that is empowering, thoughtful and educational.

Executive Director Carol Smolesnki speaking at the Where Is Dylan? launch event.

Executive Director Carol Smolesnki speaking at the Where Is Dylan? launch event.

An educated child is the most practical and immediate deterrent to child sex trafficking. By providing preventive information in this format, the comic book can teach children and youth how to identify traffickers, identify recruitment techniques, and where they can get help. Most of the distribution will take place through New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services. But copies are also available through ECPAT-USA. Contact ECPAT-USA at to inquire about how to receive copies.

Youth Action to End Sexual Violence

On Tuesday March 21st, ECPAT-USA hosted our 3rd Annual Youth Panel as a side event to the United Nations' 61st Commission on the Status of Women. Close to one hundred people came out to support our young people as they shared the stories of their involvement in the movement to end child sex trafficking.

In fulfillment of the panel's title, Youth Action to End Sexual Violence, students from two schools showcased their projects. The audience was nothing less than impressed. Our youngest panelist Awa Haidara, a middle schooler from the Academy of Future Leaders, created a Public Service Announcement with her peers. The PSA was directed, filmed, and edited by youth and demonstrated that victims of child sex trafficking are often silenced. The first part of the 2-minute piece showed students with tape over their mouths, asking for help, while the second part showed young people raising awareness about the issue demonstrating that while children can be the most vulnerable to child sex trafficking, they can also be the leaders in the movement to end it. Awa hopes to to start a girls’ group at her school which will provide a safe space for young women to come and talk about their experiences with these issues.

Our high school students, Julia Zeng and Rumana Khan from Brooklyn Technical High School, shared their experiences as co-Secretaries of the Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT) Club. They emphasized the importance of providing diverse platforms for youth to use to raise awareness about the issue. Their Y-ACT club created a website that provides facts about child sex trafficking, resources for victims, and updates on what members are doing to help end this human rights abuse. In addition, they participated in an international art exhibit through a non-profit organization in India named Guria who garnered beautiful artwork from the Brooklyn Tech students. These artists were both members and non-members who used their talent to create powerful works of art with the message: people are not for sale.

Iryna Makuruk, courageously shared her story of being lured into domestic sex trafficking by her former boyfriend and the pain and /challenges she endured during that time. She challenged the audience to rethink what “victims” look like and to provide a judgement-free space for people to share their experiences because one never knows what’s going on with others. She passionately told the audience—especially the young women—that they are beautiful and do not need to depend on anyone to let them know it. Iryna’s message is that our youth can and will make a difference if they truly want to.