New York City

Meet This Year's Freedom Awards Recipients

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

Defender Award



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.


Monique Villa

CEO Thomson Reuters Foundation

Freedom Award



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.


About Y-ACT

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.

A New Terrain: Can Landlords Help Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking?

The travel industry has a unique and primary role to play in combatting and preventing child sexual exploitation. In the United States, children are targeted and strategically manipulated by pimps who use hotel rooms as venues for abuse and air travel has become the primary means to move children from city-to-city or across borders. ECPAT-USA has been bringing in more tourism companies on each year to sign The Code - such as Uber, Delta Air Lines, and Sonesta Resorts and Hotels. When a company joins The Code, they commit to taking six steps that will help protect children.

Creating a well-trained tourism industry leads to better protection of children who are at risk of being sexually exploited, as well as increased protection of all travelers. At ECPAT-USA, we celebrate when a new company joins The Code or in any place where steps are being taken to protect children. Now we’re seeing our efforts expand into the housing policy.

Just last month, County Council member Deni Taveras proposed a bill to protect apartment tenants and potential trafficking victims after hearing stories and complaints from multiple mothers in the Prince George’s County area.


What is the landlord's role in protecting children?

“It is effective because it sends a message. Having something like [bills holding landlords accountable] puts people on notice that you can’t turn a blind eye… and they are a part of the solution. And if you’re not helping, you’ll be held accountable.” –Assistant Prince George’s Police Chief Hector Velez.

  • The bill that was proposed will keep landlords accountable and increase the safety of their tenants. It is now a misdemeanor for landlords to “knowingly” allow apartments to be used for prostitution or trafficking. The crime will be punishable by a $1000 fine or six months of jail time.

  • The county’s system for reporting sex trafficking crimes will be formalized. Landlords can call to find out if their properties have been reported and request training for employees on recognizing signs of human trafficking. Training is a very important and impactful step! Employees at hotels and apartments should be trained on the signs of human trafficking and how to respond because we know exploitation is happening at these locations.

ECPAT-USA fights for and stands with legislation that protects commercially sexually exploited children. Learn more about ECPAT-USA’s legislative efforts here.

What is New York City Doing to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation?

This year, ECPAT-USA celebrates 25 years of child protection.  Things have changed for the better since we began working to protect children from sexual exploitation.

New York State passed its Safe Harbor law, the first in the nation, in 2008.  While it is not the country’s strongest law to ensure children are protected from sexual exploitation, it did mark the beginning for New York to get more serious about training, awareness, prevention and protection for vulnerable children.  Read our report “Steps to Safety”  to learn more about the array of Safe Harbor laws across the country.  

I sat down recently with Susan Morley, Special Advisor for Investigations to the Commissioner and Selina Higgins, Director of Child Trafficking Prevention and Policy of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the leadership team for implementing protections for sexually exploited children in the city.  They described extensive training, services and awareness raising going on throughout the system.

  • In 2012 ACS published its initial policy on serving sexually exploited children.
  • Almost a thousand ACS, foster care and preventive agency staff were trained in Child Trafficking Awareness and Engagement/Interviewing skills during 2015.  Training is ongoing for staff and sub-contractor foster care and preventive agencies, and detention service providers.  Over a hundred  agencies around the city in which ACS works have received training.
  • ACS hired its first Director of Child Trafficking Prevention and Policy in 2015, and is hiring an additional Child Trafficking Prevention Specialist.
  • They created a specialized team of former NYPD Detectives to locate missing youth at risk of CSEC.
  • Funding for services for trafficked youth was provided to eight youth-serving organizations.
  • Work is taking place to develop a Child Trafficking Database so that we know how many sexually exploited children have been identified.  
  • The agency created an internal “Child Trafficking Mailbox” to facilitate communications, to provide alerts of trafficking cases, and to receive consultations, resource ideas and referral information.
  • This year ACS is again providing 12 sessions of its full-day Child Trafficking Awareness and Skills training, with 5 dates targeted specifically for preventive service agencies.

The buying and selling of children for sexual exploitation is a lucrative business everywhere in the United States, not just New York and other big cities.

But for 25 years there has been a growing movement to stop it. ECPAT-USA is proud of the progress we have made.