Public Service Announcement

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 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.

Close Call in Park Slope Reminds Us: #AnyKidAnySchool

Just a week ago, ECPAT-USA released its new Public Service Announcement, Any Kid Any School, which highlights the importance of teaching children to be savvy and vigilant in the face of the pervasive reality of child trafficking. Within days, an incident occurred just a short distance away from ECPAT’s headquarters, drawing media attention to this issue.

This past Wednesday, the New York Daily News reported on an attempted abduction of a teenage girl in Park Slope, a quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn. According to the girl’s mother, speaking to ABC News the following day, her daughter was walking alone when a couple pulled up beside her in a Jeep. The woman called out to her, saying, “Hi, I really love your dress. Where did you get it? I would like to get one myself.” When the girl stopped to answer politely, the man in the Jeep jumped out and grabbed her, trying to drag her into the car. Fortunately, the girl was able to break free and run away.

As a parent in the area, I can attest to how shaken the community is by this event. Within hours of the incident, my child’s school sent out safety warnings, encouraging parents to speak with their kids about what to do if approached by a stranger and presenting guidelines on how to help them cope with the anxiety of knowing this happened in their neighborhood.

However, it is vital to remember that for all the media attention this incident has received, the vast majority of child trafficking doesn’t take the form of forced abduction. Far more commonly, traffickers target vulnerable children and employ insidious methods of psychological and emotional manipulation. Those methods may involve flattery and sweet-talk—which was indeed a factor in this recent incident—as well as promises of love or money, threats, and isolation from their communities. Because most incidents don’t involve public displays of violence, and because they often target underserved populations, they don’t typically receive media attention. For example, in 2016, several local media outlets reported on girls who had gone missing from lower-income neighborhoods in the Bronx. However, it wasn’t until twelve young girls had gone missing over the course of two years that the media began to report on the issue.

 
It is vital to remember that for all the media attention this incident has received, the vast majority of child trafficking doesn’t take the form of forced abduction.
 

Even here, in New York City, it can be easy to fall into a “That could never happen here” mindset. Unfortunately, it can happen anywhere—to any kid, at any school. ECPAT’s mission is to create a world in which no child is bought, sold, or used for sex. Part of that mission involves training young people to be leaders within their own communities, to help stop trafficking at the source. If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to view our PSA, and share it through social media within your own community.

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 ecpatusa.org/anykidanyschool.