YWCA Greenwich raises awareness about human trafficking

On Thursday, Jan. 11, in front of a standing-room only crowd, a panel of influencers tackled the issue of modern day slavery. The event, hosted and co-sponsored by YWCA Greenwich, was a discussion about the fight to end human trafficking, charge abusers with crimes, and help the community understand the warning signs of trafficking and how to help victims. Thirty local non-profits and houses of worship also signed on to partner with the YWCA in this effort to raise awareness of this hideous crime.

“Each year, we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by choosing a topic he would have cared deeply about,” said Mary Lee Kiernan, president and CEO, YWCA Greenwich. “With more people enslaved today than at any other time in human history, this is a battle society has to take on and win; and we believe Dr. King would have been at the forefront of this new fight for human freedom.”

The panel included: Moderator, Krishna Patel, General Counsel and Director of Justice Initiatives, Grace Farms Foundation, and former Deputy Chief of National Security and Major Crimes in the District of Connecticut; Jillian Gilchrest, Director of Health Professional Outreach, Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Chair, Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council; Joette Katz, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and former State Supreme Court Justice; Rod Khattabi, Director of Safety and Justice Initiatives Advisor, Grace Farms Foundation, and former Head of Homeland Security for the State of Connecticut; and Vincent Nappo, Lawyer, PCVA Law Offices, Seattle, Washington, and partner on the case against Backpage.com, a classified ad website used by human traffickers to sell sex, including with children.

Human trafficking is a $150 billion dollar criminal industry, with commercial sex generating two-thirds of the profit. According to a 2017 report of the International Labour Organization, there are 40.3 million estimated victims of human trafficking globally — 62% are forced into various forms of labor; one quarter of the victims are children; 99% of the victims in the commercial sex industry are women and girls; and women and girls comprise 71% of all victims of trafficking. The Internet, including the Dark Web, has made access to victims much easier. Websites like Craigslist.com and Backpage.com freely sell sex, including with children. When one site closes down, another is ready, using tactics that thinly veil its purpose.

In the United States, reports of human trafficking are on the rise. In 2016, the Polaris Project identified 8,042 cases of human trafficking, a 35 percent jump over 2015. Labor trafficking soared by 47 percent, but all trafficking is still widely underreported. Between 2007 and 2017, 594 cases of human trafficking in the State of Connecticut were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“Human trafficking is the greatest crime against humanity,” said Krishna Patel, General Counsel and Director of Justice Initiatives, Grace Farms Foundation. “Its victims walk among us, in hotels, doing domestic work, working in factories and being sold on websites barely hidden from view of the average person. Unless we raise awareness in our communities and build a coalition that will take down the traffickers and enablers, we are going to lose the battle and millions of people will continue to experience this cruel suffering.” Children are particularly vulnerable to modern slavery. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that one out of six endangered runaways in the United States are likely child sex trafficking victims, and of those, 86% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran. NCMEC reports that children who are particularly vulnerable include those who have a history of sexual abuse, have a tendency to run away, have limited education, have a gender bias, have experienced sexual orientation discrimination or live in poverty.

Earlier this week, a co-signed letter from seven prominent organizations that are fighting against human trafficking — Grace Farms Foundation, Global Partnership to End Human Trafficking, The Underground, Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, YWCA Greenwich, Center for Youth Leadership and Center for Human Trafficking Court Solutions — was sent to Connecticut State Attorney General, George Jepsen, asking his office to investigate and file suit against Backpage.com for its knowing participation in the trafficking of Connecticut’s children. To read the letter, go to www.ywcagreenwich.org/letter-attorney-general-george-jepsen.

For more than 10 years, the State of Connecticut has had a trafficking in persons felony charge on the books but arrests and conviction rates have been very low. Last year, the state strengthened child trafficking laws by creating a new crime, “commercial sex abuse of a minor,” which is a Class A felony if the minor is under 15 years of age. The new law also requires training for state public safety, legal, health care, and public school employees for identifying and reporting human trafficking. The Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council continues to explore whether enforcement of state trafficking laws can be improved, resulting in more prosecutions on the demand side of trafficking.

A replay of the event will be available soon at ywcagreenwich.org/fighting-modern-day-slavery. To learn more about human trafficking in the state of Connecticut, go to http://www.portal.ct.gov/DCF/HART/Home and to learn about efforts at the national level, go to https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign.

Joette Katz, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families; Vincent Nappo, Lawyer and Partner on Backpage.com case, PCVA Law Offices, Seattle, WA; Krishna Patel, General Counsel and Director of Justice Initiatives, Grace Farms Foundation, and former Federal Prosecutor; Mary Lee Kiernan, President & CEO, YWCA Greenwich; Jillian Gilchrest, Director of Health Professional Outreach, Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Chair, Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council; Rod Khattabi, Director of Safety and Justice Initiatives Advisor, Grace Farms Foundation and former head of Homeland Security for the State of CT.

Joette Katz, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families; Vincent Nappo, Lawyer and Partner on Backpage.com case, PCVA Law Offices, Seattle, WA; Krishna Patel, General Counsel and Director of Justice Initiatives, Grace Farms Foundation, and former Federal Prosecutor; Mary Lee Kiernan, President & CEO, YWCA Greenwich; Jillian Gilchrest, Director of Health Professional Outreach, Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Chair, Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council; Rod Khattabi, Director of Safety and Justice Initiatives Advisor, Grace Farms Foundation and former head of Homeland Security for the State of CT.

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