"Fighting Modern Day Slavery": YWCA Greenwich presents panel on human trafficking

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Ahead of  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day, YWCA Greenwich held a panel discussion about human trafficking January 11 to honor Dr. King’s legacy of advocating for social justice. The hour-and-a-half long panel event, titled “Fighting Modern Day Slavery,” featured five experts who offered multidimensional analysis of the issue and advice to local citizens about what they could do to make a difference.
The panel included Director of Health Professional Outreach at the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Chair of the Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council Ms. Jillian Gilchrest, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) and former State Supreme Court Justice Ms. Joette Katz, Director of Safety and Justice Initiatives Advisor for the Grace Farms Foundation and former Head of Homeland Security for the State of Connecticut Mr. Rod Khattabi, and lawyer and partner on the only successful civil suit against Backpage.com, a prominent site that sex traffickers often use to sell and advertise their victims, Mr. Vincent T. Nappo. General Counsel and Director of Justice Initiatives for the Grace Farms Foundation and former Federal Prosecutor Ms. Krishna Patel. 

The YWCA presented a panel discussion about labor and sex trafficking January 11. Community partners included Global PEHT, the Anti Defamation League, the Junior League of Greenwich, and others. Karina Badey ’19.

Members of the panel wore articles of blue clothing for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Blue Campaign against human trafficking. January 11, the day of the panel, was DHS’s Wear Blue Day as well as National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
According to dhs.gov, “[t]hrough the Blue Campaign, DHS raises public awareness about human trafficking, leveraging partnerships to educate the public to recognize human trafficking and report suspected instances. The Blue Campaign also offers training to law enforcement and others to increase detection and investigation of human trafficking, and to protect victims and bring suspected traffickers to justice.”
President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of YWCA Greenwich Ms. Mary Lee A. Kiernan started the event with an introduction to the panel and the prevalence of issues regarding sex trafficking in general.
“With conservative estimates of 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, we decided that ‘Fighting Modern Day Slavery’ was an urgent topic for this year’s event,” Ms. Kiernan wrote in the event’s program.
After Ms. Kiernan’s opening statement, she presented a video greeting from United States Senator Mr. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut. Mr. Blumenthal apologized for not being able to attend the event, and he thanked the YWCA for shedding light on the subject of human trafficking. He also spoke about the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act,” which is the bipartisan legislation he introduced along with United States Senator Mr. Rob Portman from Ohio and other Democratic and Republican Senators. The legislation aims to hold websites that facilitate online sex trafficking liable and allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against such websites.
“Our narrowly tailored legislation would give victims of sex trafficking their day in court. For too long, countless young people have been victims of prostitution, human trafficking, and horrendous violence through ads on websites like Backpage.com. This is not an abstract debate: these advertisements come with a real, unconscionable human cost,” Mr. Blumenthal said, according to portman.senate.gov.  
Congressman Jim Himes addresses the audience. Emily Coster ’18.

Following Mr. Blumenthal’s video message, Connecticut’s Fourth District Congressman Mr. Jim Himes spoke to the audience about sex trafficking and emphasized the importance of spreading awareness about the problem in our local area, explaining that even he was once unaware of the presence of human trafficking in Connecticut.
“If you had asked me 10 years ago about human trafficking, I would have said that was somebody else’s problem,” Mr. Himes said.
Ms. Patel began the panel discussion, differentiating two types of trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. She also stated that the majority of overall trafficking victims are women and children. According to a report by the International Labour Organization in 2017, 71 percent of all trafficking victims are female, and 99 percent of commercial sex trafficking victims are female.
Ms. Katz provided additional statistical information to convey the magnitude of human trafficking in Connecticut. The DCF dealt with 202 cases of youth sex trafficking in 2016. 184 of them were female. The DCF categorizes Connecticut trafficking data by region, and the general area of Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, and Greenwich have the highest number of female trafficking victims in all of Connecticut.
Ms. Patel played a trailer for the film “I am Jane Doe,” a documentary that focuses on the victims of online sex trafficking. The trailer offered more contextual information and set the tone for the panel discussion. 
According to iamjanedoefilm.com, “I am Jane Doe is a documentary chronicling the legal battle that several American mothers are waging on behalf of their middle-school daughters, who were trafficked for commercial sex on Backpage.com, the classified advertising website formerly owned by the Village Voice.”
The discussion continued with Mr. Khattabi describing the issue from the perspective of law enforcement. He explained that a challenge in pursuing human trafficking cases, in particular sex trafficking cases, is handling victims who are hostile to law enforcement. Many of the victims whom law enforcement are trying to rescue are distrustful of police and feel indebted to their traffickers.
Next, Mr. Nappo described his experiences representing victims of youth sex trafficking who sued Backpage.com. He explained that it is difficult to win cases against sites like Backpage.com because websites are not held to the same standards of negligence that most businesses are.
“[The Communications Decency Act] provide[s] websites with immunity for being sued for publishing third-party content that my have resulted in some sort of harm to someone else,” Mr. Nappo said. “The problem is that we’ve got companies like Backpage who have been able to use this law to argue that [individuals] can’t sue [Backpage.com] civilly.” 
Ms. Patel mentioned that in 2016, 70 percent of all trafficked minors in the United States were advertised on Backpage.com.
All five experts agreed that the most challenging aspect of the issue is effectively preventing future victims from entering dangerous trafficking situations. The panelists emphasized that it has been hard to enact education and prevention programs, especially in schools. These programs can offer crucial information that exposes the reality of sex trafficking.
Mr. Nappo explained that the trafficking victims who he has represented entered the industry freely, but under false pretenses. Therefore, he believes that educating local youth about the reality of sex trafficking would help to reduce the number of potential victims.
Five experts offer insights about the issue of human trafficking and answered questions from the audience. Karina Badey ’19

“They weren’t taken against their will. They started out thinking they were in control and that they were making these decisions for themselves. They quickly realized they had made a horrible mistake,” Mr. Nappo said. “But that’s why education is so critical.”
Ms. Gilchrest stated that it is important for people to acknowledge that sex trafficking victims, especially those who are minors, are not prostitutes. Although they may initially consent to sex work, they are often exploited and abused. Further, minors are not legally able to consent to intercourse. 
Ms. Patel ended the discussion asserting that ordinary citizens can make a difference by lobbying local and state politicians and attorney generals for more effective anti-trafficking legislation and promoting education and awareness about the issue.
“The state of California just passed the first-ever law requiring seventh through twelfth-grade sex trafficking education. It’s something the citizens of Connecticut could lobby for, which I would highly encourage,” Ms. Patel said.
Mr. Nappo agreed with Ms. Patel, telling the audience that individuals can make a substantial impact in their communities by supporting anti-trafficking groups and contacting lawmakers.
“Don’t think for a second that […] you can’t somehow get involved on the ground and tangibly be a part of this movement and a part of really affecting change,” Mr. Nappo said.
– Emily Coster, Editor-in-Chief