I founded FAIR Fund six years ago. I thought that we would be working exclusively in faraway countries. Our first youth anti trafficking prevention programs launched in Bosnia and Uzbekistan. We remain heavily committed to our programs for street-involved, orphaned, and trafficked girls in countries that include Serbia, Russia, and Uganda. This morning, I had the privilege of joining the Better World Campaign and the UN Foundation for a small lunch gathering with UN Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Rachel Mayanja. Ms. Maynanja is from Uganda and spoke passionately about the need for better legal advocacy and partnerships to address violence and trafficking of girls in areas of conflict, such as northern Uganda. She surprised me when she also stressed that violence against girls happens right here in the United States and other developed countries. No place is immune sexual violence, human trafficking, and other forms of violence against women. However, the global community is bringing world leaders, community-based partners, and even young people themselves together to effect change.
While walking through the streets of downtown Moscow, Russia this past Fall, my colleague and I discovered a 9-year-old girl being forced to work at midnight on the streets. We followed her and saw her several nights. I lamented and was frustrated that no one - not even other women's organizations we talked to - seemed to think anything could truly be done for her. I fumed at what I thought was a system of neglect and uncaring.
Again, just a few days ago, I met another 9-year-old girl walking the streets, selling candy out of a dirty crate. Only this time, she was not in Russia or Uganda. She was in Dupont Circle - one of the most affluent neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. She told me she sold candy to help pay for a school trip to New York. She handed me an informational sheet printed on the back of a bar menu and I noticed her chapped fingers and frayed coat sleeves. A van was parked across the street and an older man appeared to be supervising her. I called Child Protective Services. I don't think anything was done. I have been looking for her ever since.
On December 8, the LA Times reported that domestic child victims of sex trafficking are not receiving the care they need to truly recover. In November, a 5-year-old girl, Shaynia Davis, in North Carolina was sold by her mother to a man who planned to sexually assault her. She is now dead.
The current news now verifies what FAIR Fund has known for the past three years - American girls and boys are also being victimized by sex and labor trafficking. FAIR Fund and our partners continue to find victims inside D.C. public schools, youth shelters, and on the streets. I believe that a child is a child and exploitation is exploitation. No one - in particular a child - deserves to be exploited through human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery.
The holiday season is on us. I am once again hanging the holiday lights and making my famous chocolate mint cookies for friends. But, actually, what really makes me happy is the new hope I have for a 16 year old girl in D.C. who I will call Tara. Tara is has been exploited by her parents pretty much her whole life. She has been sold into prostitution and at times even thought she was okay with her situation. Just a couple of weeks ago, Tara decided she had had enough and walked out the door.
It is true that there is not enough support for trafficked girls like Tara in D.C. or nationally. With limited housing options and untrained social workers, I am not sure where Tara's next steps will lead her. However, FAIR Fund and two local youth shelters pulled together, and Tara is getting a roof over her head, food, and is being supported 24/7 through FAIR Fund's JewelGIrls program. We are creating a safe passage for Tara. I truly think she is hopeful for the first time in her life.
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