Remarks by Executive Director Carol Smolenski on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Founding of ECPAT-USA
November 30, 2011
Welcome, friends, to the twentieth anniversary of ECPAT-USA. Today we are celebrating 20 years of working to protect children from sexual exploitation: How far we have come from 1991 to 2011.
In 1991 when ECPAT first came together children were regularly being used in prostitution, and pornography but the world had not yet roused itself to stop it.
In 1991 there were American sex tour companies advertising the best way to have access to children when you travel abroad. If you bragged about it when you came back, there was no law that allowed you to be prosecuted upon your return. Years ago, an American Express travel agent called to say a man wanted to buy 30 plane tickets for men to go to the Philippines. The name of the company was Love Tours. Did I think that was a sex tour? We had a flight attendant tell us that, on a flight from the U.S. to Thailand, a passenger had approached one of her male flight attendant colleagues to tell him “we’re going to Thailand to have sex with boys. Would you like to join us?” No one knew what to do.
In 1991 there was little recognition that children were being exploited right here in the U.S.
In 1991 there was no federal or state law against human trafficking in the U.S. There were no training sessions to identify trafficking victims. There were no services for trafficking victims. Indeed there was no law that defined children who were commercially sexually exploited as victims. At the state level, states defined children involved in the sex trade as simultaneously victims of statutory rape and perpetrators of the crime of prostitution.
In 1991 commercial sexual exploitation of children and human trafficking were not on the agenda of the U.S. government or of any government. There was no plan to address the problem. There was no recognition of the power of pimps to recruit young girls. There was no recognition that boys are sexually exploited too.
In 1991 there was no private sector involvement in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation of children.
That was the year that we started creating an ECPAT campaign. The story about children being used and abused in a horrific sex industry were raised first by our colleagues in Asia. Despite the widespread fallacy that child sexual exploitation is an acceptable cultural practice in Asia, the ECPAT campaign actually started in Asia. Our Asian counterparts reached out to people around the world, including the U.S., to ask us to join them.
It was Meg Gardinier of the International Catholic Child Bureau, Lonnie Turnipseed and Victor Hsu from Church World Service, Melissa Gillis from the Presbyterian UN office, Mary Ann Smith, a Maryknoll sister then working for CODEL, Helen O’Sullivan from Maryknoll and many more partners, including Liz Calvin from the United Methodist Women, Defense for Children International, Virginia Hadsell, other women’s and children’s groups, churches and human rights groups.
We built a movement in the U.S., step by step. ECPAT-USA led a powerful group of individuals and organizations to make a difference. We were the first organization in the United States to work on the global problem of ending child sex trafficking. I cannot give you the list of everything ECPAT-USA has done, but here are a few of the highlights:
In sex tourism: We created the first child sex tourism educational materials in the United States in 1992. At the request of ECPAT-USA, the U.S. Department of Transportation asked all U.S. airlines to inform their customers about the laws against child sexual exploitation, by showing the Air France video or otherwise informing them.
In 1994 we won passage of the first sex tourism law which makes it possible to prosecute Americans in the United States for having abused children in other countries. And when the law needed strengthening in 2002, ECPAT-USA was called on to testify by the U.S. Senate to support of the change.
In 2004 we launched the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism in North America, in partnership with UNICEF and signed by the large U.S. hotel chain Carlson Companies. It has taken a while, but we are finally getting more U.S. companies to participate. We also carried the Protect Children in Tourism Project forward in Mexico, Belize and now Brazil.
In U.S. military involvement: In 1996 we successfully lobbied the Department of the Army to initiate the first service member training on the health, legal, diplomatic and moral dangers of child sexual exploitation.
In sex trafficking of American children: ECPAT-USA’s leadership is unchallenged in turning out research and awareness raising about child sexual exploitation both in the U.S. and abroad.
- In 1997 we gave the first ever national workshop about commercial sexual exploitation of children at the Children’s Defense Fund annual conference.
- In 1999 we published the first ever informational booklet about commercial sexual exploitation of children.
- This was followed in 2001 by the first U.S. report about commercial sexual exploitation of children, focused on New York City; and
- In 2002 by the first report about trafficking of children to New York City.
- In 2005 our ground breaking report “Who Is There to Help Us” finally put on the map the problem that American children were being sexually exploited in large numbers but were being ignored, or in many cases, treated as criminals instead of victims.
In 2000 we partnered with International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA) and Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) to support, first, the New York City Task Force Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Young People and then with IOFA to hold the first city-wide human trafficking training in New York City. This training was part of our Community Response to Trafficking Project which ran in New York from 2002-2005. It was the first federally funded human trafficking task force in the nation that becomes the model for federally funded human trafficking task forces now in 40 cities.
Our youth committee, consisting of New York City high school students throughout the city, started organizing in 2007.
Our Tassatag luggage project was launched in 2009. We raise awareness about child sex tourism and help support women who work at a fair-trade-certified center in Thailand that allows them to earn a living wage and support their children. With 8,500 tags sold so far, it transforms every person with a tag on their bag into a visible voice against child sex trafficking.
In the last two years The Body Shop has made it possible for us to work to pass legislation to protect U.S. children from being arrested for sexual exploitation. It has allowed us to help pass “safe harbor” laws in Connecticut, Vermont and Minnesota. Currently we are working to do so in New Jersey.
It has also allowed us to launch our first direct service program for children, both in the U.S. and in the Dominican Republic. The Child Survivor Health Project funds health services for sexually exploited children in the United States. We have found a “niche” in paying for the removal of tattoos from girls who have been “branded” by their pimp with his name or some slogan “daddy’s little money maker,” for example. Since tattoo removal is considered cosmetic surgery it is not covered by Medicaid. We have also supported a project of the ECPAT group in the Dominican Republic to help children trafficked to that country from Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.
So 2011 looks like a different world, from the one in which ECPAT-USA got its start.
Legislation: Today we have good legislation in place. We have a federal law against human trafficking. It authorizes an array of prevention, protection, and prosecution policies, including for the protection of child trafficking victims. Significantly it defines anyone under the age of 18 years old “induced to perform a commercial sex act” as a victim of human trafficking, not as a law breaker.
Today legislation at the state level is beginning to follow suit with the passage of laws we call “safe harbor.” Seven states have laws that call children who are involved in commercial sexual as a person in need of services, not punishment.
At the federal level we have a law that makes it a crime to travel abroad to sexually abuse children. The PROTECT act, as it is called is being vigorously enforced by U.S. law enforcement. At least 60 Americans have been prosecuted since this law was passed.
National Policy: When it comes to government policy, the U.S. has signed the significant international instruments that require it to implement protections for sexually exploited and trafficked children. Notably, the U.S. has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child. It has also signed The Rio de Janeiro Declaration and Call for Action to Prevent and Stop Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents. By signing these, the U.S. government indicates its acceptance of the international standards that have been elaborated over the course of twenty years to make sure children are protected from sexual exploitation. In response, the U.S. Department of Justice has published the U.S. Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and other steps. Grants have been given for research, training, awareness-raising, to implement these international instruments.
Training. It is now a very regular part of the criminal justice infrastructure that organizations are training law enforcement officers about human trafficking and about commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Private sector. Today, thanks to the very very significant leadership of Carlson Companies and with more companies now finally joining us we have guidelines that the private sector is agreeing to abide by to ensure they are not facilitating child sexual exploitation. We have representatives of Carlson Companies here tonight, Brenda Schultz and BJ Lunde. This year Delta Air Lines, Wyndham Hotels and Hilton Hotels (in two cities), the Millennium Hotel in St. Louis and Global Exchange have joined the effort. We believe we finally have the momentum for much more. What this means is that companies are using their own corporate resources to carry out the mission of protecting children from sexual exploitation.
Awareness. Today there is a burgeoning recognition by elected officials and the public that we have a big problem of children who are not properly protected from commercial sexual exploitation. The Body Shop stores across the country, more than 200 of them, have been raising awareness and gathering signatures in a petition to ask policy makers to protect kids, not arrest them.
We have come so far, but it is no time to stop the momentum. In fact it is time to increase the fight. We still have a lot to do.
While the laws have changed and we see increased protection for kids in the U,S., we have a long way to go to change attitudes. Just a few weeks ago at a City Council hearing, NYPD was still talking about the need to lock these kids up, in order to force them to testify against their pimps. And if that rings true to you, that it is a good idea to do so, just think how jarring it would be if he testified that people who are victims of domestic abuse, should be locked up in order to force them to testify against their partners. What a long way we still have to go.
We need even more training for law enforcement officers. About a month or two ago I spoke with an FBI agent. I had passed along an online prostitution advertisement with pictures of a girl who looked really young. It showed both her face and in a separate picture, her body. When I called him he told me that he didn’t think it was a case of child prostitution because she was “well endowed.” I asked if that means they only investigate pre-pubescent cases of child sexual exploitation, he said, no, anyone under 18 could be a victim of child prostitution. ….Well then what would it matter that she was “well endowed.” She could be 14 year old and be well endowed. What a long way we have still to go.
We have a list of about 70 hotel properties in the United States at which sexual exploitation of children has taken place—most every big U.S. brand name hotel is on the list. Most of them have not yet signed the Code of Conduct to take responsibility for stopping this from happening on their premises. What a long way we still have to go.
Four people were convicted in Brooklyn last week of pimping out two girls—one 13 years old and one 12 years old. It is good that these people were caught and convicted. But what I am wondering about is: who were the men who were paying to have sex with 12 and 13 year old girls? Coming right after the story of the Penn State and Syracuse University debacles in the last couple of weeks, it drives you to ask, what has to happen to stop the silent complicity, especially among men. When will men begin to discuss among themselves how to take responsibility for the protection of children. What a long way we still have to go.
I ask you to continue to support our important work. We have a clear path ahead. ECPAT-USA continues to be the leading organization in protecting children from commercial sexual exploitation. Soon we will launch our video campaign, developed in partnership with WITNESS. The film is called “What I’ve Been Through is Not Who I Am.” It will be used to raise awareness about the need for laws to protect children, not arrest them for sexual exploitation.
We will be supporting more and more travel companies in their efforts to ensure their premises are not facilitating child sexual exploitation. Specifically we are just starting up an effort to begin a New York City focused campaign on Code of Conduct.
We will be bringing in more men to get involved in campaigning against sexual exploitation of children.
We will be bringing in more youth to get more involved, working on the ECPATUSA youth committee but now also working with GEMS to create a national model for youth involvement.
We will soon be publishing a report about sexual exploitation of boys with recommendations about ways forward to protect them, as we have in the past, putting the issue on the policy agenda.
We are reaching out to even more partners, among the runaway and homeless youth organizations, foster care organizations and juvenile justice organizations.
ECPAT-USA never did and cannot do this alone. We need you to help us to continue to lead the charge. I know that children are being used in prostitution right now as we speak. For me, and I suspect for you, it is unacceptable to live in a world where this happens. I thank all of our supporters who have made the work of ECPAT-USA possible, I thank you all for coming and I thank the newcomers who are just hearing about our work. Now let’s get to work.