By Doug Keillor
The D.C. Stop Child Trafficking Now Walk, organized by local NGO Stop Modern Slavery, took place on September 26, 2009. The one-mile walk from Meridian Hill Park in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. aimed to raise community awareness of child trafficking. Although this is the first year the walk has been hosted, it was attended by around 700 people.
A series of experts spoke at Meridian Hill Park after the walk. Each presenter spoke for a few minutes to educate attendees about the problem. “We’ve all been affected by child trafficking,” said Andrea Powell, Executive Director of the FAIR Fund. Powell explained that many residents have seen victims on the city’s streets without realizing it, or have purchased products that have been produced by trafficked child slaves.
The speakers discussed the public perception of child trafficking as a problem occurring mostly overseas. Many speakers noted that when they first became active in the fight against child trafficking, they were shocked at the prevalence of the problem within the United States. International trafficking to the United States is a problem, and experts estimate that 17,500 children are trafficked to the United States from other countries per year. However, domestic child trafficking is a much larger problem. Experts estimate that the number of U.S. children at high risk for child trafficking or child prostitution is between 100,000 and 300,000, and the average age of children entering prostitution is 13. Former U.S. Representative Linda Smith, now the President of Shared Hope International, spoke at the event about how when she started preliminary investigations into child trafficking, that she was shocked to find out that nearly nine out of 10 victims are U.S. citizens, and almost all perpetrators of trafficking are males living in the United States.
Washington, D.C. is one of the top ten destinations for trafficked children in the United States, which is one of the reasons Phil Mendelson, D.C. Council Member At-Large, is committed to ending child trafficking in the District. Mendelson spoke to promote the passage of the Washington, D.C. Council’s Prohibition against Human Trafficking Act of 2009, which will increase existing penalties and expand prosecution from individuals who participate in trafficking to also include penalties for businesses and individuals who knowingly benefit from trafficking in persons.
In comparison to raising community awareness, “passing laws is the easy part,” Mendelson noted. Nevertheless, community awareness is crucial to the fight against human trafficking. Powell of the FAIR Fund hosts presentations in D.C. public schools focused on identifying the signs of human trafficking. She was shocked to hear people say they knew children at school who worked as prostitutes but did not realize the children were actually child slaves.
And slavery is what Ben Skinner insists on calling the crime. Skinner, the author of A Crime So Monstrous, wanted the audience to see child trafficking for what it is: slavery and a “genuine crime against humanity.” He had just returned from speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting. Skinner provided three steps for the public to take. First, educate the community and foster an understanding of what human trafficking is. Second, “catch the eye of people in power”. Third, people should get more directly involved. Organizers of the walk aimed to provide DC residents with more opportunities to get directly involved.