The “New York’s New Abolitionists” program, consisting of a team of over 120 leaders in business, government, media, the arts and human rights, began a new project to end human slavery and trafficking in the state on Tuesday.
The program includes an exhibit of 120 of individual portraits of the group’s members, including designer Diane von Furstenburg, Tina Fey and Seth Meyers.
Statistics show that sex trafficking is a significant problem for African-American girls. A report earlier this year by the Office of Victims of Crime revealed that 40 percent of sex trafficking victims were African-American—almost four times higher than the percentage of African-Americans living in the United States. In addition, Black children under 18 make up 55 percent of all prostitution-related arrests in the U.S.
“It has been a hard challenge to reverse our thinking on this and to bring these cases into the light, at the same time, respecting the privacy and rights of the trafficked individuals,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, who is a member of the coalition, told news channel NY1. “I would say it is a much more significant problem than people understand, but it is a problem that we can attack aggressively.”
This traveling exhibit was headed by New York’s leading provider of services for survivors of sex trafficking, Sanctuary for Families and the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition.
“Let’s make it clear: slavery is not someone else’s nightmare,” said Dorchen Leidholdt, legal director of Sanctuary for Families, pointing to the fact that on any night about 4,000 children in New York state are victims of sex trafficking.
“Here is a sad statistic,” said CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman, who is also a member of the group. “One in three teens who runs away will be driven into prostitution within 48 hours.”
In past years, sex trafficking was so rampant because victims did not believe they could get the kind of support they needed from law enforcement.
“Twenty-five years later, we are at a different place in law enforcement,” Vance said of the fact that now the victims of sexual trafficking are getting the help they need while their abusers are getting sentenced for their crimes.
Along with the exhibit, the group is pushing for the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act, which would make sex trafficking a violent felony and raise the penalty for labor trafficking.