21 Mar UFI at the UN: Family as the First Defense Against Human Trafficking
by Angela Fallentine
The 61st Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations is underway in New York and the United Families International team is on the ground attending and monitoring events. The theme for this year’s CSW is “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work” and while many events have indeed focused on women in the workplace, there have also been a wide range of topics of great concern regarding the family that we will continue to report on in the upcoming days.
One of the most powerful and memorable moments of the week was a special high-level side event sponsored by the Group of Friends of the Family, a coalition of twenty-five countries titled “Root Causes of Trafficking in Persons: Key Role of the Family for Protection and Prevention.” The large auditorium in the heart of the United Headquarters was filled to capacity as the audience heard tragic and captivating first-hand accounts of human sex trafficking in the United States. The first segment was moderated by Fox News contributor Mercedes Schlapp and included a powerful recap of the new movie I Am Jane Doe, which chronicles the stories of mothers who stood up for their middle school-aged daughters who were victims of sex trafficking via a website—a website that is still in operation today and protected by large corporations and Internet privacy laws.
The second segment included a stark and moving first-hand account by Jen Spry, a childhood survivor of sex trafficking. It was so powerful that not only was the audience moved to tears, but also to their feet for a standing ovation. Spry shared the harrowing account of being eight years old when a man moved into her family’s neighborhood and asked her if she had seen his dog and then soon threatened her mother’s life if she told her what he was doing. In her own words, she states:
I was human trafficked at 8 years old. This lasted for 2 years of my life. A man moved in only 4 doors away from our home and that is when my life was changed forever. My mother never knew, because it happened when no one suspected which was between the hours of 3pm to 6pm. I made it home every night. No one ever came looking for me, because I never went missing.
Spry outlined the tactics that child pornographers and sex traffickers used to manipulate and intimidate and eventually sell children in both broad daylight and after school right here in the United States. She made a passionate plea for mothers and fathers to be actively engaged in their children’s lives. She said that so often times the warning signs of sex trafficking are there but can be missed or blurred because they initially surface as mood changes, bad behavior, skipping school and poor school performance. Children don’t admit they are victims due to shame because they are so traumatized and manipulated that they don’t readily recognize or admit it.
When she was 10 years old, out of desperation, Spry went to a doctor (without her mother) and he missed the signs of the child abuse she was enduring.
“All the signs were there,” she said. “He saw signs of abuse, but didn’t ask the right questions.” Assuming she was being promiscuous instead of prostituted, he asked if something was happening. And she said, ‘It will never happen again.’ ”
The doctor believed her and dismissed Spry, warning her that if he did see her again in that condition, he would “do something.”
“In my child-like mind that doctor was my last hope for intervention. I left the doctor’s office feeling hopeless and then decided that I would never tell anyone what had happened to me.”
This event at the United Nations had a deep impact on the audience and put public policy, parental consent laws and the role of the family into an entirely new light. For instance, when lawmakers, the medical community and boards of education seek to remove parental rights and parental consent, it creates an environment of secrecy where parents may not be informed as to what is going on at school or medically with their children. This is one of the many reasons why parental rights are the most critical lines of defense for the protection of children.
This moving event was complimented by His Excellency Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, President of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). He made a strong plea for the world to remember that the family is the firm foundation for enabling and empowering women and girls to reach their full potential and that “the family is a powerful shield.” Following his remarks, Her Excellency Laila Bahas Eldein stated that “the family is the cornerstone that protects society.”
Indeed, the family is the powerful shield and the cornerstone that protects children and working together, mothers and fathers can be a force for good in their children’s lives.