At the U.N.

From Bronx Community Solutions Deputy Director Maria Almonte-Weston

“I’m very proud to know that we are working to re-humanize those whose dignity has been stolen.”

These were very poignant words coming from Dr. Mark Lagon, Ambassador-at-Large and Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State. The TIP Office coordinates the U.S. Government's activities in the global fight against modern-day slavery, including forced labor and sexual exploitation. He was the moderator for a panel discussion event at the United Nations, Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), called “Criminal Justice Responses Against Trafficking in Person.”

I’m glad I attend this event, I was able to see first hand the number of individuals interested and involved in the effort to end human trafficking. This very serious issue is finally being given a significant amount of attention, both domestically and internationally and small but concrete changes are occurring.

The panel consisted of a diverse and impressive group of individuals, from different backgrounds, professions and experiences. Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Esq. the Director for Battered Women’ Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families; Jessica Neuwirth, a founder and current president of Equality Now, an international human rights organization; Kenneth Franzblau, director of Human Trafficking Prevention at the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, who is in charge of implementing New York's new anti-trafficing laws, the toughest in the nation (more about him in this article); and last but certainly not least, a person who I believe was the most impressive and impactful individual on this panel, Ms. Kika Cerpa, a survivor of human trafficking and a strong voice for change (you can read more about her story in this Op-Ed column by Bob Herbert, "Hidden in Brothels, Slavery by Another Name"). Kika’s story is like so many others, a stranger in a strange land, with hopes of a better life who ends up with the mental scars of her abuse as her reality.

But there is another story, another face, one I see every time I go out on a Bronx Community Solutions street outreach with the NYPD. It’s the face of our neighborhood “Kika”, the run-away, throw-away, hard core youth I frequently encounter in the night. These girls, are rarely seen like ‘victims’ and are seldom treated like individuals who need to be protected. My hope is that the ‘prostitution initiative’ implemented by Bronx Judges, court players, precinct commanders and Bronx Community Solutions will also makes a small but significant change in the lives of sexually exploited individuals in the Bronx.