Innocents at Risk Blog

A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face With Modern Day Slavery

June 26, 2015
f4c6c0e8-296d-4bb5-8990-8dddd0f2be00“There are now more slaves on the planet then at any time in human history.”….. “Today human traffickers brings more slaves into the US than slave traders transported into pre-independence America.”

But slavery has been abolished. How can this be a true? Benjamin Skinner’s book A Crime So Monstrous confronts this very issue. There are many different forms of slavery, and the increase in this criminal activity can be traced back to the prominent degradation of human life as well as government corruption. Skinner’s book provides real-case scenarios, bringing to light the pressing issue of violence and modern day slavery. A must read for everyone passionate about this issue but also for those unfamiliar with the reality.

Bekah York, Intern

Summer Programs!

June 26, 2015
Innocents at Risk has developed an educational outreach presentation to inform students and young adults in the community about human trafficking. We are looking for local summer programs to present at! If you or someone you know would be interested contact us at: innocentsatriskintern@gmail.com

U.S. arrests 1,140 on child sexual predation charges

June 24, 2015
WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United States has arrested 1,140 people on charges of sexually preying on children as part of a nationwide sweep to protect children, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.

The arrests stemmed from a two-month operation in April and May tracking alleged offenders who use the Internet to lure youths and traffic them into commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography and traveling abroad to engage in child sex tourism, it said in a news release.

The arrests were part of Operation Broken Heart, which last year netted 275 arrests for child sexual predation.

In Texas, for example, 17 men were charged with a range of crimes that included stalking children on the Internet for sex, and possession and distribution of child pornography, it said.

Among the men arrested in Texas were three soldiers and a former employee of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Texas.

“Predators use technology in sinister and inventive ways to reach their child victims across state and national boundaries,” Robert Listenbee, administrator of the department’s juvenile justice and delinquency prevention program, said in the news release.

(Reporting by Stella Dawson, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

Sincerely,
Bekah York via Reuters
The Interns at Innocents at Risk

Donate to the Ninos de Cristo 2015 Trip

259938c6-0fd9-408f-87c1-e05a0d93a82bSince 2009, Innocents at Risk has been partnered with the Ninos de Cristo Orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Ninos de Cristo, directed by Sonia Hane, provides a safe haven to children who have been abandoned and subjected to physical abuse. It also acts as a home for survivors of child trafficking. By providing education, healthcare, and housing, Ninos de Cristo ensures a better life for the 160 orphans housed there.

In past years Deborah Sigmund and the Innocents at Risk team have traveled to the Ninos de Cristo Orphanage to donate life-giving supplies, such as food and health aid, and to engage with the children. We need your help to make this mission possible again! With the help of your donations, the Innocents at Risk team could service many young trafficked children and provide vital assistance to Ninos de Cristo.

In 2010 Yolanda Dotel arrived at Ninos de Cristo after the earthquake in Haiti killed both of her parents. “I am so happy to be in the Orphanage, and enjoy playing volleyball with my friends; all of us are like a big family, I feel safe and I love going to school and learning.” When she is older Yolanda would love to be a teacher. You can help make that dream become a reality.

A donation of $2500 will sponsor a child for a year. A donation of $1000 pays for hot lunches for the children. A donation of $500 allows the orphanage to purchase clothing for the children and one of $250 can purchase shoes. By funding our program with Ninos de Cristo, you can help Yolanda and many other children like her flourish. We also need your help to provide clothing, shoes, books, toiletries, toys, and games to the children of Ninos de Cristo.

Innocents at Risk depends on the generous contributions from donors like you. We all can make a difference in these young children’s lives! The donations can be mailed to our office at this address: 1101 30th St. Suite 500 NW Washington DC, 20007.
Additionally, you can donate online: https://app.mobilecause.com/public/campaigns_keywords/11188/donations/new
Go Fund Me: http://www.gofundme.com/w8whz8
Or you can buy our T-shirts: https://www.bonfirefunds.com/innocents-at-risks-fund
We thank you greatly for your consideration and continued support for this worthwhile project.

Innocents at Risk Salutes NBC and Natalie Morales!

June 8, 2015
We would like to thank Dateline NBC and its host, Natalie Morales, for the eye-opening episode, “My Child Would Never Do That: Stranger Danger, ” which aired on Sunday, June 7. The educational program used a hidden-camera test to capture children’s responses when approached by a stranger- an actor playing the role of a family contractor. The results of the test were devastating. Many of the children willingly obeyed the stranger when he approached them at their house or on the street. Though upsetting, this episode serves as a valuable lesson to all parents when it comes to the safety of their children. According to NBC, 90 percent of abduction cases involve someone who the child has met before. This episode is testament to that. Parents, please teach your kids to never talk to strangers, even if its someone they have previously met. A predator can be disguised as a contractor working in your house or even someone selling ice cream. Finally, stress to your children that it is never safe to get into a car or bus with anyone without parental consent.

Thank you again, Natalie and NBC, for this instructive program. Its lesson is so crucial to ensuring the safety of all children.We salute you for your incredible work!

Sincerely,
Deborah Sigmund, Founder
Erin Doley, Intern

Your sponsorship is appreciated!

Since 2005, Innocents at Risk has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about child trafficking on a local and national level. Our community outreach includes tasks such as benefit receptions, educational outreach, and advocacy programs, which have reached thousands of individuals.

Our 501(c)(3) nonprofit has been dedicated to educating Washington DC youth to prevent child trafficking. Or annual walk on the National Mall has educated hundreds on the horrifying crime of child trafficking. Working in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we have visited schools, thus bringing awareness to hundreds of students in order to keep them safe. Our founder, Deborah Sigmund, has spoken with students from institutions including, Cesar Chavez Public Charter School, the McKinley Technology Education Campus, the International Student House, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Internship Program, the Institute for Collaborative Education and many more to educate them about our work and strategies to prevent human trafficking. Additionally, in 2008, Innocents at Risk established a formal internship program, which has allowed passionate undergraduate students to gain critical working experience in a non-profit setting while doing their part in bringing an end to human trafficking and having the expertise to bring their knowledge back to their universities and individual communities.

Earlier this year Innocents at Risk lobbied for The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act by the House on May 20, 2015, one of the most significant accomplishments in the anti-human trafficking fight (www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/181/text). After speaking with congress, Ms. Sigmund attended the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act Celebration Ceremony with Representative Carolyn Maloney. This accomplishment only emphasizes the importance of awareness.

We need your help! Despite the numerous partnerships Innocents at Risks shares with government and non-government organizations working to end this evil injustice, there is still so much work we can do. The fastest growing criminal industry in the world, human trafficking continues to be a clear and present danger. We are asking for your support in educating America and bringing this abuse and exploitation to a stop. For the sake of all children, we can make a difference to end child trafficking.

Sincerely,
Deborah Sigmund
Founder of Innocents at Risk

Backpage.com Not Liable For Pimps Selling Children

May 28, 2015
This past week Judge Richard Sterns dismissed a suit against Backpage, a site that was accused of hosting ads for pimps who traffic children. The suit claimed that the site knowingly supports and benefits from child trafficking in the States. Judge Richard Sterns ruled the the company is free from liability due to an exemption in the Communications Decency Act. The Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996 to fight pornographic material on the internet. However, Judge Richard ruled that Backpage is exempt due to the fact the website hosts are not responsible for user-generated material. Basically, Backpage is not culpable for pimps who sell children on it’s site. The website claims to actively fight child trafficking.
Donna Rice Hughes, CEO of an internet safety group Enough is Enough and supporter of the Communications Decency Act, is skeptical of Backpage’s claims to help children. In fact Donna said that 47 of the U.S. attorneys general proposed a minor amendment to the Communications Decency Act in 2013 because of the courts incorrectly interpreting the exemption. The proposal asks for Congress to bestow criminal jurisdiction to local and state governments. The proposal was denied, but Donna hopes the attorneys will push for change. Donna says, “This provision has been taken advantage of for far too long and children are paying the price!”

This is about our children! Backpage must be stopped from selling innocent lives in their ads!

Congratulations to Ambassador Melanne Verveer!

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Pictured above is an article from the Marie Claire May edition.

Congratulations to Ambassador Melanne Verveer on her many accomplishments in the fight for the needs of women on the global stage. Among the most recent was her acknowledgment as the Lifetime Leadership Award recipient at the annual DVF Awards on April 23, 2015. This event, put together by Diane von Furstenberg, was in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Ambassador Verveer’s recognition was featured in the May edition of Marie Claire (shown above). Now the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, she previously served as the Chief Assistant to First Lady Hillary Clinton, the U.S.’s first ambassador for global women’s issues and the chair and co-CEO for Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international nonprofit that invests in emerging women leaders and promotes human rights.

In addition to all her past accomplishments, Ambassador Verveer has been the “Godmother” to Innocents at Risk since our beginning. Her role in helping to create Innocents at Risk was instrumental. She not only brought crucial connections to the organization, but also helped educate us on the issue of child trafficking in the beginning. Since then, she has been a staunch supporter of Innocents at Risk through the years. We honored her at the beautiful event hosted by the Embassy of Luxembourg in 2011.

Thank you Ambassador Verveer for your countless years dedicated to improving women’s lives in the world.

Representative Carolyn Maloney Speaks Out

Thursday, May 21, 2015, I had the privilege of accompanying Representative Carolyn Maloney when she addressed Members of Congress and made the following remarks:

“Mr. Speaker, press reports this week show that the reign of terror wrought by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria has reached appalling new depths of depravity. They have chosen to use – as a weapon of war – widespread, organized sexual violence against young girls and women. Hundreds of women and girls as young as 11 have been subjected to systematic, organized rape. The terrorists have also used women and children to carry out suicide bombings against civilian targets. These are crimes against humanity, which is why I’m pleased to join Congresswoman Barbara Lee in support of an International Criminal Court investigation. I am also pleased that the House approved an amendment that Rep. Ed Royce and I offered to the National Defense Authorization Act that calls for continued U.S. support of international efforts to combat Boko Haram. History has taught us – to our everlasting sorrow – that when such horrors arise the world cannot and should not stand idly by.”

We salute Representative Carolyn Maloney for taking this important stand and we agree with her completely! We cannot stand by and do nothing!

Sincerely,
Deborah Sigmund, Founder
Louisa Zachmann, Intern

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) Headed to President’s Desk

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Wednesday the House passed historic, bipartisan legislation to combat human trafficking in America. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) is now on its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law. JVTA was sponsored in the House by myself and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York, and in the Senate by Senator Cornyn. We issued the below statement after JVTA passed the House with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 420-3. The bill passed the Senate unanimously in April.

In a time of seemingly endless partisan gridlock there is one thing we can all agree on: our children are not for sale. It is hard to believe in the year 2015, there are people living in modern day slavery in America. But that is reality. Human trafficking is a criminal enterprise that exists in cities across the nation, especially in my hometown of Houston, Texas. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) implements a robust and aggressive strategy to help combat human trafficking in the United States. After years of hard work on this issue, Congress has taken a historic and necessary step today to help end modern day slavery in America. I look forward to President Obama signing JVTA into law so that we can finally help eradicate this scourge.

“I am pleased to see this important legislation to help victims of human trafficking take another step forward,” said Senator Cornyn. “I want to thank my partners in the House of Representatives for their hard work and look forward to President Obama signing this critical bill.”

“The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will provide restitution to the survivors of human trafficking and punish those who profit from this horrific crime,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “It is a harsh reality that sexual slavery persists across America. With this legislation, Congress has taken a firm stand against the pimps and Johns and for women and children. It has been a privilege to work with Congressman Ted Poe, who as a judge learned first-hand of the destructive nature of these crimes. He has been an unyielding advocate in his work to help the survivors rebuild their lives. I look forward to President Obama signing this legislation into law.”
It has been a pleasure to partner with Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) on this issue. She is a tenacious advocate for trafficking victims.

High School Students from New York Visit Innocents at Risk on May 20th

Over the years, Innocents at Risk has often been visited by high school and college students for the purpose of learning about our work and the issue of preventing child trafficking. Today we were visited by 10 high school students from the Institute for Collaborative Education in New York, who became interested in the issue of human trafficking after learning about it in their humanities class. After researching the many non-profits in D.C. to visit, the students chose Innocents at Risk as their favorite organization. During the meeting, we were extremely impressed by their passion for the issue and their desire to continue to educate and spread awareness. A few of the students even shared with us their idea to create their own organization that will educate students in other schools on this topic. Like Innocents at Risk, their goal is to inform students of all ages on the devastating, yet often unrecognized, reality for victims of trafficking. The inspiring words of one young lady summed up the issue perfectly when she said, “Why did I have to wait until I was 16 to learn about human trafficking when its been a danger to me since I was a baby?” With this new organization, the students plan to bring light to this topic by educating the youth. The passion and drive of these students gives us immense hope that the end to child trafficking is attainable. Thank you students of the Institute for Collaborative Education, we truly appreciate your outstanding work and effort to spread awareness. Child trafficking is an epidemic and it needs to be stopped!

The students planned to meet with Representative Carolyn Maloney later that day to gain her support.

Today, May 19th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act

Innocents at Risk echoes the comments of our colleague Carol Smolenski (below). In addition, we salute Congressman Ted Poe, our friend, Representative Carolyn Maloney, and all the members of congress for getting this important bill through!

Greetings!

It is with great pleasure we report that the Senate package of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking S. 178 (JVTA) has passed the House of Representatives (420-3)!

The JVTA is a comprehensive piece of legislation designed to fight and prevent human trafficking in the United States. The bill will provide critical funding so that child victims of trafficking can get the services they need to heal and law enforcement can receive training that will strengthen their response to this horrific crime. The whole package includes other top ECPAT-USA priorities, including a provision that will hold people who buy and exploit children accountable for the harm they cause, language that recognizes that child victims of trafficking should be considered victims of child abuse, and the creation of a Survivor Council.

We are so thankful to our federal partners, and the original bill sponsors, Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) for their commitment to this bill and making sure that vulnerable children have a voice in Congress. This landmark bill also represents many years of hard work and advocacy from ALL OF YOU, and we could not have gotten this far without your dedication. We would like to especially recognize our Code of Conduct partners including the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), CorpTrav Management Group, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA); the students from St. Joseph High School in Brooklyn; and all of our allies who wrote letters and called their representatives to demand they pass this bill.

Moving forward, we eagerly await the bill to be signed into law by President Obama. Follow ECPAT-USA on facebook and twitter twitter for updates on the next steps of the process.
Sincerely,
Carol Smolenski
ECPAT-USA

Sincerely,
Deborah Sigmund, Founder of Innocents at Risk
Erin Doley, Intern

Responsible Media

Innocents at Risk Update May 19, 2015

For the last ten years Innocents at Risk has been dedicated to educating the public about protecting children and preventing child trafficking. We have been very grateful to the media when they cover stories about the horrors of selling and abusing children. However, on May 16, Saturday Night Live’s host, Louis C.K., made a mockery of child exploitation when he went into a sick monologue about people who abuse children. There is nothing humorous about recognizing child molesters and how they entice young boys (and girls)!

Since 2004 I have heard countless stories of children who were tricked or kidnapped and forced to endure unspeakable acts. After watching Louis C.K., I feel compelled to speak up in the name of all the children who have suffered or died at the hands of evil child molesters. Please read more information on the Megan’s Law website about child exploitation. Megan’s Law was created in response to an incident involving Megan Kanka, a seven year old girl who was raped and murdered in 1994.

http://www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us/EntryPage.aspx

For additional information about children abused by child molesters please visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website

http://www.missingkids.com/home

e5c0cb2f-72a0-4009-8e55-79c998b98e98Innocents at Risk will continue to remain dedicated to educating the public in order to keep children safe!

Sincerely,
Deborah Sigmund, Founder
Louisa Zachmann, Intern

Make a MobileCause Donation here

https://app.mobilecause.com/f/8ms/n

Or text AWARE to 41444

 

Six Year Old Boy Saves Baby Brother

On March 8, 2015 after a babysitter left a little boy, his little sister, and their baby brother alone in a park in Sprague, Washington a man snatched the baby out of the carriage. The little boy leapt down from the jungle gym where he had been playing, grabbed his sister’s hand and ran down the street pushing the baby carriage yelling, “bring back my baby brother!” Two teenagers, Isaac Yow and Andrew Crane, realized something was wrong when they saw the children screaming and sprinting. Isaac and Andrew pursued the man, who quickly dropped the baby and fled the scene. The kidnapper was later arrested. Police were absolutely astounded by the little boy’s bravery, which was well beyond his years. Due to the incredible courage of a six year old and two teenagers the baby boy is now safe with his family!

Awareness at Cannes Film Festival

Innocents at Risk applauds writer Thembi Banks and director Evita Castine for spreading awareness of human trafficking with their short film Only Light. The film is about a young girl trafficked from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the U.S., it has been shown in New York, L.A., and soon at the Diversity film Showcase in Cannes. “I wanted to bring this film to a global audience because sex trafficking is modern day slavery and an issue that affects girls, boys and people all over the world, ” says Castine, “it’s my goal that people will be be interested in engaging the lives of children and be part of the discussion.”

We wish them the best of luck in Cannes!

To read more about the film or watch the trailer, see the following article.
http://www.eurweb.com/2015/05/only-light-to-be-featured-in-2015-diversity-in-cannes-short-film-showcase/

Shocking News Story

On April tenth Julio Valasquez and another man coerced two girls, aged twelve and thirteen, into the Virginia Lodge motel, promising alcohol and drugs in exchange for sex. Upon arriving at the motel the girls were given marijuana, cigarettes, alcohol. After having sexual intercourse with both men the girls were dropped off at the same location they had been picked up. Fortunately the absence notification at the Fairfax County Public School notified the parents that they girls were missing. Upon confronting their children about the absence the girls disclosed the story and the police were alerted. Police are now searching for Julio Valasquez, who was charged with the rape of both girls, it is unclear if there are more victims. A local woman commented on how disturbing the story was saying, “I’ve never heard of this here, happening in this neighborhood.” The story is a harsh reminder that this can happen anywhere to children of all ages.

Senate Passes Trafficking Bill

Yesterday on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, Innocents at Risk is so thrilled to announce that the Senate passed Legislation curbing human trafficking which was approved 99-0. The newly passed Legislation would create a special fund to help victims of sex crimes, bolstering efforts to combat what advocates decry as “modern-day slavery.” The new deal allows for victims’ relief funds to come from criminal fines and money that Congress previously appropriated. This new Legislation is a huge victory in fighting this horrendous crime.

This is huge and a tremendous success. Congratulations to all who made this possible!

Cornyn Offers Another Compromise to End Filibuster of Anti-Trafficking Legislation

WASHINGTON -

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) today offered another compromise to
end the Democrat filibuster of the bipartisan and to provide relief to victims of human trafficking.  Excerpts of his remarks are below:

“I think we’re going to look back at this as one of the most productive periods the United States Senate has had in literally years — with one exception.”

“For some inexplicable reason, Senate Democrats have chosen to filibuster a bipartisan bill that would do a lot to help the victims of human trafficking…and what has been called, appropriately so, modern-day human slavery.”

“I’ve heard from Senate Democrats what some of their concerns are, and we’ve made concrete proposals to try to address those concerns while maintaining the integrity of the bill.”

“We will use the same Hyde Amendment language that was negotiated between Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Boehner in the Doc Fix bill that we’ll be voting on this afternoon.”

“I don’t know how in the world they could possibly object when we’re answering, responding to their concerns and saying we’re willing to work with you to address those, in the interest of all of these victims of human trafficking.  We’ll find out.  My hope is the Senate rises to the challenge, just as we are in all those other areas.”

Innocents at Risk is so grateful to Senator Cornyn for helping push this very significant legislation though!!  Thank you Senator Cornyn!!

Innocents at Risk is grateful to have the support from Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of 1st Congressional District of Nebraska

Please read and share this powerful message from Congressman Fortenberry.

At six years old, Rachel had a seemingly normal childhood in Nebraska. She had a stable family environment with lots of brothers and sisters. Rachel was a bit introverted and perhaps this created some vulnerability for her. She was lured in by a neighbor, who in his perversion, set out to sell her for sex to the highest bidder. It’s hard to imagine such trauma could be done to a child, but it happens. In order to protect her younger siblings from the same fate, Rachel did not tell anyone. Rachel was sold several times around Omaha for a decade. When she turned sixteen, she became too old for profit making by her abusers. Fortunately, Rachel had a support system strong enough to heal these deep wounds, and now, as an adult, she tells her story to help fight sex trafficking in Nebraska. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that occurs around the world. In many cases the victims are vulnerable persons, often poor or disadvantaged, and are drawn in by economic arrangements. Many suffer ruthless sexual abuse. Even if the victims seek to escape, they are often coerced back into slavery. Human trafficking is an attack on the fundamental principles of human dignity, human rights, and justice. It is estimated that 17,500 persons are trafficked into the United States annually. Within America, approximately 100,000 children are exploited each year. It happens–even in Nebraska.

I recently held a human trafficking roundtable with Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson where I heard Rachel’s story. Unfortunately, her story is not isolated. We learned that some victims are branded with a bar code or other mark to help keep track of them. Several good Nebraska organizations such as the Child Advocacy Center, the Salvation Army, and the Nebraska Family Alliance have taken leadership roles in raising awareness and helping persons caught in this cycle of abuse. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed 12 bills to enact tougher enforcement mechanisms and better aid trafficking victims. These bills were designed to augment the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2000. As a requirement of this law, the Department of State provides an annual update on occurrences of trafficking, both domestically and internationally. Countries that are not in compliance with international anti-trafficking standards and do not take appropriate measures to combat trafficking are listed in the Trafficking in Persons Report. The report also identifies countries who recruit and use child soldiers, another pernicious form of human trafficking. In 2008, I introduced the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to require this identification and to place restrictions on security assistance for countries found in violation. Children belong on playgrounds, not on battlegrounds–or in sexual slavery. William Wilberforce, the British statesman and abolitionist for whom the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was later renamed, said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” We do know about human trafficking and we cannot look the other way. Our collective conscience obligates us to combat this most serious human rights violation.

“Stop the Violence, End the Silence”

On Thursday March 19, 2015, Innocents at Risk Founder, Deborah Sigmund attended the “Stop the Violence, End the Silence” event sponsored by Elayne Bennett, President and Founder of the Best Friends Foundation at the McKinley Technological Educational Campus. The Best Friends Foundation works with middle and high school students providing them a developmentally sound curriculum in an educational setting. The Best Friends Foundation encourages students to make good decisions without using drugs and alcohol. In addition it paves the the way for their success after graduation. The middle and high school students from McKinley were eager to learn about preventing bullying and violence.

The students were very engaged and participated thoroughly in the afternoon program. After the Bullying session, Elayne Bennett introduced Deborah of Innocents at Risk and told the students of our work in the community. Deborah spoke to the students about the reality and the dangers of sex trafficking in the U.S. and in our Washington-DC metropolitan area. These students were extremely grateful to have been given the information and are now alert and educated.

Innocents at Risk is proud to be a partner of the Best Friends Foundation and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to spread tremendous awareness on the McKinley Technological community. If you would like Innocents at Risk to visit your community’s school, please contact our office.

Dominican, U.S Authorities Rescue 29 Sex Trafficking Victims Including 20 Minors

INNOCENTS AT RISK SALUTES THE BRAVE MEMBERS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND ALL INVOLVED WHO RESCUED THESE INNOCENT CHILDREN.

On March 11, 29 sex trafficking victims were rescued in Sosua, Dominican Republic after an international undercover law enforcement investigation. Of the 29 victims, all were female and 20 were minors between the ages of 14 and 17. The remaining nine victims were adults. The rescued minors were placed into the care of the Dominican Republic’s Child Protective Services Agency.

Following the investigation, seven Dominican nationals, including two females and five males were arrested, where they are now in custody serving one year of preventative incarceration while their cases are adjudicated. These individuals allegedly transported the victims to a “sex party” where they arranged for the girls to perform sexual acts for adults at the “party.” The defendants face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Agencies that participated in this successful investigation include U.S Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations branch in Santo Domingo, the Dominican National Police, the Dominican Republic’s Attorney General’s Human Smuggling and Trafficking in Person’s Unit, and the Puerto Plata Prosecutor’s Office. They were assisted by Operation Underground Railroad and International Justice Mission, which are both U.S. nonprofit organizations dedicated to eradicating the sexual exploitation of children.

Both the Dominican Republic and U.S law enforcement agencies are committed to eradicating human trafficking, working domestically and abroad to eliminate this horrific crime and bring the offenders to justice.

Innocents at Risk is very pleased and proud to partner with The Artists and Athletes Alliance.

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Exciting News!!!

Over the past weeks, the following legislation was passed in the House of Representatives.

  • Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015
    • To provide protection and justice for the victims of trafficking and harsher punishment for the buyers and traffickers
  • Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act 2015
    • Sponsored by Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina
    • To provide for the development and dissemination of evidence-based best practices for health care professionals to recognize victims of a severe form of trafficking and respond to such individuals appropriately, and for other purposes.
  • Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking At of 2015
    • Sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota
    • To stop exploitation through trafficking
  • Improve the Response to Victims of Child Sex Trafficking Act
    • Sponsored by Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio
    • To improve the response to victims of child sex trafficking from child prostitution to child sex trafficking

In addition, the following legislation is waiting to be approved by the Senate.

  • The S. 140 Combat Human Trafficking Act aims to reduce the demand for sex trafficking, lower the “mens rea” for sex trafficking of underage victims, and to provide anti-human trafficking program training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.
    • Sponsors: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Mark Steven Kirk,Sen. Kristin E. Gillibrand, K, Sen. John Cornyn, and Sen. Rob Portman.
  • The S. 178, Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act works to provide protection and justice for the victims of trafficking and to enlist harsher punishments for buyers and traffickers through victim-centered sex trafficking deterrence grant programs to develop and expand the knowledge of law enforcement, prosecutors, victim service organizations, and judicial officials regarding human trafficking.
    • Sponsors: Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Mark Steven Kirk, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Sen Lindsey Graham, Sen. Christopher Coons, Sen Tom Udall, Sen Mike Crapo, Sen John Hoeven, Sen Robert P. Casey, Sen. Deb Fischer, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, Sen. John Boozman, Sen Pat Toomey. Sen Chuck Grassley, Sen Heidi Heitkamp, and Sen. Tim Scott.

We salute all of the Members of Congress who have led and are leading Anti-Trafficking legislation and are HELPING TO KEEP OUR CHILDREN SAFE.


The McCain Institute Takes Awareness of Child Trafficking to the Super Bowl.

On Jan 30, Founder, Deborah Sigmund was invited to attend the CEO Leadership Huddle hosted by Cindy McCain and the McCain Institute. It was a Pre Super Bowl Event with excellent speakers on a variety of subjects including: Child Trafficking, U.S. Mexico Economic Relations, Engaging in China, and an Update on Cancer research. The Key note speaker during lunch was Gen Mark Welch, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. General Welch gave the most inspiring speech of the day.

The event was attended by business leaders and distinguished speakers who all became informed about the issue of Child Trafficking.The first panel of the day was Combating Child Trafficking. The following panelists spoke who spoke about about the seriousness of child trafficking.:

  • Cindy McCain, Advisory Council, The McCain Institute for International Leadership
  • Letty Ashworth, Director of Global Diversity, Delta
  • Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO, Carlson Holdings
  • John Ryan, CEO, National Center For Missing and Exploited Children

Deborah Sigmund, Innocents at Risk Founder, praised Cindy McCain for organizing the event and thanked all the panelists for their work. She spoke of the success of the Flight Attendant Initiative. Deborah especially praised The Department of Homeland Security and said “The flight attendants report red flags, but it is The Department of Homeland Security’s (CBP) and (ICE) who remove the potential victims from danger.” Her comments were appreciated by The Assistant Secretary of The Department of Homeland Security, Alan Bersin, who attended the event and lead the panel on U.S.Mexico Economic Relations.

The CEO Leadership Huddle was a great event which created tremendous awareness. Congratulations Cindy and The McCain Institute!!


Innocents at Risk is proud to partner with
Cindy McCain and The McCain Institute!

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Human Trafficking – All Around You
A Real time look at Data in Metro Phoenix

TEMPE- (January 28, 2015) – On Thursday, January 29, 2015, The McCain Institute for International Leadership will present “Human Trafficking – All Around You, a Real Time Look at Data in Metro Phoenix.” This event will use Arizona State University’s Decision Theater to visualize the second part of a two-year study regarding incidences of sex trafficking around major sporting events. Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Director of the ASU Office for Sex Trafficking Intervention Research (STIR) will discuss the ongoing study and the final report will be available in late February. Mrs. Cindy McCain, Human Trafficking Advisory Council member at The McCain Institute, will talk about The McCain Institute’s ongoing efforts surrounding human trafficking and Brooke Istook, of Thorn – Digital Defenders of Children, will describe Thorn’s tool to assist law enforcement in identifying victims.

“Good data on human trafficking is scarce. I am so pleased that The McCain Institute has partnered with ASU’s STIR office to produce the first comprehensive study of online human trafficking around two Super Bowls. In Phoenix, we have a strong partnership among ASU, law enforcement, government officials, service providers and humanitarians who are laser focused on solving this problem in our state,” said Mrs. McCain.

With the support of The McCain Institute, this presentation will build upon research initiated during a 10-day period surrounding the 2014 Super Bowl in New Jersey to examine the scope of demand for prostitution during high-profile events in Phoenix, the 2015 Pro Bowl and the 2015 Super Bowl. Additionally, the project will look at the methods and techniques used to develop tips for sex trafficked persons. The Sex Trafficking Matrix, a tool designed to assist in the detection of sex trafficking and potential minor victims in online sex ads will be described.

“The buying and selling of sex happens every day in every city in America right in front of our eyes, but unless you look for it you cannot detect it,” said Roe-Sepowitz. “We see victims of sex trafficking who are forced to sell sex online and on the street, right in front of us.” This study is the first of its kind to quantify the scope of sex trafficking within the sex selling online market as well as the scope of the customer base for buying sex. This combined with major sporting events points a bright light on this very serious problem in our world.”

About The McCain Institute:

Located in Washington, The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University (ASU) is a non-partisan do- tank dedicated to advancing character-driven leadership based on security, economic opportunity, and human freedom and democracy in the United States and around the world. The Institute seeks to promote leadership and decision-making in the best American tradition of open inquiry, spirited debate, and practical action, and to embrace technology in producing better designs for better decisions in national and international policy.

For more information about the McCain Institute for International Leadership, please visit: http://mccaininstitute.org.


Demand Abolition and My Life My Choice Welcome Nick Kristof to Boston.

Nick KristofDemand Abolition and My Life My Choice recently co-hosted an evening with Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times. Kristof came to Boston for an advanced screening of his documentary, A Path Appears, (airing tonight, at 10 p.m., on PBS), which offers an unflinching look into the real-life effects of global inequality. After the screening Kristof participated in a panel discussion on the difficulties faced by those trapped in the sex trade, while also celebrating the successes of the people who are working to help them exit. To learn more about Kristof’s wrenching new film and our recent screening, please click here.

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Worcester ramps up efforts to hold sex buyers accountable

Worcester PDWorcester, Massachusetts, came under fire last year when its gender-biased arrest records for prostitution-related crimes received local media coverage. But the Worcester Police Department is starting to change that. Eight suspected sex buyers were recently arrested in a reverse sting in the area, bringing the total number of men arrested for sex buying last year in Worcester to 14 -up from only three in 2013. Demand Abolition commends the Worcester Police Department for adopting tactics that hold sex buyers accountable. To learn more about the city’s new tactics, and the very real impact they are having
on Worcester’s online sex buying communities, read this article.


National Trafficking Awareness DayIn Honor of National Trafficking Awareness Day

Sunday, January 11, was National Trafficking Awareness Day. To mark the occasion, Demand Abolition published a blog that details why efforts to stop sex trafficking should do more to address the roots of exploitation. We invite you to read and share the piece on your own social media channels and help keep the conversation going.


January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January 23, 2015

Dear Friends of Innocents at Risk:

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Please take a look at this message and video from our partner, The Department of Homeland Security:

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month
by Alejandro Mayorkas
Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security

While we would like to think of slavery as a relic of the past, we know that it is not. Today, millions of women, men, and children around the world are subjected to forced labor, domestic servitude, or the sex trade at the hands of human traffickers. What many do not know is that this crime occurs right here in the United States, in our own cities and towns.

By Presidential proclamation, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Sunday, January 11 was Human Trafficking Awareness Day. These powerful reminders that slavery endures in the United States compel us to work together to end human trafficking.

We as a Department do so much in the fight against human trafficking. We fight through law enforcement investigations, collaborations, and training; through public outreach and awareness; and through assistance for victims. We coordinate these efforts through the Blue Campaign, the Department’s unified voice to combat human trafficking.

I encourage you to watch this video to learn more about the work of the Blue Campaign, and how you can get involved in the fight against human trafficking.
The Blue Campaign recently launched a new, re-designed website with information and resources for federal, state, and local governments, non-governmental organizations, first responders, and the public.

All of us can increase our awareness of the crime of human trafficking so that each of us can be more vigilant where we live and work. Human trafficking is, after all, a tragedy that occurs not only internationally but also within our own borders and inside our own communities.

Let us renew our commitment to fight human trafficking, and let us do it together!

Best Regards,

Kathleenjo Peterson
Innocents at Risk Team

What a summer it has been.

Posted by Alexa Price, August 1, 2012

I never have time to read during the school year, so I feel compelled to include one last quote from my most recent read, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

I believe this is the excellence of working with a nonprofit organization– one day we are at the State Department for Secretary Clinton’s release of the TIP report, and the next we are hosting enjoyable events, like our cocktail event at the Mexican Cultural Institute. The entire summer has been a dynamic intersection of every aspect of nonprofit work and I have learned so much and made some wonderful memories along the way.

Today, I’m attempting to pack to return to Kentucky. I’m sifting through some of the various things I’ve acquired throughout the summer: a heavy copy of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, an iPhone picture of Hillary Clinton, the sweet emails from Madeline and a few other friends from the Ninos de Cristo Orphanage, and the backpack I secretly never fully unpacked when we returned from the Dominican Republic.

Somewhere, buried within the Nike shorts, wrinkled boarding passes and ridiculous hiking sandals I bought for my trip to Cameroon (I don’t care if they’re ugly, I’m comfortable!) I realized that I am left with something so much greater than I had expected.

I lived out the ideas and discussion topics that my many semesters of international relations classes prepared me for. It has been amazing to see tangible results for something I have been talking and writing theses about in classes for years.

There really no other place where change can happen like it can in DC. I have become so invested in Innocents at Risk’s cause. I have encountered so many informed and dedicated individuals and groups. I love being surrounded by empowered people who are committed to making change. Innocents at Risk has provided me with countless amazing opportunities and I cannot express my appreciation enough.

I have realized that somewhere tangled between the Nike shorts and photos, there is no greater feeling than to walk away from something feeling accomplished. And this has certainly been a summer of accomplishment.

Thank you Innocents at Risk, and congratulations to Deborah Sigmund, our founder, my fellow interns, Tanya Abraham, Margaret Healy, Brittany Karakostas, Lauren Schmidt, and of our supporters on a summer of incredible effort, progress, and success.

Please keep up the amazing work; the fight to end sex and labor trafficking needs dedicated individuals. It is possible. And it will happen. I truly believe that together, we can end human trafficking.

Innocents at Risk: Summer Interns 2012

The summer interns of Innocents at Risk. Photo taken by Bisnow at ‘Cocktails for Charity’ event at George, July 26th, 2012

Dearest Pat,

I was at Shahin’s luncheon today for Louise’s farewell. You were greatly missed. Shahin and I love you and miss you!! Shahin’s mother asked me about you. You are such a special person! I want to see you.

Donald just had a knee replacement so I am being an on call nurse. In a week or so, if I get a pass, I would love to come and see you….OK?

You are so sweet and always so supportive of Innocents at Risk. Thank-you for your comments…it means a lot!!! We work hard. This summer I have been so blessed with 5 wonderful interns. Bisnow took a photo of last week’s event and we will put it on our website on the main page. They are darling girls and have worked very hard!! They have also had an incredible experience:

  • They have been to a presentation at Christ Church/ Georgetown
  • The State Department with Secretary Clinton
  • The SAIS International Protection Project Luncheon at John’s Hopkins
  • SAIS with Dr. Mattar and Ambassador of Trafficking, Luis C deBaca of Department of State
  • They have been on Capitol Hill 3 times for briefings, and
  • The Embassy of Mexico Reception with the Ambassador and Veronica
  • The fabulous event at the Arena Stage to Honor Septime Webre (Our Music Man) for The Production of The Music Man with children from THE ARCH, which we sponsored along with Katherine Bradley,
  • Then the trip to the Dominican Republic… That was fabulous! We have photos on the web, but one intern, Britney, made a photo album with Shutter Fly and it is amazing! It tells the story of our visit to the orphanage. The girls were blessed to go and we stayed in Casa de Campo to we were totally safe (I was not going to take five girls 20 years old to the DR and stay in a ????? area Hotel.) They had a lovely time time there and I was happy to give them a reward for their hard work.!!! I will show you the photo album. It is so special. By the way, before we left for the DR, a friend in DHS Security, suggested that I call the Dept. of State and let them know that I was traveling to the DR with five 20 year old girls. I did so. Great advice. I also told their Embassy. We were fine at Casa de Campo.
  • In addition: The interns produced a great event at George (Club for 20-40s) in Georgetown ….they were so cute taking turns making speeches about their experience working with Innocents and took turns with talking about our mission, our projects, the Walk on the Mall in September, etc, etc…They passed the mike back and forth and everyone cheered them on. I wish we could keep them here, but they are going back to their universities with lots of stories and a great education from Innocents at Risk, through The Department of State, and John’s Hopkin’s SAIS, and Senator Scott Brown.

You are missed and I will see you soon. Thank-you always for your support.

Much love,
Deborah (Debbie)

Schools work to raise awareness of human sex trafficking

Posted by Alexa Price, July 24, 2012

Once you experience something, you can never go back to the time before you experienced it.

I believe this is true for anything we live. I cannot begin to imagine the inner strength and courage it requires for a trafficking victim to rebuild his or her life, the resilience to take control of something unfair and evil and turn it into something encouraging. In my time working with Innocents at Risk, I have met some beautiful and truly incredible people who have risen up from horrific situations and now work every day to ensure that others do not suffer the same fate.

This is why I am very pleased to share with you the details of a Miami Herald article I just read. Schools in Miami, a United States city that is all too prominent in the realm of trafficking have begun an awareness campaign to teach educators and administrators to recognize warning signs of trafficking. This program developed after several foster children were recruited from a group home and pressured to leave school to labor in a homestead brothel.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer made a chilling statement in this Miami Herald article, “A 20-odd-year-old person can’t have ready access to a high school or middle school or junior high, but if they recruit some boys to recruit on their behalf by offering them money or drugs, this is some of the evidence we’re starting to see. The traffickers are having their little runners work for them.”

Our schools are meant to be safe havens for learning and self-growth. No students should ever fall victim to exploitation, especially in a state institution for learning. It is remarkable to see a program like this taking off. Prevention is the ultimately the key for a triumphant future, and this is a perfect start.

Below is the link for the Miami Herald article regarding this program if you are interested! Please take a look; this is big!

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/03/2881902_schools-work-to-raise-awareness.html

Innocents at Risk’s 5th Humanitarian Mission to the Dominican Republic

Posted by Alexa Price, July 19, 2012

Day One/Two
11. July 2012

We hauled suitcases full of clothes and toys for the children of Ninos de Cristos through the DC metro and airports and got some strange looks from security as wands lit up and trucks rolled around. We have finally arrived in the Dominican Republic! We talked about our Flight Attendant Initiative with the American Airlines flight attendants throughout our journey and were thrilled to hear their knowledge and to see their eagerness to help in trafficking prevention.

La Romana is paradise. That is the sole way I can explain it. The island breeze was the most perfect (and necessary!) break from the stifling Washington DC heat that seems to be particularly unforgiveable this summer.

Our lovely house manager left us a bowl of fruit as a welcoming gift when we arrived to Casa de Campo. We cut it up and shared a laugh because we encountered a bit of trouble identifying some of the fruit. It was so much larger and colored differently than the fruit we typically buy in the United States.

I had just told my fellow interns that all I had wanted for dessert after dinner was a mango. When we cut into the fruit to try to figure them out, one turned out to be a bright pink papaya filled with black seeds. The other turned out to be a mango, my favorite! What a nice surprise!

That evening, Deborah told me about a fabulous surprise of her own. She headed to Jumbo, a Dominican grocery store that sells just about everything, to order lunch to bring to the Ninos de Cristo orphanage the following day.

Two very special young people from Ninos de Cristo, Esther and Yachaira, surprised her. Deborah had first met the girls in 2009. At each of her trips over the past three years, she had become more attached to them. She has watched them grow into beautiful, confident young women.

Esther and Yachaira helped Deborah pick out a few extra gifts for the youngest children at the orphanage. The three spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with one another and planning out our service to the orphanage. There is nothing quite like a reunion with an old friend, is there?

These girls, along with the rest of the young people at the orphanage, can only be described as an embodiment of hope, goodness and strength. They have a exceptional ability to rise up against the odds in pursuit of their dreams, all while smiling and welcoming us into their culture.

The three gorgeous ladies at Jumbo!

The three gorgeous ladies at Jumbo!

Day Three
13. July 2012

Ninos de Cristo possesses an incredible sense of community. I have never felt so welcome and included. Upon entering here, we felt a burst of life and sunshine. Immediately, a fifteen-year-old named Madeline took me by the hand and introduced me to all of her girlfriends.

It’s amazing how easily we all became friends. The children look after one another and always seem to be giggling. Their energy was contagious. The girls performed several dances they had been practicing for weeks for us. They were very talented. And not to mention adorable.

Madeline, my newest best friend, pulled me into the dance tried to teach me. She promised I was getting the hang of it, but I think she may have just said that to be nice.

Afterward, Innocents at Risk distributed pizza and drinks for lunch. The children sat perfectly quietly, without touching their food, until we said a prayer. The staff is surely doing something right, we all agreed.

We were also thrilled to have had enough support from back in the United States to bring clothing for each of the 187 children. One young boy pointed out, “Clothes aren’t gifts.” Valid argument, I decided. But luckily for him, we brought toys the next day.

The kids were so sweet and excited to share their gifts with one another. We played baseball, took hundreds of photos, and sang and danced all day long.

I was so, so excited to return the next day.

Showing off new clothes!

Showing off new clothes!

IAR Humanitarian Mission to the Dominican Republic

Day Four
14. July 2012

I’m on island time!

Maybe it’s the weather. Or the sunshine that seems to gently wakes you through the window each morning. I’m not sure which, but I just love how friendly people are in the Caribbean. We drove past a beautiful oceanfront home one afternoon. The family living there was standing out front. We called out, “Can we move in with you??”

And wouldn’t you know, they answered, “Yes, of course!”

Maybe we should have taken them up on this offer. Or definitely.

I truly love this place. I could spend every day at the Ninos de Cristo Orphanage. I was just so drawn to the creativity, positivity and love that circulated through the compound. These types of experiences are so restorative and uplifting.

Two of the girls I became very close with shared with me stories of their past along with their future dreams and goals. Because of this along with many other reasons, I have so much faith in Ninos de Cristos. The children living here are empowered, ambitious and simply brilliant. The future of the city of La Romana is in great hands.

The kindness and warm nature of everyone we encountered was unforgettable. Ninos de Cristos is not a typical place. It is very special. Every child and staff member has an inspirational story of their own. Each person is part of an extraordinary family.

As I was leaving, Kasandra, an eighteen-year-old I became particularly close with said to me, “You are my sister.”

We had an incredible two days at the orphanage. We made lifelong friends and gained so much insight about the life of Caribbean youth. Ninos de Cristo is a wonderful institution filled with wonderful people. I pinkie promised several of the girls I would return, and I really, truly mean it.

Posing for a photo with our new friends! Madeline is on the far right.

Posing for a photo with our new friends! Madeline is on the far right.

Day Five
15. July 2012

My life goal is to write a book. Actually, not just to write one, but to write a book that is interesting enough to be turned so that the cover is facing the people walking around the bookstore instead of just the spine. This, a roommate of mine told me once, is when you know you’ve truly made it.

I’ve never really been able to come up with something moving enough to fill enough pages to write a book.

But there is nothing quite like two flights, a long layover and two cups of coffee to get a girl thinking.

What I would love to write, more than anything, is the story of the children and staff at Ninos de Cristo. I was so moved by their strength and resilience. I was so moved by the amazing bond they share and the many challenges they have overcome. I feel so humbled for knowing these individuals.

The staff and children were so appreciative of our support. Sonja promised, “If you keep returning, we can keep reaching out to more children.” Working with this orphanage means becoming an integral part of a rewarding, sustainable project.

When Sonja, the phenomenal (and perhaps superhuman!) woman who runs the orphanage daily, walks into a room, the children all run toward her calling out, “Mom, mom is here!” The facilities were so clean and well kept. Sonja and the other staff members of the organization greeted us with embraces and kind words. I will never forget their hospitality.

It is important to remember why we travel to La Romana to see these wonderful children. Ninos de Cristos is a permanent home. Child trafficking has turned adoption into a dangerously lucrative industry. Some of the children at Ninos de Cristo have been victims of trafficking themselves. This cruel reality calls for Sonja to bring in more children very frequently. She does so with open arms. The support of the Charlie Decker Foundation and the Mandell School in New York has been crucial for these additions.

By returning twice a year, Innocents at Risk has maintained a sentiment of trust with the children of Ninos de Cristo. Our visits are not only about gifts and sharing laughs. Keeping up this relationship fosters a sense of faith and stability for the children. In between visits, we send letters back and forth to keep in touch. This interdependent relationship is essential for growth.

I don’t think I can find words moving enough to explain my experience or the stories of the children at Ninos de Cristos. I don’t think I can explain to you how fulfilling and inspiring my time in the Dominican Republic was. I suppose my book will have to wait. But, in the meantime, please visit innocentsatrisk.org if you are interested in learning more about the Ninos de Cristos Orphanage and supporting our mission in the Dominican Republic.

I believe we all need to experience a place like Ninos de Cristo. Please join us next time!

IAR Humanitarian Mission to the Dominican Republic

Innocents at Risk’s trip to the Dominican Republic

Posted by Alexa Price, July 10, 2012

This, my friends, is the overture to a very illuminating journey. I am writing in anticipation of Innocents at Risk’s trip to the Dominican Republic to serve the 187 children of the Ninos De Cristo orphanage.

To begin, I must thank American Airlines for generously donating our airline tickets, as well as the wonderful members of Christ Church in Georgetown for their contributions to our cause. Innocents at Risk has served this orphanage twice a year since 2009, becoming more attached to the amazing staff and children of Ninos de Cristos upon each visit. Director and founder Deborah Sigmund said to me, “Every child is a life. For Innocents at Risk, this is a lifetime commitment.”I really cannot explain how much I appreciate our supporters as well as my internship with Innocents at Risk. It seems I have been blessed with a series of once in a lifetime opportunities all in one summer.

For quite a few reasons, I am extraordinarily grateful to be making this trip. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to share in laughs and struggles and to hear stories and learn a bit about what it means to be a young person growing up in the Dominican Republic. To share the wonderful donations from the clothing store, Cloud 9, as well as a many other kind supporters of our organization. To peek into an existence entirely unique from my own and to experience the comical bonding moments that language barriers always seem to produce. To be humbled, to feel immersed in culture, and to feel inspired.

I’ve attached a song that always seems to come up on my iPod shuffle when I’m travelling: Life in Technicolor by Coldplay.

My favorite line declares, “Every road is a ray of light.”

Keep this thought in mind; no matter the roads you take this summer. Perhaps my favorite part of travelling is the ability to look back on my time away and recall the tangible and fruitful outcomes of the journey. Let the memories you make always remain luminous. And please wish us luck as we embark on this unforgettable adventure!

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

Posted by Alexa Price, June 22, 2012

This is one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s favorite quotes. Innocents at Risk attended the release of the Trafficking in Persons Report earlier this week along with Will Smith and Jada Pickett-Smith!!! This was truly an amazing learning experience.

In the small village of Baba 1, a truly illuminating place where I resided for four days in Cameroon, a young woman explained to me that the entire village is responsible for teaching children right from wrong along with keeping them safe. Similarly, we are responsible for the children in the world. We must all take responsibility to end modern slavery. We must engage civil society to eradicate this issue. In order to catalyze change, all of society must be inspired. A few individuals cannot fight this battle alone. As Secretary of State Clinton has said, it takes a village.


Alexa Price, Innocents at Risk Intern

Posted by Alexa Price, June 22, 2012

With the wind blowing and the window wide open (It seems European buildings don’t typically have screens), I sat sitting on my window seat feeling adorably French. I spent the better part of that day sipping a cappuccino and typing a paper for my French Political History and Culture class. The next morning, we took the earliest train to Munich, to spend the day at Oktoberfest. I was especially eager because I had studied German as my foreign language throughout college.

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite…”

I remember reading this phrase from The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the train that day.

This is truly how I felt. I was 20 years old, living in the beautiful Alsace region of France. My four roommates/best friends and I had a tiny apartment in a particularly German-looking part of town. Every day was an adventure and everything around us was new and magnificent and exciting.

We returned from Oktoberfest to find my window wide open, just as it had been the day before. My laptop, (along with my precious French paper!) and our phones and iPods were gone.

For the first time during my European adventures, I felt incredibly vulnerable. Every paper I had written during my college career disappeared. My photos, music, everything. Students have electronics. Someone was watching us and someone knew that we travelled every weekend.

Experiences like these are incredibly important. They build character, my dad would say. It is easy to feel detached from a problem until you are personally affected. It is easy to feel like something will likely never happen to you. But this is simply not the case. This is why organizations like Innocents at Risk are so critical for the world today. Trafficking is not a crime that is specific to a certain race, class, age or gender. It is not isolated in one region of the world. It is something that can happen virtually anywhere, to anyone. The fight against modern slavery has made great strides in the past two decades or so, but there is so much left to combat.

Let me backtrack and tell you a bit about myself.

My name is Alexa Price. I am a rising senior at Centre College and an International Studies Major. I am interning with Innocents at Risk in Washington, DC for what is turning out to be one of the most memorable summers of my life.

How did I get here? By some brilliantly unplanned twist of fate, I found myself along the beautiful coast of Cameroon in January 2011. I had taken an African Politics class my freshman year of college and my professor mentioned that she was taking a group of students to Cameroon the following year. On yet another whim, I put my signature on the list. This trip is what seriously ignited my interest in global issues.

I attend a liberal arts college in Kentucky with a grand total of 1300 students. If you ask me about how much I love it, you’ll never get me to stop talking. Since that isn’t what this blog is about, I’ll just simply say: Centre College is truly an institution that changes lives. It has sent me to ten countries in three years, and I have two more to come during my senior year.

I am spending my summer in Washington DC, learning everything I can about global issue advocacy with Innocents at Risk. This outstanding organization created and implemented a Flight Attendant Initiative backed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that has redefined security for women and children on airlines. Innocents at Risk concentrates its efforts on raising awareness locally and internationally. We work with many other inspiring organizations in the DC area and meet with Ambassadors and many other passionate leaders for the fight against modern slavery.

Yesterday, Innocents at Risk attended a Congressional Caucus regarding a demand-side approach to human trafficking in the sex industry in the United States. This meeting was particularly wonderful because of the diversity within the speakers. An ambassador, a Department of Justice representative, a trafficking survivor, and a police sergeant all came together to speak out about this issue plaguing the United States today. For this entry, I’d like to focus on a program I just learned about called John’s House. Here, convicted sex offenders attend classes. Victims share their stories and reveal the truth about working in this appalling industry in an effort to prevent recurring crimes.

What struck me most about this program is its emphasis on human dignity. Traci Flowers-Ned, a trafficking survivor, explained that the nature of the sex industry is dehumanizing; it strips people of their ability to say yes or no or to have any control over their lives. This organization works to preserve self-worth, no matter the individual. By treating victims and perpetrators equally, an important precedent is set.

Programs like this one that remind me of why I am here, hundreds of miles from home. This meeting was incredibly vitalizing. It is a fabulous thing, to feel like your efforts have had an impact. Since its creation in 2005, Innocents at Risk’s exceptional work has paid off.

Innocents at Risk is grateful to have the support from Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of 1st Congressional District of Nebraska

Please read and share this powerful message from Congressman Fortenberry.

At six years old, Rachel had a seemingly normal childhood in Nebraska. She had a stable family environment with lots of brothers and sisters. Rachel was a bit introverted and perhaps this created some vulnerability for her. She was lured in by a neighbor, who in his perversion, set out to sell her for sex to the highest bidder. It’s hard to imagine such trauma could be done to a child, but it happens. In order to protect her younger siblings from the same fate, Rachel did not tell anyone. Rachel was sold several times around Omaha for a decade. When she turned sixteen, she became too old for profit making by her abusers. Fortunately, Rachel had a support system strong enough to heal these deep wounds, and now, as an adult, she tells her story to help fight sex trafficking in Nebraska. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that occurs around the world. In many cases the victims are vulnerable persons, often poor or disadvantaged, and are drawn in by economic arrangements. Many suffer ruthless sexual abuse. Even if the victims seek to escape, they are often coerced back into slavery. Human trafficking is an attack on the fundamental principles of human dignity, human rights, and justice. It is estimated that 17,500 persons are trafficked into the United States annually. Within America, approximately 100,000 children are exploited each year. It happens–even in Nebraska.

I recently held a human trafficking roundtable with Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson where I heard Rachel’s story. Unfortunately, her story is not isolated. We learned that some victims are branded with a bar code or other mark to help keep track of them. Several good Nebraska organizations such as the Child Advocacy Center, the Salvation Army, and the Nebraska Family Alliance have taken leadership roles in raising awareness and helping persons caught in this cycle of abuse. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed 12 bills to enact tougher enforcement mechanisms and better aid trafficking victims. These bills were designed to augment the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2000. As a requirement of this law, the Department of State provides an annual update on occurrences of trafficking, both domestically and internationally. Countries that are not in compliance with international anti-trafficking standards and do not take appropriate measures to combat trafficking are listed in the Trafficking in Persons Report. The report also identifies countries who recruit and use child soldiers, another pernicious form of human trafficking. In 2008, I introduced the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to require this identification and to place restrictions on security assistance for countries found in violation. Children belong on playgrounds, not on battlegrounds–or in sexual slavery. William Wilberforce, the British statesman and abolitionist for whom the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was later renamed, said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” We do know about human trafficking and we cannot look the other way. Our collective conscience obligates us to combat this most serious human rights violation.

“Stop the Violence, End the Silence”

On Thursday March 19, 2015, Innocents at Risk Founder, Deborah Sigmund attended the “Stop the Violence, End the Silence” event sponsored by Elayne Bennett, President and Founder of the Best Friends Foundation at the McKinley Technological Educational Campus. The Best Friends Foundation works with middle and high school students providing them a developmentally sound curriculum in an educational setting. The Best Friends Foundation encourages students to make good decisions without using drugs and alcohol. In addition it paves the the way for their success after graduation. The middle and high school students from McKinley were eager to learn about preventing bullying and violence.

The students were very engaged and participated thoroughly in the afternoon program. After the Bullying session, Elayne Bennett introduced Deborah of Innocents at Risk and told the students of our work in the community. Deborah spoke to the students about the reality and the dangers of sex trafficking in the U.S. and in our Washington-DC metropolitan area. These students were extremely grateful to have been given the information and are now alert and educated.

Innocents at Risk is proud to be a partner of the Best Friends Foundation and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to spread tremendous awareness on the McKinley Technological community. If you would like Innocents at Risk to visit your community’s school, please contact our office.

Dominican, U.S Authorities Rescue 29 Sex Trafficking Victims Including 20 Minors

INNOCENTS AT RISK SALUTES THE BRAVE MEMBERS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND ALL INVOLVED WHO RESCUED THESE INNOCENT CHILDREN.

On March 11, 29 sex trafficking victims were rescued in Sosua, Dominican Republic after an international undercover law enforcement investigation. Of the 29 victims, all were female and 20 were minors between the ages of 14 and 17. The remaining nine victims were adults. The rescued minors were placed into the care of the Dominican Republic’s Child Protective Services Agency.

Following the investigation, seven Dominican nationals, including two females and five males were arrested, where they are now in custody serving one year of preventative incarceration while their cases are adjudicated. These individuals allegedly transported the victims to a “sex party” where they arranged for the girls to perform sexual acts for adults at the “party.” The defendants face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Agencies that participated in this successful investigation include U.S Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations branch in Santo Domingo, the Dominican National Police, the Dominican Republic’s Attorney General’s Human Smuggling and Trafficking in Person’s Unit, and the Puerto Plata Prosecutor’s Office. They were assisted by Operation Underground Railroad and International Justice Mission, which are both U.S. nonprofit organizations dedicated to eradicating the sexual exploitation of children.

Both the Dominican Republic and U.S law enforcement agencies are committed to eradicating human trafficking, working domestically and abroad to eliminate this horrific crime and bring the offenders to justice.

Innocents at Risk is very pleased and proud to partner with The Artists and Athletes Alliance.

artists-athletes

Exciting News!!!

Over the past weeks, the following legislation was passed in the House of Representatives.

  • Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015
    • To provide protection and justice for the victims of trafficking and harsher punishment for the buyers and traffickers
  • Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act 2015
    • Sponsored by Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina
    • To provide for the development and dissemination of evidence-based best practices for health care professionals to recognize victims of a severe form of trafficking and respond to such individuals appropriately, and for other purposes.
  • Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking At of 2015
    • Sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota
    • To stop exploitation through trafficking
  • Improve the Response to Victims of Child Sex Trafficking Act
    • Sponsored by Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio
    • To improve the response to victims of child sex trafficking from child prostitution to child sex trafficking

In addition, the following legislation is waiting to be approved by the Senate.

  • The S. 140 Combat Human Trafficking Act aims to reduce the demand for sex trafficking, lower the “mens rea” for sex trafficking of underage victims, and to provide anti-human trafficking program training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.
    • Sponsors: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Mark Steven Kirk,Sen. Kristin E. Gillibrand, K, Sen. John Cornyn, and Sen. Rob Portman.
  • The S. 178, Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act works to provide protection and justice for the victims of trafficking and to enlist harsher punishments for buyers and traffickers through victim-centered sex trafficking deterrence grant programs to develop and expand the knowledge of law enforcement, prosecutors, victim service organizations, and judicial officials regarding human trafficking.
    • Sponsors: Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Mark Steven Kirk, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Sen Lindsey Graham, Sen. Christopher Coons, Sen Tom Udall, Sen Mike Crapo, Sen John Hoeven, Sen Robert P. Casey, Sen. Deb Fischer, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, Sen. John Boozman, Sen Pat Toomey. Sen Chuck Grassley, Sen Heidi Heitkamp, and Sen. Tim Scott.

We salute all of the Members of Congress who have led and are leading Anti-Trafficking legislation and are HELPING TO KEEP OUR CHILDREN SAFE.


The McCain Institute Takes Awareness of Child Trafficking to the Super Bowl.

On Jan 30, Founder, Deborah Sigmund was invited to attend the CEO Leadership Huddle hosted by Cindy McCain and the McCain Institute. It was a Pre Super Bowl Event with excellent speakers on a variety of subjects including: Child Trafficking, U.S. Mexico Economic Relations, Engaging in China, and an Update on Cancer research. The Key note speaker during lunch was Gen Mark Welch, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. General Welch gave the most inspiring speech of the day.

The event was attended by business leaders and distinguished speakers who all became informed about the issue of Child Trafficking.The first panel of the day was Combating Child Trafficking. The following panelists spoke who spoke about about the seriousness of child trafficking.:

  • Cindy McCain, Advisory Council, The McCain Institute for International Leadership
  • Letty Ashworth, Director of Global Diversity, Delta
  • Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO, Carlson Holdings
  • John Ryan, CEO, National Center For Missing and Exploited Children

Deborah Sigmund, Innocents at Risk Founder, praised Cindy McCain for organizing the event and thanked all the panelists for their work. She spoke of the success of the Flight Attendant Initiative. Deborah especially praised The Department of Homeland Security and said “The flight attendants report red flags, but it is The Department of Homeland Security’s (CBP) and (ICE) who remove the potential victims from danger.” Her comments were appreciated by The Assistant Secretary of The Department of Homeland Security, Alan Bersin, who attended the event and lead the panel on U.S.Mexico Economic Relations.

The CEO Leadership Huddle was a great event which created tremendous awareness. Congratulations Cindy and The McCain Institute!!


Innocents at Risk is proud to partner with
Cindy McCain and The McCain Institute!

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Human Trafficking – All Around You
A Real time look at Data in Metro Phoenix

TEMPE- (January 28, 2015) – On Thursday, January 29, 2015, The McCain Institute for International Leadership will present “Human Trafficking – All Around You, a Real Time Look at Data in Metro Phoenix.” This event will use Arizona State University’s Decision Theater to visualize the second part of a two-year study regarding incidences of sex trafficking around major sporting events. Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Director of the ASU Office for Sex Trafficking Intervention Research (STIR) will discuss the ongoing study and the final report will be available in late February. Mrs. Cindy McCain, Human Trafficking Advisory Council member at The McCain Institute, will talk about The McCain Institute’s ongoing efforts surrounding human trafficking and Brooke Istook, of Thorn – Digital Defenders of Children, will describe Thorn’s tool to assist law enforcement in identifying victims.

“Good data on human trafficking is scarce. I am so pleased that The McCain Institute has partnered with ASU’s STIR office to produce the first comprehensive study of online human trafficking around two Super Bowls. In Phoenix, we have a strong partnership among ASU, law enforcement, government officials, service providers and humanitarians who are laser focused on solving this problem in our state,” said Mrs. McCain.

With the support of The McCain Institute, this presentation will build upon research initiated during a 10-day period surrounding the 2014 Super Bowl in New Jersey to examine the scope of demand for prostitution during high-profile events in Phoenix, the 2015 Pro Bowl and the 2015 Super Bowl. Additionally, the project will look at the methods and techniques used to develop tips for sex trafficked persons. The Sex Trafficking Matrix, a tool designed to assist in the detection of sex trafficking and potential minor victims in online sex ads will be described.

“The buying and selling of sex happens every day in every city in America right in front of our eyes, but unless you look for it you cannot detect it,” said Roe-Sepowitz. “We see victims of sex trafficking who are forced to sell sex online and on the street, right in front of us.” This study is the first of its kind to quantify the scope of sex trafficking within the sex selling online market as well as the scope of the customer base for buying sex. This combined with major sporting events points a bright light on this very serious problem in our world.”

About The McCain Institute:

Located in Washington, The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University (ASU) is a non-partisan do- tank dedicated to advancing character-driven leadership based on security, economic opportunity, and human freedom and democracy in the United States and around the world. The Institute seeks to promote leadership and decision-making in the best American tradition of open inquiry, spirited debate, and practical action, and to embrace technology in producing better designs for better decisions in national and international policy.

For more information about the McCain Institute for International Leadership, please visit: http://mccaininstitute.org.


Demand Abolition and My Life My Choice Welcome Nick Kristof to Boston.

Nick KristofDemand Abolition and My Life My Choice recently co-hosted an evening with Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times. Kristof came to Boston for an advanced screening of his documentary, A Path Appears, (airing tonight, at 10 p.m., on PBS), which offers an unflinching look into the real-life effects of global inequality. After the screening Kristof participated in a panel discussion on the difficulties faced by those trapped in the sex trade, while also celebrating the successes of the people who are working to help them exit. To learn more about Kristof’s wrenching new film and our recent screening, please click here.

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Worcester ramps up efforts to hold sex buyers accountable

Worcester PDWorcester, Massachusetts, came under fire last year when its gender-biased arrest records for prostitution-related crimes received local media coverage. But the Worcester Police Department is starting to change that. Eight suspected sex buyers were recently arrested in a reverse sting in the area, bringing the total number of men arrested for sex buying last year in Worcester to 14 -up from only three in 2013. Demand Abolition commends the Worcester Police Department for adopting tactics that hold sex buyers accountable. To learn more about the city’s new tactics, and the very real impact they are having
on Worcester’s online sex buying communities, read this article.


National Trafficking Awareness DayIn Honor of National Trafficking Awareness Day

Sunday, January 11, was National Trafficking Awareness Day. To mark the occasion, Demand Abolition published a blog that details why efforts to stop sex trafficking should do more to address the roots of exploitation. We invite you to read and share the piece on your own social media channels and help keep the conversation going.


January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January 23, 2015

Dear Friends of Innocents at Risk:

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Please take a look at this message and video from our partner, The Department of Homeland Security:

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month
by Alejandro Mayorkas
Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security

While we would like to think of slavery as a relic of the past, we know that it is not. Today, millions of women, men, and children around the world are subjected to forced labor, domestic servitude, or the sex trade at the hands of human traffickers. What many do not know is that this crime occurs right here in the United States, in our own cities and towns.

By Presidential proclamation, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Sunday, January 11 was Human Trafficking Awareness Day. These powerful reminders that slavery endures in the United States compel us to work together to end human trafficking.

We as a Department do so much in the fight against human trafficking. We fight through law enforcement investigations, collaborations, and training; through public outreach and awareness; and through assistance for victims. We coordinate these efforts through the Blue Campaign, the Department’s unified voice to combat human trafficking.

I encourage you to watch this video to learn more about the work of the Blue Campaign, and how you can get involved in the fight against human trafficking.
The Blue Campaign recently launched a new, re-designed website with information and resources for federal, state, and local governments, non-governmental organizations, first responders, and the public.

All of us can increase our awareness of the crime of human trafficking so that each of us can be more vigilant where we live and work. Human trafficking is, after all, a tragedy that occurs not only internationally but also within our own borders and inside our own communities.

Let us renew our commitment to fight human trafficking, and let us do it together!

Best Regards,

Kathleenjo Peterson
Innocents at Risk Team

What a summer it has been.

Posted by Alexa Price, August 1, 2012

I never have time to read during the school year, so I feel compelled to include one last quote from my most recent read, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

I believe this is the excellence of working with a nonprofit organization– one day we are at the State Department for Secretary Clinton’s release of the TIP report, and the next we are hosting enjoyable events, like our cocktail event at the Mexican Cultural Institute. The entire summer has been a dynamic intersection of every aspect of nonprofit work and I have learned so much and made some wonderful memories along the way.

Today, I’m attempting to pack to return to Kentucky. I’m sifting through some of the various things I’ve acquired throughout the summer: a heavy copy of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, an iPhone picture of Hillary Clinton, the sweet emails from Madeline and a few other friends from the Ninos de Cristo Orphanage, and the backpack I secretly never fully unpacked when we returned from the Dominican Republic.

Somewhere, buried within the Nike shorts, wrinkled boarding passes and ridiculous hiking sandals I bought for my trip to Cameroon (I don’t care if they’re ugly, I’m comfortable!) I realized that I am left with something so much greater than I had expected.

I lived out the ideas and discussion topics that my many semesters of international relations classes prepared me for. It has been amazing to see tangible results for something I have been talking and writing theses about in classes for years.

There really no other place where change can happen like it can in DC. I have become so invested in Innocents at Risk’s cause. I have encountered so many informed and dedicated individuals and groups. I love being surrounded by empowered people who are committed to making change. Innocents at Risk has provided me with countless amazing opportunities and I cannot express my appreciation enough.

I have realized that somewhere tangled between the Nike shorts and photos, there is no greater feeling than to walk away from something feeling accomplished. And this has certainly been a summer of accomplishment.

Thank you Innocents at Risk, and congratulations to Deborah Sigmund, our founder, my fellow interns, Tanya Abraham, Margaret Healy, Brittany Karakostas, Lauren Schmidt, and of our supporters on a summer of incredible effort, progress, and success.

Please keep up the amazing work; the fight to end sex and labor trafficking needs dedicated individuals. It is possible. And it will happen. I truly believe that together, we can end human trafficking.

Innocents at Risk: Summer Interns 2012

The summer interns of Innocents at Risk. Photo taken by Bisnow at ‘Cocktails for Charity’ event at George, July 26th, 2012

Dearest Pat,

I was at Shahin’s luncheon today for Louise’s farewell. You were greatly missed. Shahin and I love you and miss you!! Shahin’s mother asked me about you. You are such a special person! I want to see you.

Donald just had a knee replacement so I am being an on call nurse. In a week or so, if I get a pass, I would love to come and see you….OK?

You are so sweet and always so supportive of Innocents at Risk. Thank-you for your comments…it means a lot!!! We work hard. This summer I have been so blessed with 5 wonderful interns. Bisnow took a photo of last week’s event and we will put it on our website on the main page. They are darling girls and have worked very hard!! They have also had an incredible experience:

  • They have been to a presentation at Christ Church/ Georgetown
  • The State Department with Secretary Clinton
  • The SAIS International Protection Project Luncheon at John’s Hopkins
  • SAIS with Dr. Mattar and Ambassador of Trafficking, Luis C deBaca of Department of State
  • They have been on Capitol Hill 3 times for briefings, and
  • The Embassy of Mexico Reception with the Ambassador and Veronica
  • The fabulous event at the Arena Stage to Honor Septime Webre (Our Music Man) for The Production of The Music Man with children from THE ARCH, which we sponsored along with Katherine Bradley,
  • Then the trip to the Dominican Republic… That was fabulous! We have photos on the web, but one intern, Britney, made a photo album with Shutter Fly and it is amazing! It tells the story of our visit to the orphanage. The girls were blessed to go and we stayed in Casa de Campo to we were totally safe (I was not going to take five girls 20 years old to the DR and stay in a ????? area Hotel.) They had a lovely time time there and I was happy to give them a reward for their hard work.!!! I will show you the photo album. It is so special. By the way, before we left for the DR, a friend in DHS Security, suggested that I call the Dept. of State and let them know that I was traveling to the DR with five 20 year old girls. I did so. Great advice. I also told their Embassy. We were fine at Casa de Campo.
  • In addition: The interns produced a great event at George (Club for 20-40s) in Georgetown ….they were so cute taking turns making speeches about their experience working with Innocents and took turns with talking about our mission, our projects, the Walk on the Mall in September, etc, etc…They passed the mike back and forth and everyone cheered them on. I wish we could keep them here, but they are going back to their universities with lots of stories and a great education from Innocents at Risk, through The Department of State, and John’s Hopkin’s SAIS, and Senator Scott Brown.

You are missed and I will see you soon. Thank-you always for your support.

Much love,
Deborah (Debbie)

Schools work to raise awareness of human sex trafficking

Posted by Alexa Price, July 24, 2012

Once you experience something, you can never go back to the time before you experienced it.

I believe this is true for anything we live. I cannot begin to imagine the inner strength and courage it requires for a trafficking victim to rebuild his or her life, the resilience to take control of something unfair and evil and turn it into something encouraging. In my time working with Innocents at Risk, I have met some beautiful and truly incredible people who have risen up from horrific situations and now work every day to ensure that others do not suffer the same fate.

This is why I am very pleased to share with you the details of a Miami Herald article I just read. Schools in Miami, a United States city that is all too prominent in the realm of trafficking have begun an awareness campaign to teach educators and administrators to recognize warning signs of trafficking. This program developed after several foster children were recruited from a group home and pressured to leave school to labor in a homestead brothel.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer made a chilling statement in this Miami Herald article, “A 20-odd-year-old person can’t have ready access to a high school or middle school or junior high, but if they recruit some boys to recruit on their behalf by offering them money or drugs, this is some of the evidence we’re starting to see. The traffickers are having their little runners work for them.”

Our schools are meant to be safe havens for learning and self-growth. No students should ever fall victim to exploitation, especially in a state institution for learning. It is remarkable to see a program like this taking off. Prevention is the ultimately the key for a triumphant future, and this is a perfect start.

Below is the link for the Miami Herald article regarding this program if you are interested! Please take a look; this is big!

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/03/2881902_schools-work-to-raise-awareness.html

Innocents at Risk’s 5th Humanitarian Mission to the Dominican Republic

Posted by Alexa Price, July 19, 2012

Day One/Two
11. July 2012

We hauled suitcases full of clothes and toys for the children of Ninos de Cristos through the DC metro and airports and got some strange looks from security as wands lit up and trucks rolled around. We have finally arrived in the Dominican Republic! We talked about our Flight Attendant Initiative with the American Airlines flight attendants throughout our journey and were thrilled to hear their knowledge and to see their eagerness to help in trafficking prevention.

La Romana is paradise. That is the sole way I can explain it. The island breeze was the most perfect (and necessary!) break from the stifling Washington DC heat that seems to be particularly unforgiveable this summer.

Our lovely house manager left us a bowl of fruit as a welcoming gift when we arrived to Casa de Campo. We cut it up and shared a laugh because we encountered a bit of trouble identifying some of the fruit. It was so much larger and colored differently than the fruit we typically buy in the United States.

I had just told my fellow interns that all I had wanted for dessert after dinner was a mango. When we cut into the fruit to try to figure them out, one turned out to be a bright pink papaya filled with black seeds. The other turned out to be a mango, my favorite! What a nice surprise!

That evening, Deborah told me about a fabulous surprise of her own. She headed to Jumbo, a Dominican grocery store that sells just about everything, to order lunch to bring to the Ninos de Cristo orphanage the following day.

Two very special young people from Ninos de Cristo, Esther and Yachaira, surprised her. Deborah had first met the girls in 2009. At each of her trips over the past three years, she had become more attached to them. She has watched them grow into beautiful, confident young women.

Esther and Yachaira helped Deborah pick out a few extra gifts for the youngest children at the orphanage. The three spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with one another and planning out our service to the orphanage. There is nothing quite like a reunion with an old friend, is there?

These girls, along with the rest of the young people at the orphanage, can only be described as an embodiment of hope, goodness and strength. They have a exceptional ability to rise up against the odds in pursuit of their dreams, all while smiling and welcoming us into their culture.

The three gorgeous ladies at Jumbo!

The three gorgeous ladies at Jumbo!

Day Three
13. July 2012

Ninos de Cristo possesses an incredible sense of community. I have never felt so welcome and included. Upon entering here, we felt a burst of life and sunshine. Immediately, a fifteen-year-old named Madeline took me by the hand and introduced me to all of her girlfriends.

It’s amazing how easily we all became friends. The children look after one another and always seem to be giggling. Their energy was contagious. The girls performed several dances they had been practicing for weeks for us. They were very talented. And not to mention adorable.

Madeline, my newest best friend, pulled me into the dance tried to teach me. She promised I was getting the hang of it, but I think she may have just said that to be nice.

Afterward, Innocents at Risk distributed pizza and drinks for lunch. The children sat perfectly quietly, without touching their food, until we said a prayer. The staff is surely doing something right, we all agreed.

We were also thrilled to have had enough support from back in the United States to bring clothing for each of the 187 children. One young boy pointed out, “Clothes aren’t gifts.” Valid argument, I decided. But luckily for him, we brought toys the next day.

The kids were so sweet and excited to share their gifts with one another. We played baseball, took hundreds of photos, and sang and danced all day long.

I was so, so excited to return the next day.

Showing off new clothes!

Showing off new clothes!

IAR Humanitarian Mission to the Dominican Republic

Day Four
14. July 2012

I’m on island time!

Maybe it’s the weather. Or the sunshine that seems to gently wakes you through the window each morning. I’m not sure which, but I just love how friendly people are in the Caribbean. We drove past a beautiful oceanfront home one afternoon. The family living there was standing out front. We called out, “Can we move in with you??”

And wouldn’t you know, they answered, “Yes, of course!”

Maybe we should have taken them up on this offer. Or definitely.

I truly love this place. I could spend every day at the Ninos de Cristo Orphanage. I was just so drawn to the creativity, positivity and love that circulated through the compound. These types of experiences are so restorative and uplifting.

Two of the girls I became very close with shared with me stories of their past along with their future dreams and goals. Because of this along with many other reasons, I have so much faith in Ninos de Cristos. The children living here are empowered, ambitious and simply brilliant. The future of the city of La Romana is in great hands.

The kindness and warm nature of everyone we encountered was unforgettable. Ninos de Cristos is not a typical place. It is very special. Every child and staff member has an inspirational story of their own. Each person is part of an extraordinary family.

As I was leaving, Kasandra, an eighteen-year-old I became particularly close with said to me, “You are my sister.”

We had an incredible two days at the orphanage. We made lifelong friends and gained so much insight about the life of Caribbean youth. Ninos de Cristo is a wonderful institution filled with wonderful people. I pinkie promised several of the girls I would return, and I really, truly mean it.

Posing for a photo with our new friends! Madeline is on the far right.

Posing for a photo with our new friends! Madeline is on the far right.

Day Five
15. July 2012

My life goal is to write a book. Actually, not just to write one, but to write a book that is interesting enough to be turned so that the cover is facing the people walking around the bookstore instead of just the spine. This, a roommate of mine told me once, is when you know you’ve truly made it.

I’ve never really been able to come up with something moving enough to fill enough pages to write a book.

But there is nothing quite like two flights, a long layover and two cups of coffee to get a girl thinking.

What I would love to write, more than anything, is the story of the children and staff at Ninos de Cristo. I was so moved by their strength and resilience. I was so moved by the amazing bond they share and the many challenges they have overcome. I feel so humbled for knowing these individuals.

The staff and children were so appreciative of our support. Sonja promised, “If you keep returning, we can keep reaching out to more children.” Working with this orphanage means becoming an integral part of a rewarding, sustainable project.

When Sonja, the phenomenal (and perhaps superhuman!) woman who runs the orphanage daily, walks into a room, the children all run toward her calling out, “Mom, mom is here!” The facilities were so clean and well kept. Sonja and the other staff members of the organization greeted us with embraces and kind words. I will never forget their hospitality.

It is important to remember why we travel to La Romana to see these wonderful children. Ninos de Cristos is a permanent home. Child trafficking has turned adoption into a dangerously lucrative industry. Some of the children at Ninos de Cristo have been victims of trafficking themselves. This cruel reality calls for Sonja to bring in more children very frequently. She does so with open arms. The support of the Charlie Decker Foundation and the Mandell School in New York has been crucial for these additions.

By returning twice a year, Innocents at Risk has maintained a sentiment of trust with the children of Ninos de Cristo. Our visits are not only about gifts and sharing laughs. Keeping up this relationship fosters a sense of faith and stability for the children. In between visits, we send letters back and forth to keep in touch. This interdependent relationship is essential for growth.

I don’t think I can find words moving enough to explain my experience or the stories of the children at Ninos de Cristos. I don’t think I can explain to you how fulfilling and inspiring my time in the Dominican Republic was. I suppose my book will have to wait. But, in the meantime, please visit innocentsatrisk.org if you are interested in learning more about the Ninos de Cristos Orphanage and supporting our mission in the Dominican Republic.

I believe we all need to experience a place like Ninos de Cristo. Please join us next time!

IAR Humanitarian Mission to the Dominican Republic

Innocents at Risk’s trip to the Dominican Republic

Posted by Alexa Price, July 10, 2012

This, my friends, is the overture to a very illuminating journey. I am writing in anticipation of Innocents at Risk’s trip to the Dominican Republic to serve the 187 children of the Ninos De Cristo orphanage.

To begin, I must thank American Airlines for generously donating our airline tickets, as well as the wonderful members of Christ Church in Georgetown for their contributions to our cause. Innocents at Risk has served this orphanage twice a year since 2009, becoming more attached to the amazing staff and children of Ninos de Cristos upon each visit. Director and founder Deborah Sigmund said to me, “Every child is a life. For Innocents at Risk, this is a lifetime commitment.”I really cannot explain how much I appreciate our supporters as well as my internship with Innocents at Risk. It seems I have been blessed with a series of once in a lifetime opportunities all in one summer.

For quite a few reasons, I am extraordinarily grateful to be making this trip. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to share in laughs and struggles and to hear stories and learn a bit about what it means to be a young person growing up in the Dominican Republic. To share the wonderful donations from the clothing store, Cloud 9, as well as a many other kind supporters of our organization. To peek into an existence entirely unique from my own and to experience the comical bonding moments that language barriers always seem to produce. To be humbled, to feel immersed in culture, and to feel inspired.

I’ve attached a song that always seems to come up on my iPod shuffle when I’m travelling: Life in Technicolor by Coldplay.

My favorite line declares, “Every road is a ray of light.”

Keep this thought in mind; no matter the roads you take this summer. Perhaps my favorite part of travelling is the ability to look back on my time away and recall the tangible and fruitful outcomes of the journey. Let the memories you make always remain luminous. And please wish us luck as we embark on this unforgettable adventure!

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

Posted by Alexa Price, June 22, 2012

This is one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s favorite quotes. Innocents at Risk attended the release of the Trafficking in Persons Report earlier this week along with Will Smith and Jada Pickett-Smith!!! This was truly an amazing learning experience.

In the small village of Baba 1, a truly illuminating place where I resided for four days in Cameroon, a young woman explained to me that the entire village is responsible for teaching children right from wrong along with keeping them safe. Similarly, we are responsible for the children in the world. We must all take responsibility to end modern slavery. We must engage civil society to eradicate this issue. In order to catalyze change, all of society must be inspired. A few individuals cannot fight this battle alone. As Secretary of State Clinton has said, it takes a village.


Alexa Price, Innocents at Risk Intern

Posted by Alexa Price, June 22, 2012

With the wind blowing and the window wide open (It seems European buildings don’t typically have screens), I sat sitting on my window seat feeling adorably French. I spent the better part of that day sipping a cappuccino and typing a paper for my French Political History and Culture class. The next morning, we took the earliest train to Munich, to spend the day at Oktoberfest. I was especially eager because I had studied German as my foreign language throughout college.

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite…”

I remember reading this phrase from The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the train that day.

This is truly how I felt. I was 20 years old, living in the beautiful Alsace region of France. My four roommates/best friends and I had a tiny apartment in a particularly German-looking part of town. Every day was an adventure and everything around us was new and magnificent and exciting.

We returned from Oktoberfest to find my window wide open, just as it had been the day before. My laptop, (along with my precious French paper!) and our phones and iPods were gone.

For the first time during my European adventures, I felt incredibly vulnerable. Every paper I had written during my college career disappeared. My photos, music, everything. Students have electronics. Someone was watching us and someone knew that we travelled every weekend.

Experiences like these are incredibly important. They build character, my dad would say. It is easy to feel detached from a problem until you are personally affected. It is easy to feel like something will likely never happen to you. But this is simply not the case. This is why organizations like Innocents at Risk are so critical for the world today. Trafficking is not a crime that is specific to a certain race, class, age or gender. It is not isolated in one region of the world. It is something that can happen virtually anywhere, to anyone. The fight against modern slavery has made great strides in the past two decades or so, but there is so much left to combat.

Let me backtrack and tell you a bit about myself.

My name is Alexa Price. I am a rising senior at Centre College and an International Studies Major. I am interning with Innocents at Risk in Washington, DC for what is turning out to be one of the most memorable summers of my life.

How did I get here? By some brilliantly unplanned twist of fate, I found myself along the beautiful coast of Cameroon in January 2011. I had taken an African Politics class my freshman year of college and my professor mentioned that she was taking a group of students to Cameroon the following year. On yet another whim, I put my signature on the list. This trip is what seriously ignited my interest in global issues.

I attend a liberal arts college in Kentucky with a grand total of 1300 students. If you ask me about how much I love it, you’ll never get me to stop talking. Since that isn’t what this blog is about, I’ll just simply say: Centre College is truly an institution that changes lives. It has sent me to ten countries in three years, and I have two more to come during my senior year.

I am spending my summer in Washington DC, learning everything I can about global issue advocacy with Innocents at Risk. This outstanding organization created and implemented a Flight Attendant Initiative backed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that has redefined security for women and children on airlines. Innocents at Risk concentrates its efforts on raising awareness locally and internationally. We work with many other inspiring organizations in the DC area and meet with Ambassadors and many other passionate leaders for the fight against modern slavery.

Yesterday, Innocents at Risk attended a Congressional Caucus regarding a demand-side approach to human trafficking in the sex industry in the United States. This meeting was particularly wonderful because of the diversity within the speakers. An ambassador, a Department of Justice representative, a trafficking survivor, and a police sergeant all came together to speak out about this issue plaguing the United States today. For this entry, I’d like to focus on a program I just learned about called John’s House. Here, convicted sex offenders attend classes. Victims share their stories and reveal the truth about working in this appalling industry in an effort to prevent recurring crimes.

What struck me most about this program is its emphasis on human dignity. Traci Flowers-Ned, a trafficking survivor, explained that the nature of the sex industry is dehumanizing; it strips people of their ability to say yes or no or to have any control over their lives. This organization works to preserve self-worth, no matter the individual. By treating victims and perpetrators equally, an important precedent is set.

Programs like this one that remind me of why I am here, hundreds of miles from home. This meeting was incredibly vitalizing. It is a fabulous thing, to feel like your efforts have had an impact. Since its creation in 2005, Innocents at Risk’s exceptional work has paid off.