Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight

Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight: New PSA Shows What We Fail to See

ECPAT-USA Releases Public Service Announcement “Any Kid Any School” Kicking Off Campaign Empowering Youth to Identify Trafficking

Today EPCAT-USA launched "Any Kid Any School," a Public Service Announcement and campaign that aims to educate and mobilize students, parents, and communities to take action against child sex trafficking in the United States. This powerful PSA sends the message that trafficking can happen anywhere, to any child at any school.

According to ECPAT-USA Executive Director Carol Smolenski, "This is not just a problem in other countries. American children are sex trafficked right here in the United States and we must equip our youth with knowledge and skills so they stay safe. We want to train our young people to become the next generation of empowered activists. We want theirs to be the generation that finally ends child sex trafficking for good."

The United States Department of Education reports that school-age youth are at risk for trafficking, and may be recruited through social media websites or after-school programs, at shopping malls and bus stations, in clubs, or through friends or acquaintances who recruit students on school campuses. High schoolers are not the only minors at risk—pimps and traffickers may prey on children as young as nine years old. 

"Any Kid Any School" highlights the urgent and ongoing need for all individuals, and especially young people, to recognize the signs of trafficking. In response, ECPAT-USA manages a Y-ACT (Youth Against Child Trafficking) program, in which middle and high school students are told the facts, misconceptions, and risks of trafficking. Armed with the tools to identify the warning signs and proper resources to protect themselves and their peers, these young people become advocates for anti-human trafficking efforts in their own communities.

This project was generously funded by Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, and produced in collaboration with BRIC Media Arts, the leading presenter of free cultural programming in Brooklyn. ECPAT-USA's Carla Licavoli served as Creative Director and Producer for "Any Kid Any School," with Janai Smith, also of ECPAT-USA, serving as Youth Manager and Producer. The film's Supervising Producer was Tony Horn of BRIC Media Arts, with Shaun Seneviratne directing.

To watch the Public Service Announcement and learn more about the campaign, visit

Motel 6 to Pay $250,000 to Settle Human Trafficking Suit

In a recent article, the New York Times published an AP report that Motel 6 has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a human trafficking lawsuit in Los Angeles. The suit, brought by Los Angeles against a Motel 6 property’s managers and G6 Hospitality Property LLC., which operates all Motel 6 properties, centered around allegations that human traffickers, drug dealers, and gang members were operating out of a Motel 6 property in L.A.’s Sylmar neighborhood.

Los Angeles police had made more than 60 arrests for prostitution, battery, firearms possession and drug related charges at the property since 2013, according to the article.

The report lists instances cited in the lawsuit when undercover police officers collected evidence of criminal activities at the property, such as an instance when hotel staff “didn’t hesitate” to rent a room to an undercover officer posing as a pimp, who told the workers he intended for another undercover officer to work as a prostitute there.

The money from the settlement will be used to deter human trafficking, according to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.

"Our settlement commits Motel 6 to comprehensive, concrete action that's focused on security at the site and strong management at the site," Feuer said.

The motel will require valid photo identification from guests, hire security guards, and post signs in the lobby about human trafficking as part of the settlement, according to the article. For a full list of safety measures a hotel can take to prevent and respond to human trafficking and child exploitation, check out ECPAT-USA’s Hotel Safety Checklist.

Los Angeles police will also have access to the motel’s guest list and visitor logs, and the motel will also give officers access to remotely monitor the motel's security cameras.

Anti-trafficking training for hotel associates can prevent situations like this, and must be a part of the response to cases of human trafficking in hotel and motel properties. Since 2004, ECPAT-USA has worked with hotel brands around the United States to train associates to recognize and appropriately respond to suspected instances of trafficking. Training not only helps to stop traffickers and protect victims; it also protects hotels from the kind of liability Motel 6 is dealing with.

Learn more about training for hotels, and what travellers can do to encourage hotels to provide training on ECPAT-USA’s Responsible Traveler page.


The Case for Reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

Before Congress adjourned for its annual August recess, over 20 U.S. Senators introduced S.1693 the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017. This bill is the culmination of two years of intense investigation into the website Backpage and companies like it that are known to facilitate the sexual exploitation of children and adults.  

Led by Senators Portman (R-OH) and Blumenthal (D-CT) this bill would make three streamlined clarifications to the Communications Decency Act, to make anti-trafficking laws easier to apply to internet service providers. The legislation would allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly facilitated human trafficking and child exploitation. It would eliminate special federal legal protections for websites who are assisting in the violation of federal sex trafficking laws, and it enables state law officials to take action against internet businesses violating federal sex trafficking laws.   

The focus of this bill is a seemingly innocuous provision of the Communications Decency Act (CDA)  of 1996. It prevents internet service providers from being treated as the “publisher” of information provided by an internet service user. “Publisher”, in this context, is a legal term used in cases involving slander and libel. Federal courts have taken this provision to provide near blanket immunity to anything internet service providers do—including aiding and abetting in the sale of children on the Internet.     

The CDA was passed by the Congress to limit sexually explicit material. It has been perverted by lower court decisions to actually protect the very thing it was designed to stop. Section 230 of the CDA was designed by Congress to encourage computer service providers in the 1990s to “police themselves” as regulators could not do it all. Instead of self-policing, Section 230 has now been used to create an atmosphere of lawlessness with websites actively enabling child sexual exploitation. In direct contradiction to its intent, courts have interpreted one provision of the Communications Decency Act to protect online businesses like Backpage, whose whole business model subverts public decency. Representative Bob Goodlatte was one of the primary authors of the Section 230 provision. He is now a co-sponsor to amend the law, to make clear to the Federal Courts that they are misinterpreting Congressional intent.  

The Tech industry opposes these amendments and cloaks itself in Free Speech, claiming Section 230 has made the modern internet possible. The world of technology is radically different today than it was 21 years ago. If nascent internet startups needed sweeping protection from litigation to thrive, that can’t possibly be argued now. Facebook is now a Fortune 100 Company, and rated #3 for fastest growing companies in America for 2017. When the CDA passed in 1996, there were 12 million Americans subscribed to services like Prodigy. Now billions of people are online every day engaging in commerce and activity that was unthinkable at the time the law passed.

Abusers and criminals get free speech, victims have to spend their lives trying to retreat from the internet. They get no speech at all. With the formation of “cyber mobs” generated by notorious hate groups who seek to harass and threaten people defending social justice, Section 230 is now actually impeding free speech.  

Online companies are using Section 230 as a shield to avoid laws that businesses with a physical presence must comply with. Online companies are using Section 230 to unfair commercial advantage. As it stands, if you publish a physical magazine and you fill it with child sexual abuse imagery (child porn) you will be subject to enormous civil and criminal liability. It does not make sense that we have one standard for the physical world, and another for the cyber one. The existence of libel and defamation laws for newspapers and magazines has not resulted in some great restriction on speech or limited innovation in publishing. All forms of publishing flourish in this country, expressing every viewpoint and every interest.

At this stage, the internet is not that fragile, nor is its future threatened. It seems more likely that the tech community’s defense is about something else than freedom and innovation. It seems much more likely that this is about bottom line decision making, and a disregard for human harm over immediate profits.  

Section 230 was expressly designed to protect Good Samaritans. We should insist the courts stop protecting the bad samaritans. This will not harm the Googles and Facebooks of the world. They already have robust policies to prevent abuse. But it will ensnare sites like Backpage, which were designed to aid and abet child sexual exploitation.

La Muralla ¡SOY YO!

La Muralla ¡SOY YO! | I Am The Wall!

Fighting Child Trafficking in Cartagena, Colombia

ECPAT-USA just wrapped up its latest Advocacy Journey, to Cartagena, Colombia, a beautiful and growing beach-front tourism destination. Besides lovely beaches it has historic architecture, warm weather, and great restaurants—all the ingredients for a spectacular vacation. It is also a country with a large income disparity between rich and poor. This combination creates the risk for sexual exploitation of children by foreign tourists.

Child sexual exploitation exists in every country. ECPAT members in Latin American note that in their region “the presence of open, tolerated zones and facilities for the sex trade catering to adults often facilitates the use of children.” The recruitment of children is increasing and public tolerance of commercial sexual exploitation of children is reported. Victims are often perceived as criminals, not victims.

But in Colombia the non-profit and public sectors are taking on the challenge to protect their children. Under the campaign name, I Am The Wall! led by ECPAT member Fundación Renacer, a city-wide project invites citizens to build safe environments to prevent and confront commercial sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism. 

As a protective measure our group did not meet directly with the young people in these programs. We did meet with many of the local activists involved with I Am The Wall!, which was truly an honor.

Fundación Renacer is a comprehensive child-rights organization working throughout Colombia. We visited their shelter in Cartagena for 50 children between the ages of 12 and 18 years old who have been victimized by commercial sexual exploitation. They offer specialized counseling, education, and shelter services. Our delegation proudly presented the staff with bags of toys, sports equipment, and clothes to distribute to the young people in the program.

Fundación Juanfe works to protect children and teen mothers who live in extreme poverty. They have a beautiful facility that provides career training, daycare, and a full array of health services to give young girls from very poor communities an opportunity to get an education, job training, and a brighter future. 

We met with staff at Aldeas Infantiles, the Colombian branch of SOS Children’s Villages. They offer services and build families for orphaned, abandoned, and other vulnerable children. 

One of the most important initiatives in Cartagena is by the travel industry itself. Under the leadership of Fundación Renacer over a hundred companies have signed the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct, a voluntary set of steps that companies take to prevent child exploitation.  Renacer has trained thousands of people in the industry.  Among them was the manager of the hotel where our delegation stayed, Puertas de Cartagena.  He took time out of his busy day to tell us about the training that all staff members receive but also about the passion that the hotel’s owners and managers feel for the cause. Many of the best restaurants in Cartagena have signed the Code as well. 

On the beach in beautiful Bocagrande, we met with a Fundación Renacer-trained law enforcement officer who patrols the beaches; and one of the local beach workers, Victor Padilla, certified by the tourism police who helps prevent sexual abuse in minors and teenagers in the beaches. He described the pride he takes in his job of intervening when a foreigner is suspected of abusing or exploiting a child. 

All of our Advocacy Journeys are aimed at giving travelers an educative perspective about human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children along with sharing the inspiring work being done on the ground to combat it.  It was great to be in the company of ECPAT partners in Colombia. Our travelers have come back to the U.S. motivated to help end the scourge of child trafficking and are already taking action. Won't you join us? 

The next ECPAT-USA Advocacy Journey is to Thailand in October. Learn more.

Third Annual Concert for Freedom a Resounding Success!

ConcertForFreedom_V7 (2).png

This summer, Ariana and Emma McGinn returned to the stage at The Bitter End, bringing together music, friends, and special guests to support ECPAT-USA's mission to end child trafficking. The McGinn family's third ever Concert for Freedom was a resounding success, raising significant funds to power ECPAT-USA's work to end child slavery at the source.

In recognition and gratitude of the family's contributions to ECPAT-USA and the cause to end child trafficking, Executive Director Carol Smolenski awarded the family a Certificate of Commendation for their extraordinary work. 

We can't thank the McGinn family enough—Ariana, Emma, Tom, and Lata— for their incredible support in helping to create a world where no child is bought or sold.

Wonder Women—The Women's Group of the Greens

By Julie Lim


While I have yet to watch the summer blockbuster, Wonder Woman, I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of wonder women on July 14, 2017. Armed with a passion for education, dedication to children’s rights, and commitment to justice, The Women’s Group of the Greens stood against child slavery by supporting Y-ACT.

Just like the warriors of Themyscira, The Women’s Group of the Greens is a community of empowering women that have continuously devoted themselves to the welfare of communities and philanthropy. When Janai Smith, the Outreach Manager of ECPAT invited me to talk about my Y-ACT experience, I was not sure what to expect. The excited conversations between friends and a fuzzy warmth courtesy of the genuine exchange of “hellos” and “how are yous”, vanquished my nerves.

Being a proud and lucky graduate of an all women’s high school, I know what sisterhood and community look like, and the Women of the Greens definitely epitomized girl power.  I discussed how the Y-ACT program aims to educate young people and provide them the information and skills they need to become effective advocates in their communities. The women listened with rapt attention as I proceeded to explain how Y-ACT debunks myths that often surround human trafficking, while also giving teens the tools they need to ensure their safety in both the real and virtual world. Their commitment to ECPAT’s mission, specifically the Y-ACT program was evident, as members asked insightful questions and brainstormed ways to expand youth awareness, engagement, and leadership.

Surrounded by Wonder Woman themed centerpieces, I realized that despite the amazing reviews the film has gotten, I doubt that the movie experience will come close to the memorable opportunity of being surrounded by real-life wonder women. The help of The Women’s Group of the Greens will enable ECPAT to continue fostering awareness and leadership, as we aspire to educate, train, and support more young superheroes.

A Vacation With a Purpose: Fighting Trafficking in Thailand

Journalist Daniela Petrova joined ECPAT-USA in Thailand to experience our Advocacy Journey firsthand for the New York Times Travel section. “[U]nlike regular tourists,” she said, “we knew the hardships these women faced, and I left the village grateful that I had contributed — however minimally — to the work of Ecpat-USA and the Thai groups we had met. Months later, the smiles on the Akha women’s faces shine brighter in my memories of Thailand than its gilded temples.”

Read the full story at The New York Times .

HRS Encourages Business Travel Industry to Combat Child Trafficking


On April 24th, during the travel industry conference, ACTE (Association of Corporate Travel Executives), HRS Global Hotel Solutions launched a joint campaign to focus on how the travel industry can combat trafficking. This is the second consecutive year HRS used space at their trade show booth to shine a light on ECPAT-USA's work to create a world where no child is bought, sold, or used for sex.

ECPAT-USA's executive director, Carol Smolenski, spoke on the main stage of ACTE, where she highlighted the growth of ECPAT-USA's partnerships with the travel industry since ACTE first got involved 4 years ago.

In the trade show portion of ACTE, HRS collected 200 business cards in a “card harvest” for ECPAT-USA.  Corporate travel industry members enthusiastically supported the campaign by “Giving up a Card for ECPAT,”  where conference attendees showed their support for ECPAT by posting their cards up for all attendees to see. HRS then made a donation of $1,000 that was presented directly to ECPAT’s executive director Carol Smolenski.

To learn more about ECPAT-USA's work with private sector engagement, click here.

Hotel Association of NYC Highlights Human Trafficking

ECPAT-USA was proud to present to the Hotel Association of New York City’s Security/ Safety Seminar on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. The seminar, which was attended by over 80 travel professionals highlighted the important role of hotels employees in identify and reporting human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.


NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill and other top ranking officials from the New York City Police Department, the United States Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Department of Homeland Security and New York City Emergency Management were also in attendance.

ECPAT-USA’s director of private sector engagement, Michelle Guelbart, discussed recently introduced New York State legislation that will require hotels to train on the issue. “If the hospitality industry does not train on this issue, hotels will continue to remain an anonymous and risk-free location for traffickers to run their businesses,” Guelbart said. “We are happy HANYC continues to keep this issue on their agenda.”

The presentation gave an overview of the issue, went over the indicators of human trafficking and child exploitation for hotels, and outlined protocols for front-line employees and managers. Position specific indicators and tools were also made available to attendees.

To learn more about our work with private sector engagement, click here

Launch of ECPAT-USA Cause Vision Comic Book to Prevent Child Sex Trafficking


Where Is Dylan? is an innovative new tool for preventing the sex trafficking of children in the form of an educational comic book. It was launched last week in New York City by ECPAT-USA in partnership with the Administration for Children’s ServicesCauseVision and JCCA. Fifteen thousand copies will be distributed to at-risk youth throughout the City.

The comic book focuses on the stories of two young people, a boy named Dylan and a girl named Ashley. It delivers a trafficking prevention message to them in a child-friendly format of pictures and simple vocabulary to capture their attention and make the material accessible to a wide range of reading levels. It is a compelling mechanism for the engagement of NYC youth with a tough topic, and in a way that is empowering, thoughtful and educational.

Executive Director Carol Smolesnki speaking at the Where Is Dylan? launch event.

Executive Director Carol Smolesnki speaking at the Where Is Dylan? launch event.

An educated child is the most practical and immediate deterrent to child sex trafficking. By providing preventive information in this format, the comic book can teach children and youth how to identify traffickers, identify recruitment techniques, and where they can get help. Most of the distribution will take place through New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services. But copies are also available through ECPAT-USA. Contact ECPAT-USA at to inquire about how to receive copies.