10/16/2012 03:39 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

A Small Victory in the Fight Against Human Trafficking


Last week a cause near and dear to my heart had a small but important victory.

In 2002, three girls were going to be sold for prostitution. But it did not happen. They were rescued by a group of courageous children's rights advocates. I witnessed the whole thing and I was moved. Although the incident occurred in a remote country, I felt emotionally connected to what happened. It changed me.

Human trafficking is one of the most vicious violations imaginable against our most basic human rights. I soon learned that it also has no boundaries. It is not confined to far away countries, it happens every day in most developed countries. Second only to drug trafficking, it is one of the most lucrative illicit activities in the world. It is also the fastest growing.

A couple of years after my encounter with this tragic crime, I became deeply involved in trying to prevent it through a diverse array of investigative, advocacy, and educational initiatives as a human being working in the non-for profit sector. Success is hard to measure. The problem is so huge that our efforts as an young organization often feel like throwing sugar in the ocean hoping that it get less salty. But every single life is precious. And because of this realization, we remain undaunted.

It is encouraging to see that our society is beginning to take notice of this insidiously stealthy crime. Both government and non-government entities are mobilizing significant resources against this scourge. Every now and then we witness a small victory that re-energizes us all.

Last week a victim of this crime, and perhaps many others, saw justice served in Puerto Rico. Authorities from Homeland Security indicted a woman for sex trafficking. According to the indictment, from September 28 to October 3 2012, Betsian Carrasquillo-Peñaloza, 34, recruited, enticed, and transported a 14-year-old female identified as "N.M.C.C." to engage in commercial sex acts knowing that said minor was not 18 years old. Angel Melendez, the Homeland Security special agent in charge, went on to say: "Sex trafficking is a deplorable crime, especially when it involves underage victims who are particularly vulnerable. Prostituting young girls is a growing threat in our area, and we encourage anyone with information of this activity to call law enforcement. That one call could save a girl from sexual slavery."

It this particular case, the wheel of justice is turning. We can only hope that they prevail. But we cannot deny the sad reality that for every such criminal that is brought to justice, there are many others that remain uncaught and undeterred. It will take a collective effort to make a serious dent. We can all make a difference. If you witness anything that resembles child or sex trafficking, please call Homeland Security's toll-free hotline at 1-866- DHS- 2ICE.

We will continue to do our part.

The Ricky Martin Foundation will continue to shed light on this atrocity and launch efforts to prevent it. In 2010 we worked with the University of Puerto Rico and Johns Hopkins University to conduct and publish a pioneer investigation of human trafficking in our country. Its results have served as the conceptual basis to design our newest initiative, a center to provide holistic educational, social, and health services to children at risk of potential exploitation. More than a safe haven, we hope that this center will give children the tools required to lead the type of happy and successful life that predators find harder to penetrate.

We need all the help we can, as universal advocates of children's rights. Join us this Sunday, October 21 in NYC. With your support we will empower children to overcome those who prey on them.

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