A picturesque fall morning, Saturday October 9th, played host to this year's Stop Child Trafficking Now fundraising walk.
The sunny weather provided an optimistic backdrop for the grass roots crowd and celebrity ambassadors. Actor Stephen Baldwin and reality star Caroline Manzo kicked off the walk in midtown Manhattan near Lincoln Center. Teams of friends, co-workers and students came together at the second annual event, to raise awareness and funds to support the abolition of child sex trafficking. Child sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking, a practice that has come to be known as modern day slavery.
According to the U.S Department of State, human trafficking is the third most prevalent criminal enterprise in the world. Many at Saturday's 5k walk, including Real Housewives of New Jersey star Caroline Manzo, felt that trafficking's relatively low profile in the U.S has led to a lack of awareness that puts children in danger. "It's so calculated and barbaric to think there is something like this going on in our country, our back yard, and no one is talking about it. It is beyond belief."
Stop Child Trafficking Now is focused on prevention, a premise that separates the New York based not-for-profit from other trafficking organizations that focus on rescuing victims or providing rehabilitation services. "As long as there is a buyer there will always be a supply. Because of that, we wanted to really do what we could to ramp up the ability to go after the predators," stated Lynette Lewis, co-founder of the organization. Two years into their mission to put a stop to the demand side of trafficking, the organization uses the money raised to fund teams of retired military operatives to target child predators in communities across the country. According to Lewis, most people who purchase children for sex operate under the radar of local authorities. "They will never be arrested, and if they are, they will not be brought to conviction in court because the evidence is rarely what law enforcement needs to create convictions." Once the operatives have sufficient evidence they will turn their information over to the local police or FBI so that the cases can be prosecuted.
The recent launch of the City of New York's "Let's Call an End to Human Trafficking" campaign suggests that human trafficking has become a local problem. "A lot of people can rally around this issue, especially since it is happening to kids here in New York. [Trafficking] needs more attention brought to it, its worth coming out and showing support," stated walk participant Matthew Holloman. In addition to Saturday's walk in New York City, Stop Child Trafficking Now sponsored 39 other walks in recent weeks. The other walks took place in cities throughout the U.S, Canada and Australia.
Emceed by Tamsen Fadal of PIX channel 11, the atmosphere at the walk's kickoff rally was both jubilant and purposeful. The approximately 1,000 walkers and volunteers at the event were informed that they raised over $32,000 for the cause. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) reminded the crowd that unlike guns and drugs, the human body could be sold several times over. "When you hear of young boys and girls who go missing, and they say they ran away, I believe they were stolen... This is the worst crime in our country."