Human trafficking and other causes: Donate wisely during the holidays

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

Holiday Giving


RICHMOND, VA December 27, 2012 ― ‘Tis the season for baking cookies and shopping, singing carols and gift-wrapping; for spending time with family, calling on friends, and spreading holiday cheer to those we know and love. ‘Tis also the season for donating time, money, and gifts in-kind to worthy causes and charitable organizations.

As our nation struggles to recover from an economic recession, charitable organizations are faced not only with budget cuts, but also with a greater demand for their services. As a result, nonprofits have a growing need for private donations just when their resources are at an ebb. As a columnist and speaker, I often encourage my audiences to support their local charities, especially youth-based organizations.  While I urge you to donate generously to any charity, I also warn you to be wise about your investment.

Human trafficking is an issue which has gained a wildfire of attention recently; and in turn, scores of anti-trafficking organizations and campaigns have cropped up across the country.  The increased attention to this heinous crime and its victims is positive; however, the list of nonprofits is growing so rapidly that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with it.  Many of these groups aren’t yet listed with reputable watchdog organizations like Charity Navigator or GuideStar.  If you choose to support an innovative, local anti-human trafficking group, then the responsibility of vetting falls on you, the donor.

Read the article on the Washington Times website

Human Trafficking: U.N. Ambassador, Mira Sorvino, addresses legislators in D.C.

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

Mira Sorvino speaks on human rights at NCSL

WASHINGTON, December 19, 2012  The National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Fall Forum was held earlier this month in Washington D.C., and I was honored to join Oscar-winning actress and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, Mira Sorvino, in the plenary session of speakers.  Also a wife, mother, and Harvard graduate, Mira devotes much of her time towards promoting awareness for the heinous crime of human trafficking and advocating for its victims.  In her speech, she urged legislators to adopt numerous state laws aimed at preventing trafficking, prosecuting traffickers and buyers, and protecting victims.

During her speech, Mira unveiled a U.S. map which highlighted each state’s rating according to Polaris Project’s grading system.  Polaris Project rated all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on ten categories of laws.  Each state was placed in one of four tiers based on whether it had passed legislation in each of the ten categories.

Some statistics from Polaris Project:

  • Twenty-one states are currently in the top category, Tier 1 (up from 11 states in 2011)
  • Only four are in the bottom category of Tier 4 (down from nine states in 2011)
  • One-third of states increased their rating by at least one tier
  • Washington had the highest point total (with 11 out of 12)
  • Wyoming was lowest (with -2 points)
  • Massachusetts and West Virginia passed their first human trafficking laws in the past year

Read the article on the Washington Times website

Local nonprofit creates anti-trafficking program for schools

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

School Program

WASHINGTON, December 4, 2012 — Halloween was scary to me this year, and it wasn’t because of zombies, ghosts, or gremlins!  It was because I was speaking to a group of high school students about the connection between negative messages in the media and the exploitation of young girls.  As a teen survivor of child sex trafficking, I was ridiculed in high school with labels like hooker and prostitute.  As a result, some of those painful memories boiled up on October 31st as I made my way through the hallways of Hermitage High School in Richmond, Virginia.

But my nerves quickly gave way as the students embraced my presentation with questions and comments and offered me their utmost respect and kindness.  It was truly a positive experience, and I was honored to be part of their day.  These students are the first teens to be introduced to The Prevention Project curriculum, an anti-trafficking education project started by the Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI).

The Richmond Justice Initiative is a grassroots, non-profit organization that began in 2009.  Their mission is “to educate, equip, and mobilize communities to be a force in the global movement to end human trafficking.”  Recognizing that victims of sex trafficking are often young girls between the ages of 12 and 14, RJI founder Sara Pomeroy used a $25,000 grant from AT&T to fund a program aimed at educating teens.

Read the article on the Washington Times website