Charity Spotlight: Saving the Littlest of Victims

by John Arundel

Innocents at Risk hosted a fundraiser in an effort to abolish human trafficking, a $32 billion industry.
By John Arundel

Shahin Mafi, Mark Timms, Deborah Sigmund, Ernie Allen. Photo by Neshan Naltchayan.

With two million children sold into the sex trade each year, Innocents at Risk CEO Deborah Sigmund is working to stem the tide of human slavery by spotlighting the tragedy before members of Congress and the diplomatic community.

To encourage the effort, Sigmund hosted a fundraising dinner at the Fairfax Hotel on Embassy Row on September 27. The keynote speaker was Ernie Allen, the founder, president and CEO of the Alexandria-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Allen is a self-proclaimed admirer of Innocents at Risk because he believes it is an organization helping to make a difference here in America and around the world.

Innocents at Risk is a Washington-based non-profit founded in 2004 by Sigmund to fight child exploitation and human trafficking worldwide.”Our mission to educate citizens about the grave issue of global and local human trafficking,” she said. “We are dedicated to protecting children from all forms of abuse, and work to end child exploitation and child trafficking everywhere.”

The sexual exploitation of children and the trafficking of children are global phenomena, and that includes domestically. In the United States, about 300,000 children are forced into child prostitution each year, according to the Department of State. In the D.C. area it is a $100 million industry.

Thankfully, steps have been taken to reduce this industry. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed three bills into law that expand the kidnapping laws to include trafficking, increase penalties for offenders, and increase resources for victims. Law enforcement has become better trained at the local level, while the National Center has even initiated a CyberTipline (like a 911 for the Internet) which has handled 1.2 million reports of child sexual exploitation. The initiative is in its fifth year and according to the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, commercial child pornography had dropped to “effectively zero,” less than $1 million per year.

Of course, there is still much to be done. Because The State of the World’s Children report estimates that 1.8 million children are still involved in forced commercial sex work, there need to be more organizations like Allen and Sigmund’s who consistently work hard. Awareness is prevention, and the more we are aware, the better we can “put an end to this insidious practice.”

Hassan Massali, Veronica Valencia, Shahin Mafi, Mark Timms, Deborah Sigmund, Ernie Allen. Photo by Neshan Naltchayan.

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