The Westchester Region of Hadassah sponsored a “Sex trafficking and what we can do about it” symposium at Schechter Westchester on Sunday 9/14/14. The agenda organized by National Board Member and former Westchester Region President Karen Everett (Larchmont resident), featured a number of knowledgeable speakers.
Ellen Hershkin, Hadassah National Board member and coordinator of the PRAZE (Programming, Advocacy, and Zionist Education) division, spoke about Hadassah’s role related to Women, Health, and Family, as well as Hadassah’s new Domestic Advocacy Agenda. She shared information about Hadassah Hospital’s Bat Ami Center for Domestic Violence – which treats victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and is the only rape crisis center in Jerusalem. Hadassah’s Domestic Advocacy Agenda addresses Women and Health (i.e. Gender disparity in medical research), Preventative Health Care, Women and Family including affordable child care and Human Trafficking.
New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin spoke about her legislative agenda regarding state government reform, children and families, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and more. A growing number of young women in Westchester and the Hudson Valley are falling victim to human trafficking. "Human trafficking is not just another community's problem, it's in our community." Assemblywoman Paulin is trying to get legislation passed to support these efforts – keep an eye out for updates on a state “Human Sex Trafficking Bill”.
Next we heard from Lauren Hersh, the Director of Anti-Trafficking Policy and Advocacy at Sanctuary for Families in New York City. She discussed the victims’ mentality and how they were often misclassified, as the mentality of a domestic abuse case is different from a trafficking case. Lauren appealed to us to be aware of the legislation in the works as we need to devote resources to prevention, not just services after the victim is abused or taken advantage of.
Our last speaker was Audrey Stone, who currently serves as Second Deputy District Attorney in Westchester County, overseeing the prosecution of cases of domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse. She shared a scary fact – the average age of victims of sexual trafficking is 12-14 years old. Think of your teenage daughters, granddaughters, friends, etc. Right here in Westchester County, there are cases of both sexual and labor trafficking of women and teens/girls being abused and taken advantage of. Predators must be identified and victims helped. She told us how employees of a Syosset Dunkin Donuts stepped forward in 2007 when a bruised and disheveled, half-naked woman came in. They alerted police, and it turns out that these good Samaritans saved her life as she and another woman were being held captive and tortured in the nearby home of a wealthy couple.
We, as educated, caring women must share this information. Please Join the Hadassah Action Network www.hadassah.org/advocate or www.hadassah.org/actionnetwork and look for more information on human trafficking and related subjects. We need to write to our politicians to vote for legislature related to Women. We also need to be alert (especially those of us who work with vulnerable populations) to look for signs of abuse and to not ignore people who might need help. Educating the public is important and knowledge is power.
I am glad I chose to attend this meeting last Sunday morning.
(All photos contributed by Hadassah)