How a Traffic Jam Inspired Me to Fight Sexual Exploitation
At roughly 2:00 AM on a day in 1990, I found myself stuck in a traffic jam.
I was the Chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) at the U.S. Department of Justice at the time. Where was the long line of vehicles ahead of me going at such an early hour?
Into the heart of one of New York’s notorious red-light districts, that’s where.
I was on a child sex-trafficking investigation and it was there that I witnessed firsthand the open commercial sex exploitation of teenage girls and women in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. By day, the district sold meat, produce, and dairy products. But by night, it transformed into a zone where traffickers pedaled another type of flesh—human flesh.
It broke my heart. Vehicles would pull to the curb on either side of the street and young girls, some obvious minors, would get in, perform sex acts on one or more occupants, and then get out and move to the next vehicle.
That night was the beginning of CEOS’ efforts to spur an FBI investigation into domestic minor sex trafficking in New York City. In those days, terms like “sex trafficking” weren’t even in use, and FBI officials viewed sexual exploitation of women and children dismissively. Despite numerous efforts on the part of my team at CEOS, the FBI investigative support we hoped for never materialized.
Twenty-eight years later, I am still fighting the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children as President and CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in Washington, DC. Only now I have joined you in an even more cutting-edge mission—recognizing that pornography is at the heart of so much sexual exploitation and abuse, and so to combat sex trafficking, child abuse, sexual violence, and more, we must address pornography.
The scope and importance of our mission—yours and mine—is now greater than ever.
Twenty-eight years ago, the support we needed never materialized. But, thanks to generous people like yourself, I am hopeful that we will find the support we need to continue our battle against sexual exploitation.