Governor Cuomo: Fund housing and services for trafficked children

"Child victimization is one of the most abhorrent acts that could ever be committed.”

- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

 My name is Lashauna Cutts and I am the Director of JCCA’s Gateways program. Gateways is a residential treatment program for commercially sexually exploited girls in New York.  Nearly every day, I have to turn away a girl in need of treatment because our 13-bed program is full.  

 In 2008, New York State passed The Safe Harbor Act to provide critical services for the growing number of children who are forced into prostitution.  The Act authorized $10 Million in funds, however, since the passage, zero dollars have been spent.  We had hoped that with Safe Harbor, there would be many more services for sexually exploited children. 

 Our program changes lives. We have helped dozens of girls since we opened three years ago.  Tiffany is an example of the program’s success.   She was placed in Gateways after being commercially sexually exploited by a physically violent and abusive pimp.  She came from a troubled family and, at 15, met a 30-year-old man named Nick.  He convinced her that he was the only one who truly cared for her.  Within weeks, she moved in with him.  However, Nick soon turned violent, repeatedly raping her, and forcing her to have sex with other men for money.  Tiffany attempted to leave on several occasions, but he would always threaten or beat her.  At age 16, Nick beat Tiffany unconscious; as a result of this incident, she fled and was placed in the Gateways program.  Like many young people suffering from exploitive abuse, Tiffany had a hard time breaking the bonds with her abuser.  Through individual, family, group, and peer counseling, Tiffany was able to be reunited with her family.  She is now enrolled in dual college credit/GED program and planning for her future.

 Children in New York are being lured into prostitution by pimps who offer false promises of love, and then control the children with extreme violence and degradation.  Recognizing this as a serious problem, the New York State Legislature took action but has failed to provide the funding needed to produce meaningful change.

 We must fight to keep these young people safe and provide a comprehensive array of services.   New York took the lead and was the first State to pass legislation that required treatment of these victimized children, instead of punishment.  Now New York needs to take the lead and fund the services.Without funding, these children will have little chance to recover from their exploitation and lead fulfilling and productive lives.


Please sign the petition to show your support for commercially sexually exploited children in New York.

How can we make a difference?

When we sit and read about various human rights atrocities and abuse happening all over the world (including our own countries), we can often feel discouraged and powerless. How can you, as an average person with finite time and resources, effect change in the lives of people that may be halfway across the world? How can we make a difference?

Yes, there is always donating money or fundraising to support organizations working on these issues, and there is “raising awareness” and educating others about the issues. But these things can feel incredibly futile and very impersonal. Sometimes what we really want to do is jump up and take action—real, get your hands dirty kind of action. But how do we do that?

The hard truth is that often times we can’t. Most of us are not blessed with the time, ability, and resources to put our lives on hold and travel to a distant country for several months to volunteer in an orphanage or a community clinic or a refugee camp or rural school. Most of us do not have the skills or education to provide health or legal services at no cost to those most in need of it. Most of us do not have the power or authority to sit down with international leaders and hash out an action plan to tackle the cross border issues we care about. Most of us are not investigative journalists who can go seek out the truth about human rights abuses in far off places. And as individuals, none of us can change the world on our own.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t all do something. As Edward Everett Hale so brilliantly stated:

I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Whether we recognize it or not, we all have something to offer. We all have skills and talents and resources that can be put to wonderful use. And we all have voices that collectively can call for (and achieve) great things.

I have seen so much criticism lately of things like awareness raising events, online petitions, and donations. Most of the criticisms center around the idea that these activities aren’t really “doing” anything. But the same people spouting off these criticisms fail to offer any substantive alternatives (except for donating to OTHER organizations that they, for whatever reason, think are more worthy). So what are average people stuck in their living rooms supposed to do to help the fight for human rights?

Awareness raising is a vital first step in any effort to make change. Unless people are aware of an issue, they can’t (and won’t) do anything about it. But we should never stop at awareness—we should always push forward to advocacy and action. What that action looks like will largely be dependent upon the issue and the individual, but there is always SOMETHING you, as an individual, can do. Regardless of the issue, it is important to first educate yourself as much as you can and then find ways to take action.

To help generate ideas on how you can get involved, here are some suggestions:

  • VOLUNTEER: Find a local or regional organization working on the issue you want to focus on and learn more about them. Find out if they have a volunteer or internship program or contact them to offer any special skills you might have (like web design, graphic design, performing at their next fundraiser, working the front desk, organizing their storage areas or incoming donations, cooking a meal for their staff and volunteers, answering phone calls, joining their speakers bureau, etc.). There are also many international organizations that need volunteers to work in their U.S. based branches in a range of different capacities. Find out what is available to you and what fits your interests and abilities. Then step up and start volunteering.
  • ORGANIZE A DONATION DRIVE: Organizations that provide direct services (such as domestic violence shelters, food banks, refugee assistance programs, children’s programs, etc.) are almost always in need of new donations. Shelters need toiletries, clothing, journals, art supplies, gently used furniture, linens, etc. Food banks and soup kitchens often need non-perishable food items. Some programs have very specific needs that are often hard to fill with general donations, like baby formula and diapers and undergarments for current clients/residents. Locate a program near you (or a program overseas!) and organize a donation drive to collect items from their current wish list. Many organizations will have this list published on their website—others will gladly send you a list if you contact them and ask what they are most in need of. Remember there are organizations locally, regionally, nationally, AND internationally that you could organize a drive for. So find something you are passionate about and go for it.
  • SIGN & CIRCULATE PETITIONS: If you go to, their homepage currently features some of their recent major successes. Petitions are criticized as passive and ineffective, but with the advent of websites like, petitions can help magnify your voice and get your message heard. They are a valid means of delivering your message to corporations, business leaders, politicians, etc. And as Change has shown, they can be very effective as well. Public opinion does matter. When enough people stand up and say “this matters to me,” when enough voices start speaking truth to power, change can happen. I truly believe that. So use your voice to put pressure on corporations to change their labor or human rights policies. Encourage political leaders to support international treaties or agreements on human rights issues. Push corporations to take responsibility for their actions in other countries. And call for more funding and action on issues that matter to you.
  • GET YOUR EMPLOYER INVOLVED: Companies have all kinds of corporate giving policies, including matching donations made by employees, offering pro-bono or reduced cost services (like legal consulting, advertising opportunities, etc.), or even adopting a non-profit to support. Find out what policies exist at your company and then take advantage of any opportunities that might arise to raise extra funds for a deserving organization. Often times, the issues that cannot be addressed by individuals from their living rooms CAN be impacted by organizations with the strength, influence, and expertise we (as individuals) lack. But their activities do require funding, which always seems to be in short supply when an organization needs it most. Many non-profits offer ways for you to give directly to specific programs or aspects of their activities. If there is a specific program you really want to support, find out if you can get your company to pitch in too.
  • GET POLITICAL: The law can be a powerful tool for protecting and upholding human rights, as well as holding perpetrators of abuse and atrocities accountable. There are countless pieces of legislation related to human rights issues lingering in the legislatures at state and national levels. Contact your elected representatives (at all levels) to urge them to support legislation or resolutions relevant to human rights. There are also plenty of laws already on the books that need to be enforced more vigorously (great example: sentencing laws for human traffickers). You can use your voice to support these efforts. As always, make sure you research your options thoroughly—find out what bills are up for vote (or what laws are currently on the books), who supports them (and why), and how they may be helpful or harmful to the cause you are fighting for. If you don’t know where to start, try checking with the organizations you support—they will often have updates on their websites about legislation or legal issues relevant to their cause. Also remember that laws made in your state can have an impact on other states; and laws made in the U.S. can have an impact on other nations. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking.

We can’t do everything, but we can all do something. So find what YOU can do and go do it.


Valentine’s Gift Ideas (Part 1): Fair Trade Chocolates

Taza Chocolates: Vegan, Organic, and delicious. The recipes behind these discs comefrom the streets of Oaxaca City, Mexico. The Vanilla Stone Ground discs are made using only Mexican stone mills, these treats contain only 3 ingredients (organic cane sugar, Organic Dominican Cacao beans, whole vanilla beans).

 The Guajillo Chili Chocolate Mexicano is made by hand in small batches from single source, sustainably grown cacao. To season this chocolate, a small amount of locally grown guajillo chili is used, a spice traditionally paired with cocoa in Mexico. Guajillo Chili Chocolate Mexicano has a rustic texture and powerful notes of citrus and smoke, with a slow-to-develop heat that’s assertive but not overwhelming.

Also available in:

All flavors are gluten, soy and dairy free.


Theo Classic Organic Chocolate Bars: Available in several great flavors, including creamy 45% milk chocolate, dark chocolate, dark chocolate toffee, dark chocolate with orange, dark chocolate with cherry & almond, and dark chocolate with mint. Organic, fair trade chocolate made with the highest integrity, beautifully simple packaging, and outstanding taste. All flavors are soy free and some are also vegan.

Neon Tommy: Adopting FairTrade On University Campuses Promotes Social Responsibility

Wouldn’t it be nice if university students could know if the products they buy in university stores and the food they eat in university cafés are products of humane and environmentally friendly labor practices?

As consumers, our demands have a huge effect on international markets. Unfortunately, most of the things we consume on a daily basis are products of labor exploitation and environmental degredation. However, there is a solution. Buying and selling Fair Trade products ensures that students are supporting products that, in turn, support fair, sustainable development.

Rather than questioning whether an article of clothing or piece of fruit being sold is the product of sweatshop labor, or whether the low price is due to unfair labor practices and exploitation of workers (as is often the case), products with the Fair Trade certification assure the buyer that his or her money is supporting a system working toward poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

According to the United Students for Fair Trade,

“Fair Trade is a market based development strategy that gives marginalized producers a chance to succeed in the global marketplace and offers Fair Trade consumers a means to make their purchasing power a tool for real social and economic change in the world. Fair Trade products ensure that producer cooperatives were paid a fair price for their goods, which are produced under safe working conditions.”

“Fair Trade” as a system means, essentially, that farmers get fair prices for their harvests, that they work under safe working conditions, that they are provided with a living wage, and that they are guaranteed the right to organize; it also means that the production methods are environmentally sustainable, that the producers protect natural water, forest, and other land areas, and that certain chemicals are not used in production. If a production method is negatively or too heavily impacting the environment, producers are responsible for creating a new plan of lessening the impacts.

As stated by Fair Trade USA,

“Through direct, equitable trade, farming and working families are able to eat better, keep their kids in school, improve health and housing, and invest in the future. Keeping families, local economies, the natural environment, and the larger community strong today and for generations to come; these are the results we seek through Fair Trade.”

Fair Trade also ensures that producers are paid a certain price for their goods, and that producers are given additional money to invest in their communities, according to Fair Trade International.

Several universities throughout the world have adopted Fair Trade policies, creating committees composed of students, faculty, and staff who work together in the interest of promoting Fair Trade and educating others on campus about the movement. In the United States, the first campus to be declared a Fair Trade university was the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The University states:

“Our consumer spending choices affect people’s lives around the world. The products we enjoy are often made in conditions that harm workers, communities and the environment. But increasingly consumers are demanding more humane, more environmentally sensitive products…we have supported the FairTrade movement and are committed to using and selling Fair Trade items whenever possible and appropriate.”

The University of California, San Diego is the strongest Fair Trade campus of any university in the United States. Their Fair Trade Committee is working toward developing a policy requiring all future food and vendor contracts on campus to sell only Fair Trade coffee, tea, and sugar at all locations on campus. Mark Cunningham, director of Housing, Dining, and Hospitality at UCSD, remarked, “If we show these citizens of tomorrow that they can contribute to sustainability by practicing social consciousness through their purchases, then they’ll take these good consumer habits out into their future world.”

Some companies that provide Fair Trade products are: Alta Gracia Apparel, Chaka MarketBridge, Fair Trees, Cooperative Coffees, Red Tomato, Oké USA, World of Good, Divine Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Unity – FairTrade Marketplace, and Global Sistergoods.

Hundreds of Fair Trade products are available to consumers, including universities, and by purchasing them above other products, consumers are contributing to improving the lives of the workers in the developing world.

A good first step for universities, including USC, to take in the interest of becoming a Fair Trade University, is creating a Fair Trade Committee of students, faculty, and staff who are able to work together in creating a plan to implement a university Fair Trade policy. Eventually, Fair Trade foods whould be made available for sale in all campus shops, Fair Trade products would be used in all cafés/restaurants/bars on campus whenever possible, Fair Trade coffee would be served at all meetings hosted by the university, and would be served in all university management offices. In addition, the university would commit to increasing Fair Trade education and awareness on campus and to using Fair Trade products in all university establishments as soon as it is possible to do so.

Start small, implementing gradual change, and the effects will be felt.

If we work together toward becoming a Fair Trade campus, our university can realize its mission: becoming a leader in social responsibility, and inspiring other colleges, universities, and companies, as well as individual consumers, to follow suit.

[Story originally post by Cara Palmer on November 14, 2011 for Neon Tommy]

Welcome to the movement to end slavery.

Slavery thrives in the shadows. An estimated 27 million live in bondage today – yet we know about the plight of so few of them. The battle to end slavery begins by revealing it.

Today, Lauren, Sarah, and Julia went to Thomas Riley High School to deliver donations to the Youth Exploring Passion group. This set of donations primarily consisted of diapers, baby wipes, baby powder, maternity bands, and business attire clothing for job interviews. Each girl got a supply of diapers, wipes, and powder to take home, and they were given the opportunity to go through the clothing and find something they liked.

We have heard so many wonderful things about these girls from Serena and other mentors involved in the program—so it was wonderful to finally be able to meet them and talk with them. After talking with the girls and their mentors, we have decided we will be purchasing more baby wipes, clothing for the moms, and blankets/clothes for the kiddos, too.

If you are interested in helping Y.E.P, you can either e-mail SSGF at, or reach out to Y.E.P. directly at

Some of the biggest needs include: clothing for the moms and kiddos, blankets, winter jackets for the moms, diapers, baby wipes, books (of any kind), and baby formula.



I had an assignment recently in one of my classes to create a cause poster for anything I supported and I chose SSGF. It’s nothing special but I wanted to show it to you because I spent a dreadful amount of time working on it InDesign you and I both know how frustrating that software can be :)

This is so amazing and wonderful! I am blown away! I LOVE this!!

Hopefully we will be updating our actual website soon (the page is super bare bones right now, but we have multiple variations of the design done. Jessica is just finalizing some things before she posts it online, but I am hoping we will have it up soon). Until then, I need to post more of the Be A Force For Freedom stuff on here…I will do that this week :)

Ah I love this!! Great job, Adriane! This looks fantastic!

Diapers and sweatshirts and journals, oh my!

So we are in the process of purchasing and collecting donations for some beautiful organizations in Los Angeles. And we are SOO excited about it! :)

[My dog is less excited though…a good 1/4 of my living room in my apartment is consumed by boxes of donations stacked one on top of the other. The room is shrinking, and The Dog is not pleased.]

I wanted to do a little “spotlights” on each of the organizations we are helping out right now. Just to give a brief introduction, here are the orgs we are working with:

  1. Youth Exploring Passion (Y.E.P.)
  2. Downtown Women’s Center (DWC-LA)
  3. Los Angeles Youth Network (LAYN)
  4. Children of the Night
  5. Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST LA)

I will be making individual posts about each organization, talking about the wonderful work they do, the items we are providing them, and the full wish list of items they are still in need of (in case any of you out there feel inspired to help out). So look for these spotlight posts over the next few days! :)

Love to all,

Co-Executive Director, SSGF

ps. Here is a photo of (a portion of) the boxes of donations!


Signs of a Trafficking Victim


A couple of weeks ago a very good friend of mine asked for a list of ways to tell if someone is a victim of human trafficking. I promised a blog on it, and so here it is. It is very difficult sometimes to tell if a person is a victim; victims of domestic servitude are even harder to identify because they are often kept under lock and key, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference and help them if we see something. When I spoke to Spirit Creek Middle School about trafficking, I told them that the best thing to do if you see something that seems fishy is to report it to the National Trafficking Hotline, which is 1-888-3737-888. Here is a list of signs of a potential victim of human trafficking:

Victims are often kept out of sight and are afraid to reach out for help. According to the Polaris Project, the following may be signs that someone may be a victim of trafficking: 

  • Workers who have had their ID, passport, or documents taken away
  • Workers who show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Workers who show signs of emotional abuse
  • Workers who are being threatened by or are in debt to their boss
  • Workers who are under 18 and are involved in the commercial sex industry
  • Workers who are not free to leave or come and go from their place of work as they wish
  • Workers who don’t seem to be receiving payment

If you think you see a human trafficking situation, you should ask the potential victim the following questions. These questions were compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Can you leave your job or situation if you want?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been threatened if you try to leave?
  • Have you been physically harmed in any way?
  • What are your working or living conditions like?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Do you sleep in a bed, on a cot, or on the floor?
  • Have you ever been deprived of food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Do you have to ask permission to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom?
  • Are there locks on your doors and windows so you cannot get out?
  • Has anyone threatened your family?
  • Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?
  • Is anyone forcing you to do anything that you do not want to do?

*Taken from 

The biggest manipulation device used by traffickers and slave holders is fear. If you see someone who may fit the description of a trafficking victim and are visibly afraid, then this a huge sign that they could be exploited. The victims that are most visible are underage prostitutes, but they are often hidden as well. Being aware of the people around you can make a huge difference in rescuing someone from trafficking.


Fair Trade Fashion:

Nicole Miller has partnered up with Indego Africa to create a fair-trade clothing & jewelry line. 15% of the profits will be donated to Indego Africa (an innovative social enterprise that partners with women artisans in Rwanda on a fair trade basis to drive forward a sustainable, long-term solution to poverty in Africa ) The pieces are stunningly beautiful and worth every penny check out Nicole Miller’s Website for more info.

Thank you Refinery29 for this great find!


Fantastic! :)

We love Ben & Jerry’s because…

There are plenty of reasons to love Ben & Jerry’s, not least of which being their delicious and creative ice creams and sorbets. But Ben & Jerry’s really receives a gold star in our book because of the way they have chosen to do business. They have provided a brilliant model for ethical business practices—one we hope others will emulate. Here are some of our top reasons for loving Ben & Jerry’s:

  1. They pay their workers a livable wage. All full time manufacturing employees are paid enough to allow for a quality of life that includes decent housing, health care, transportation, food, recreation, savings, and miscellaneous expenses. In recent years, Ben & Jerry’s livable wage has been more than twice the national minimum wage.
  2. They are committed to community service. In recent years, they have cooked, boxed, and planted food for the Vermont Food Bank, rebuilt houses in New Orleans, and built a playground in a low-income neighborhood in Berlin, Germany. In company-owned Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops, they have also created programs with nonprofit partners to help young people facing big challenges to learn job and life skills. Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen once said, “Business has a responsibility to give back to the community.” And we agree.
  3. They give $1.8 million to nonprofit organizations every year through the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. This philanthropy is employee-led by non-management, employee advisory groups who consider proposals and recommend grants. Some of the funded organizations include the Center for Immigrant Families, the United Workers Association, Farm Worker Pesticide Project, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
  4. They have a PartnerShop program that offer job and entrepreneurial training to youth and young adults that may face barriers to employment. PartnerShops help people build better lives. They are independently owned and operated by community-based nonprofit organizations. And Ben & Jerry’s waives the standard franchise fees and provides additional support to help nonprofits operate strong businesses. As PartnerShop operators, nonprofits retain their business proceeds to support their programs.
  5. They work to reduce their impact on the environment. They have created “the clean, green freezer” that use hydrocarbon gases. These freezers do not contribute to global warming or the depletion of the ozone layer. They are also a partner of the Dairy Stewardship Alliance, which promotes sustainable farming practices. They have created toolkits to helps dairy farmers assess their own practices and move toward economic, social, and environmental well-being. They also monitor their impact on global warming and invest in programs and projects that try to offset carbon emissions. Ben & Jerry’s is “passionate about making their waste less wasteful” by finding creative ways to reuse or repurpose their production waste. And finally, they source all of the paperboard for their cartons from a supplier that uses pulp from sustainably managed forests, and are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
  6. They use Fair Trade certified ingredients. Many of Ben & Jerry’s ice creams use Fair Trade certified vanilla from Uganda, Fair Trade certified cocoa powder from Cote d’Ivoire, Fair Trade certified cocoa powder from the Conacado cooperative in the Dominican Republic, and/or Fair Trade certified coffee beans from the Huatusco cooperative in Mexico. They also use ethically sourced macadamia nuts from Malawi. They are also in the process of expanding their use of fair trade ingredients in their product lines.
  7. They use ethically sourced (local) ingredients and support ethical businesses. All of the dairy used in their products come from family farms that have pledged not to treat their cows with artificial growth hormones. Plus, many of these farmers participate in their Caring Dairy programs that pursue more sustainable practices on the farms. And (one of our favorite aspects), the delicious brownies they use in many of their most popular flavors always come from the Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, NY. Greyston Bakery is a model for corporate ethics—they hire and support low-income people who are making the transition towards economic self-sufficiency. They provide housing for the homeless, childcare, employment training, jobs, and comprehensive health care for people living with HIV/AIDS. Through these programs, Greyston is able to reach (and change the lives of) over 2,000 people every year.

There are many more reasons that we love and respect Ben & Jerry’s. While no company is perfect, we recognize and commend Ben & Jerry’s for their incredible dedication to corporate ethics.

And did we mention their incredible flavors? Rock on, Ben & Jerry’s. You guys understand how to be a force for freedom.

Of Dust and Nations: Sex Trafficking Videos: Please, No Nudity!


Sometimes when I do research on human trafficking, I get frustrated and irritated at the videos I find. Some of them have the potential to be wonderful resources because they have great information, the information is well documented, and the people who are interviewed are knowledgable. However,…

this is perfection. i love this blog, and this post perfectly explains how damaging and exploitative some videos and graphics created to “raise awareness” of trafficking can really be. read it!



Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Robles-Roman, John Feinbatt launched the “LET’S CALL AN END TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING” campaign last month.

For additional information please visit:

Interesting—visually appealing…I am interested to see how this campaign works out. (I think it is incredibly important to learn from campaigns/approaches that don’t work as much as those that do work)

One of my favorite quotes, though it is definitely by Edward Everett Hale NOT Helen Keller…not sure who made that assertion…
It was published first in A Year of Beautiful Thoughts‎ (1902) by Jeanie A. B. Greenough, but it was spoken/written by Edward Everett Hale (and is attributed to him in the text)
[Edit]: Cool poster though :) And still a fantastic quote

One of my favorite quotes, though it is definitely by Edward Everett Hale NOT Helen Keller…not sure who made that assertion…

It was published first in A Year of Beautiful Thoughts‎ (1902) by Jeanie A. B. Greenough, but it was spoken/written by Edward Everett Hale (and is attributed to him in the text)

[Edit]: Cool poster though :) And still a fantastic quote

Sometimes I really hate the reality of the world we live in…I am glad it continues to baffle and shock me, though. I have said this before and I am saying it again—if I ever reach a point where I start claiming that stories like these “don’t surprise me,” or don’t make me feel sick to my stomach, or don’t give me a lump in my throat…if I EVER reach a point like that, I need to stop working in this field. Just walk away. Because as soon as I become that jaded, I will be completely ineffective. As soon as I let myself accept that this is “just how humans treat each other” and that I shouldn’t be expecting better—demanding better—then I have completely lost myself. So I am angry, I am heartbroken, I want to cry, and I am depressed by my research. But that is a good thing. Because I don’t ever want to become the person that can read a story about a prison guard raping a 3 year old girl, shrug my shoulder, turn the page, and walk away. I refuse to ever be that person.

[to read the rest of this post, click here]