On Monday, July 29, 2013, the world watched in horror at 150 men in 76 cities across the United States were arrested and charged with holding teenaged girls against their will to work as prostitutes in one of the largest human trafficking cases in American history.
The alleged perpetrators will be charged with sex crimes, but the systematic kidnapping and forced prostitution of young girls remains all too common in the world and across the U.S. In fact, according to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, there are more individuals living in slavery today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This terrifying epidemic is robbing thousands of young people of their childhood, and most often, the victims are young women.
Fighting human trafficking has become one of the great civil and human rights issues of our generation. That is why yesterday, August 1, I participated in a convening of the NGO community in Washington D.C., to discuss the issues of trafficking and forced prostitution at home and abroad, and how community groups can collectively organize to raise awareness about and combat human trafficking. The discussion was organized by the United Way World Wide, and included representatives from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services, among others.
At the Girl Scouts of the USA, we are committed to combatting trafficking in two ways: by building girls of confidence and strength who become leaders in their communities, and by helping girls organize and join other girls to raise awareness and develop Gold Award Projects to advocate against human trafficking and exploitation.
Throughout the Girl Scout Movement, there are girls doing amazing things on the issue of human trafficking: in Jupiter, Florida, a local Girl Scout helped enact state legislation that imposes tougher penalties on those convicted of human trafficking.
In Arizona, a Girl Scout developed a national effort to inform people about human trafficking, launching a program called "Girls Empowering and Mentoring with Support," or GEMS for short, which helps girls raise awareness of the issue within communities. The group was so effective that a pilot program has been developed that teams GEMS members with Girl Guides in Honduras around the issue of sex trafficking.
These are just some of the many things Girl Scouts throughout the country are doing to take action against human trafficking. But the story that will stay with me forever belongs a young woman from the Girl Scout Movement who was herself a victim of sex trafficking. She was born in South America, and sold by her own family for $1,000. She was one of the "lucky ones" who was able to escape that life, and eventually, found her way into our Movement.
When I think about what this remarkable young lady has had to overcome -- the unbelievable hardship she has faced, and her iron will to rise above it -- I am simply in awe. Through Girl Scouting, she found a family -- a sisterhood that gave her comfort and strength, and propelled her to achieve. She found an outlet for expression, a platform to channel her passion into a project that built a library program that teaches Latino immigrants to read and write English.
This is what we do. This is what the Girl Scout Movement can help girls achieve. This is why it is so important that faith-based groups, government entities and community organizations like the Girl Scouts extend their reach to the farthest corners of our world. The scourge of human trafficking can be taken on, and it can be defeated, but only when we recognize that, at its core, it is a problem that must be fought one community, one girl, at a time.
At the Girl Scouts of the USA, we are proud to stand with those who are on the front lines of this battle. It's a war we must win, for ourselves, and our daughters.