January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and how fortuitous it is that a New York jury has convicted the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell on several counts of sexual abuse of minors. The verdict sends a strong message to all sex traffickers who are soliciting sex crimes by trafficking underage boys and girls.
The jury’s decision represents a concluding chapter in a disturbing saga of sexual abuse that spanned three decades and highlighted a pandemic that has been sweeping our country for a very long time.
Jeffrey Epstein may have checked out early by hanging himself in jail in August 2019, but Maxwell had to pay the consequences. And that’s why she will spend the rest of her life behind bars for ruining the lives of countless minors who were groomed by Maxwell and Epstein to satisfy the sexual thirst of men, including alleged politicians, CEO’s, royal figures and many more high-profile individuals.
But the fight against sex trafficking should not stop in a Brooklyn court: Our society needs to punish all of the enablers of Maxwell and Epstein who turned a blind eye to their crimes.
We need to send a message to the housekeepers, limo drivers, pilots, bodyguards, groundskeepers, personal bankers and others who had to know what was going on, but did not say a word. They must also be held accountable so that we can stop this pervasive evil cycle and protect young girls and boys who are falling victim to sex slavery. These children are being targeted by predators, and it is happening regardless of race, gender, ZIP code or socioeconomic status.
It is an issue that is all around us. But until recently it had been largely hidden in plain sight – until, that is, a handful of brave women stepped forward to expose Maxwell, Epstein and their sordid pyramid sex scheme.
Many anti-sex trafficking organizations across America – including Selah Freedom, which is based in Sarasota – are working tirelessly to put an end to sex slavery. By confronting the issue, we now have a model for how to effectively assist survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation through programs that center on advocacy and awareness, prevention, outreach and residential support.
By working closely with law enforcement, legislators, courts, influential leaders and other partners, we can shed light on the staggering sex trafficking statistics – and we can work together to reduce these numbers by changing lives.
A dramatic shift in public perception about sex trafficking will enable us to end this growing epidemic in America – and a jury in Brooklyn just helped us take a major step forward.
Laurie Swink is the co-founder of Selah Freedom, a Sarasota-based nonprofit organization with partnerships in the Midwest. Its mission is to end sex trafficking and bring freedom to the exploited through programs that emphasize prevention, outreach, residential support and advocacy and awareness..