I was recently asked to serve as a Special Advisor to the President of Shared Hope International, Congresswoman Linda Smith, a request I easily accepted. I met Linda when she came to Congress in 1995. At the time, I was the President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and she and I would have an opportunity to work together on the protection of children during the next two decades.
From the day she arrived on Capitol Hill, it was clear that she cared about children and would be a tireless force for hidden victims everywhere. In 1998 she traveled to Mumbai and saw women and children enslaved in brothels, sold as commodities. She was angry. She returned home and undertook an unprecedented effort to evaluate the situation in her own country. She found that this was not just a problem on the other side of the world; it was also a problem in the United States. She turned her anger and indignation into action, founding Shared Hope International and beginning a nearly two decade long campaign to eradicate domestic minor sex trafficking.
Simultaneously, I launched an Exploited Child Unit and CyberTipline at NCMEC. Because Linda and I shared the conviction that too little was being done, we worked together. When she left Congress and focused her energy exclusively on Shared Hope, our collaboration continued.
Shared Hope has awakened policy makers and citizens. It investigated buyers, facilitators and traffickers in four countries, concluding that sex trafficking is demand-driven. It performed field research in 10 cities for the US Department of Justice, helping shape US policy. It did much more. Shared Hope is a leader in many areas, but I am particularly impressed by its extraordinary impact in three: Changing laws, rescuing victims, and reducing demand.
- Shared Hope’s Protected Innocence Challenge has resulted in new laws nationwide. Based on a legislative framework of 41 laws, Shared Hope reviews progress state-by-state each year and issues report cards. The first year, 2011, 26 states received an F, in 2015, no states had an F grade.
- Shared Hope is also a strong voice for victims. Rescue and rehabilitation services for victims were woefully inadequate. Shared Hope advocated a victim-centered approach, creating shelters and services, keeping victims out of detention centers, ensuring they are eligible for restitution and other civil remedies, and more. It is changing the way America assists these victims.
- I am particularly enthusiastic about Shared Hope’s pioneering efforts to address demand. This problem persists because it is easy, low risk, enormously profitable and because there is massive demand for commercial sex with children and youth. Shared Hope has worked to ensure that laws are enforced that will hold a buyer of sex with a minor accountable for that act and be punished for the crime.
Shared Hope is a powerful voice and advocate for change. I am proud to be able to play a role as a Special Advisor to its remarkable President, Congresswoman Linda Smith and look forward to our continued collaboration on behalf of children.
About the author: Ernie Allen serves as an advisor to governments, law enforcement, technology companies and others on the digital economy, public-private partnerships and child protection. Appointed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, he chairs a global initiative to combat online child abuse and exploitation for the British government. He is a founder and the former President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.