Melissa Waheibi

Melissa Waheibi
It's not often that I cry at work. We were on a tour of the Children's Assessment Center in Houston, Texas and I walked past the waiting room of the medical clinic where a little boy was sitting patiently with his feet dangling off the chair. He looked to be about 8 or 9-years-old with scruffy brown hair, round cheeks, and a striped green shirt. There was only one reason for that little one to be in that room - he was a victim of sexual assault.   In conjunction with President Trump’s declaration of January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Foreign Press Centers led an international reporting tour on combating human trafficking through prevention, protection, and prosecution. Twenty journalists, each from a different country around the world, traveled to Washington, D.C., Houston, TX, and Los Angeles, CA to learn and report firsthand on the experiences of the United States in their fight against human trafficking. The journalists met with federal, state, and local authorities as well as non-governmental organizations and other private entities. The wide variety of government agencies involved in combatting the issue, including the first Special Advisor to the Mayor on Human Trafficking in Houston, highlighted the importance the United States government places on fighting the scourge of human trafficking.   Our meeting at The Children's Assessment Center (CAC) began with a briefing from the Harris County District Attorney's Office who described their work pursuing and prosecuting traffickers while simultaneously helping the victims of human trafficking. The local authorities partner with CAC which provides a safe haven to sexually abused children and their families. Their goal is to promote the complete healing of child victims of sexual abuse and their families.   I planned the CAC facilities tour; I did not plan to see little mister striped shirt. Seeing his face brought home the importance that this tour could have in helping prevent further children from becoming victims. These journalists’ stories could serve as the impetus for others around the world to seek help, or fight, the challenges of all forms of human trafficking. I found myself misty-eyed a second time during a meeting with Saving Innocence. Saving Innocence is a non-governmental organization based in Los Angeles which was created to rescue child victims of sex trafficking. We watched a promo video of their team of first responders who receive calls 24/7 and pledge to act within 90 minutes to provide immediate care for young victims of human trafficking. It was a short but powerful video of social justice heroes mobilizing to help the most traumatized and vulnerable.   The State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) leads the U.S. global engagement on this important issue.  With this reporting tour, the Foreign Press Centers, working hand in hand with our TIP Office, sought to educate and inform the 20 correspondents on U.S. efforts to fight this global epidemic. By highlighting U.S. efforts through the triple lens of prevention of trafficking, protection of victims, and prosecution of traffickers, the program showed to the world how our national network of agencies seeks to work hand-in-hand to disrupt and defeat the economy of human trafficking. About the Author: Melissa Waheibi is Deputy Director of the New York Foreign Press Center, part of the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.