Editor’s note: Lauren Hersh is New York Director of Equality Now and head of its Sex Trafficking program combatting violence against women and girls. She is a former prosecutor at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office which covers Brooklyn.
By Lauren Hersh, Special for CNN, New York
Three months ago, Ruth came into my life. Sixteen years and two weeks old, Ruth is spunky and smart.
She loves Hello Kitty and iced coffee, listens to Alicia Keys and spends days planning her Sweet 16 outfit. Ruth wants to build schools in Africa. Her contagious smile lights up a room. But, for years, the smile I have come to love was hidden.
Ruth is not her real name. She is a sexually exploited child. At 12, after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend, she met an older man who promised to love and care for her. Instead, he brutally beat her, repeatedly raped her and sold her for sex more times than she could count.
There is a common misconception that girls like Ruth choose to enter prostitution. This could not be further from the truth. FULL POST
Cecilia Flores-Oebanda has spent her life fighting - as a child for some education, as a teen rebel against a dictator, and for more than 20 years against human traffickers.
She has become the face of the Philippines anti-trafficking movement - a woman who has the ear of presidents, royalty and philanthropists around the globe.
Along the way she persuaded the biggest name in the Philippines - boxing legend Manny Pacquiao - to join her fight.
After two years of reporting in the Philippines – from going on police raids in Manila to going undercover in search of human trafficking in remote provinces - CNN can now tell their story.
Rescued girls describe how they were recruited by traffickers, the ordeals they endured - sometimes by men a computer click and half-a-world away - and how Oebanda saved them.
Now Oebanda is fighting a battle that could truly ruin her reputation and the organization she created - fraud allegations made by Philippine investigators.SPECIAL REPORT
By Richard Roth and Patrick Feeeney, CNN - More than 25 men sit in an attorney's office - each was arrested for prostitution-related offences and each is now trying to avoid jail.
But this is not a defense lawyer's office. It's the Brooklyn district attorney's office and the road away from jail is a lesson in the risks of using prostitutes - Johns School.
Assistant District Attorney Grace Brainard tells them: "The crimes you were arrested for would lead to one penalty and one penalty only and that is jail time. And the next time you are arrested for prostitution, jail time will be the only offer on the table."
The men were arrested for attempting to pay for sex from undercover policewomen posing as prostitutes on the streets of New York. Men who solicit prostitutes are so-called 'johns' and this gathering is known as Johns School.
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith talks to CNN about her crusade to end human trafficking and how her 11-year-old daughter spurred her into action. Watch the interview above
Kimberly Ritter could not believe what she was seeing.
Girls wearing almost nothing at all, suggesting all sorts of sexual acts, listed on page after page of Backpage.com's escorts section. When she looked closer at the photos, she noticed something eerie.
She could recognize the rooms.
Ritter is a meeting planner at Nix Conference and Meeting Management of St. Louis. She and her co-workers work with 500 hotels around the world and visit about 50 properties annually. She can identify many hotel chains used in escort ads by their comforters, bathroom sinks, air conditioning units and door locks. Sometimes, she can also identify a specific property.
Meet Kimberly Ritter, sex trafficking sleuth.
By Lisa Cohen, CNN
Editor's Note: How can individuals help combat modern day slavery? Watch "Taking a Stand, Making a Difference".
Denver, Colorado - Staring down a mountain of bras in her basement, Kimba Langas knew things had gotten out of hand.
The stay-at-home-mom started collecting unwanted bras as a way to help women on the other side of the world. It started small through word of mouth, and then a Facebook page.
But the bras quickly overran her home in suburban Denver, Colorado. They were in her basement, in her garage, in her car. They were in bags, in boxes, in envelopes. Her husband, Jeff, tried to navigate his way around them, but it wasn't easy.
"He was constantly moving boxes out of his way to access his tools," Langas said. "Down in the basement is where he keeps his table saw and other large tools, so besides having to move boxes, he would suffer a scolding from me from getting sawdust all over the bras!"
And the neighbors were beginning to talk, too. "If the weather's nice I usually count and box up bras in my garage," Langas said. "The neighborhood boys who are always around playing in the cul-de-sac try to pretend they're not watching!"
Langas collects unwanted bras for a charity called "Free the Girls" which gives them to young women coming out of sex trafficking in Mozambique - not to wear, but to sell in used clothing markets where bras are a luxury item and command top dollar.
The girls can make three times the average wage, more than enough to support themselves and not be trafficked again.
Sitting in her living room packing boxes of bras with her four-year-old son, Wyatt, she reflects on how quickly the little project took off.
It was the pastor of her church who came up with the idea for "Free the Girls." He was planning on moving to Mozambique for missionary work, and called Langas to see if she would run the project with him. She thought it sounded like fun.
"One of the things that was so appealing to me for "Free the Girls," besides the catchy name, was donating bras," she said. "I had probably five or six bras in the back of my drawer. As women, you know, we buy a bra, don't try it on, get it home, wear it once, it doesn't fit. And it's one of those items where you'd like to donate it when you donate clothes to a charity, but you're not sure. Do we donate bras? What do we do with bras?"
Apparently, that sentiment resonated with women across the U.S.. Shortly after launching the Facebook page, the bras started coming. The response was much bigger than she expected.
"I remember in the beginning how excited I would get to pick up envelopes and small boxes, and wow, if a box had 50 or even 100 bras that was crazy," Langas said. "And all of us of sudden, you know, 800 bras, 1,000 bras, 1,250 bras.
"There was a drive in Arizona and the women collected 8,000 bras. There's a church in Tennessee that collected 3,000 bras. There's a group here in Denver that collected 1,250 bras. It's just one of those things that caught on and spread."
It spread so much that Langas had to rent a storage unit to hold them all. But now she has a big problem: How is she going to move 25,000 bras 10,000 miles (15,000 kilometers)?
A shipping container would cost $6,500; money she says she just doesn't have. When she hears about people traveling to Mozambique, she asks them to take an extra suitcase with them, filled with bras. But her goal is to raise enough money to ship all of them.
In the meantime, she is encouraged by the volunteers helping her and motivated by the young victims she is fighting for, happy to do her small part in the fight to end modern-day slavery.
"Eventually it is going to change," she says. "I know it is. And if it's not in my generation, I hope that my son gets to see major change and I hope, by the time he's out of college or maybe even my age, hopefully sooner, he will be like, "Slavery? What? Oh, I read about it in my textbook."
By Natalie Allen, CNN
Twelve-year-old Dieu wears a bright-green top sprinkled with yellow flowers as she squats in a pile of garbage with her mother.
The two talk and laugh while their hands work quickly, sorting plastic from the discarded food and waste.
A full bag will bring their family just pennies. But this is their life’s work. They live on a dump in Rach Gia, Vietnam, part of the Mekong Delta.
Greensboro, North Carolina (CNN) — The truck-stop hooker is no Julia Roberts, the trucker in the cab with her no Richard Gere, and this truck stop off the highway could not be any farther from Beverly Hills, the staging ground for “Pretty Woman.”
Danielle Mitchell watches from the other end of the parking lot and shakes her head.
“We know from talking to other victims and other agencies that girls are taken to truck stops and they’re actually traded,” she says, sitting in her car, a shiny silver sport utility vehicle.
Mitchell is North Carolina human trafficking manager for World Relief. World Relief is a Christian nonprofit attached to the National Association of Evangelicals and is best known for its efforts to combat global hunger and respond to disasters around the world.
Mitchell is trying to tackle a disaster in her home state. And she is not alone.
For the better part of an hour, 42,000 college students stood in the frigid Atlanta night, patiently waiting for a statue illustrating the fight against human trafficking to be illuminated.
They filled the Georgia International Plaza next to the Georgia Dome stadium and stood in the crisp 40 degree air this week staring up at the 100-foot high hand reaching toward the sky. Just a few minutes after midnight, they lit candles and the lights below the statue came on. The students cheered then started to softly sing. A chant of "FREE-DOM! FREE-DOM!" grew momentum.
The event was one of the final gatherings during the Passion 2012 conference, an annual meeting of 18 to 25 year olds. The students were encouraged to donate money to causes that battle trafficking.
The statue, covered in items made by slaves like clothes, represents many things said the man responsible for coordinating the outreach efforts with the organizations that will receive portions of the more than $2.6 million raised during the four-day conference.