Vera Lesko was one of the first people in Albania to recognize the problem of human trafficking. Since 1997, she has risked danger to herself and her family to protect trafficking victims and prevent young women from falling prey to traffickers. In 2001, Ms. Lesko’s organization, The Hearth Psycho- Social Center, opened the first shelter in the country for trafficked Albanian women and girls. Along with a safe place to stay, the shelter offers returned victims legal and medical counseling, educational training, employment assistance, and family mediation services. As a result of her work, Ms. Lesko has been beaten in public several times and felt it necessary to send her daughter to live with relatives in Italy because of threats to her safety. Despite these regular attacks and her recent battle with breast cancer, Ms. Lesko continues her commitment to protect women and combat human trafficking.
Benjamin Perrin is a leading anti-trafficking activist in Canada and founder of The Future Group, an NGO dedicated to combating human trafficking and the child sex trade around the world. Mr. Perrin has advocated for the adoption of a Canadian national action plan and has pushed for stronger enforcement and more effective victim services. His 2006 report on Canada’s treatment of victims led to the provision of temporary residence permits and medical assistance to trafficking victims. Mr. Perrin is the chair of the University of British Columbia’s human trafficking working group. He has testified before Parliament on trafficking issues and consulted on the development of the 2008 Rio de Janeiro Pact against sexual exploitation of children. His investigations have identified a nationwide sex trafficking ring and dozens of cases in which Canada has been a transit and destination country. Mr. Perrin has several ongoing research projects that will provide Canada’s first comprehensive account of human trafficking and propose concrete policy recommendations to increase the prosecution of traffickers and the protection of victims.
Mariliana Morales Berríos became a pioneer in Costa Rica when she created the Rahab Foundation in 1997 to help trafficking victims find a new life with their families. She has succeeded in keeping her programs running and expanding despite limited resources. Ms. Morales, her staff, and their families have been threatened and attacked for trying to help women and children escape from their exploiters. But they continue undeterred, providing victims with spiritual attention, education, nutrition, psychological assistance, and vocational training. Rahab has now helped more than 3,000 people in the San Jose area and many more in other areas. From 2006 to 2008, Ms. Morales and Rahab ran a program focused on the tourist area in and around the resort town of Jaco. The pioneer project directly served 347 national and foreign victims of trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation and their families. It also trained more than 5,000 government leaders, police, tourism workers, and youth in human trafficking issues.
Major George Vanikiotis, a commander in the Anti-Trafficking Unit of the Attica Police’s Organized Crime Division, is one of Greece’s most knowledgeable anti-trafficking proponents. Major Vanikiotis provides training to police cadets, prosecutors, health professionals, labor inspectors, and NGOs throughout the country. He also leads anti-trafficking seminars at high schools and universities. Major Vanikiotis directs operations for the Anti-Trafficking Unit, which concentrated on tackling several major urban trafficking rings in 2008 and will focus on labor exploitation and international law enforcement cooperation in 2009.
Dr. Sunitha Krishnan established the NGO Prajwala in 1996 after the evacuation of one of the oldest red-light districts in Hyderabad. Dr. Krishnan, who survived sexual violence as a teenager, has rescued thousands of children from severely abusive conditions and restored their childhoods. Prajwala now runs a successful second-generation prevention program in 17 transition centers for children of prostituted women. The NGO’s strategy is to remove women from brothels by giving their children educational and career opportunities. Dr. Krishnan and her staff train survivors in carpentry, welding, printing, masonry, and housekeeping. Prajwala has used videos of victim statements to advocate for better legal protection of trafficking survivors, and it has created an alliance of 30 citizen groups to replicate the organization’s work in other Indian states.
Elly Anita is a victimturned- advocate who fights for the freedom of Indonesian workers trapped in the Middle East. In 2006, Ms. Anita accepted an offer to work as a secretary in Dubai. But she ended up in Kurdistan, Iraq, where she was expected to work as a waitress or hotel receptionist. When she refused, the employment agent put a gun to her head, beat her, starved her, and kept her confined to the employment agency. Near death, she still refused to be forced into a job other than secretary. When the office was empty, Ms. Anita used the Internet to contact a friend. The friend directed her to the Indonesian Embassy in Amman and Indonesian NGO Migrant Care. She managed to escape Kurdistan at great risk with IOM assistance. Since returning to Indonesia, she has worked for Migrant Care and has helped rescue six other women who were trafficked to Iraq.
Aida Abu Ras created in 2003 the first NGO in Jordan to tackle human trafficking while working full time for the Swiss organization 1,000 Peace Women for the Nobel Prize. Her NGO, Friends of Women Workers, provides legal counseling for migrant women and develops radio and print media campaigns to raise awareness of conditions faced by many foreign domestic workers. In one campaign, the organization sent more than 120,000 SMS messages and 2 million e-mails to Jordanians on the appropriate treatment of their workers. Ms. Abu Ras is now developing a training program for foreign domestic workers and is working with the Jordanian government to build capacity for enforcing regulations and assisting domestic workers. While running her NGO, Ms. Abu Ras has also worked full time since 2006 as a program manager at the Jordanian National Commission for Women, continuing her advocacy for the rights of women and foreign domestic workers.
Alice Nah is a founding member of the Migration Working Group, a network of lawyers, academics, and volunteers focused on caring for, protecting, and defending the rights of refugees and migrant workers who are especially vulnerable to becoming victims of forced labor. Through the network, Ms. Nah urges law enforcement agencies to identify and protect refugees and migrant workers who become trafficking victims. She raises government and public awareness through online articles describing the plight of trafficking victims, refugees, and migrant workers. In January 2009, Ms. Nah wrote about the trafficking of Burmese refugees along the Malaysia-Thailand border. Her article increased local and international attention to the issue and raised public awareness within Malaysia.
Inacio Sebastiao Mussanhane, a Mozambican lawyer, was studying in South Africa when he heard that Mozambican girls were being kept as sex slaves at an upscale brothel in Pretoria. In 2008, he met three girls who had fallen victim to a powerful organized network that lures young girls from Mozambique for sexual exploitation. Pretending to be a client, Mr. Mussanhane went to the brothel and gained the confidence of the girls. Despite attempts by the criminal gang to bribe him, threaten his life, and kidnap him, Mr. Mussanhane began to work closely with the South African police, a local trafficking shelter, the Mozambican embassy, and the South African Ministry of Justice. Police freed the girls and arrested the network’s organizer. The case went to court in October 2008 and is ongoing. Throughout the case, Mr. Mussanhane has been educating the Mozambican and South African governments, police, and courts on the nature of human trafficking. He continues to risk his life to protect the Mozambican girls, ensure the prosecution of the perpetrators, bring international attention to the issue, and disrupt a profitable multinational criminal organization.