319 – The Intersection of Children’s Rights and Combating Human Trafficking


Dr. Sandie Morgan looks back on episode #208: The Intersection of Children’s Rights and Combating Human Trafficking, with Rabbi Diana Gerson.

Rabbi Diana Gerson

Rabbi Diana Gerson is the associate executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis. She has been a leading advocate with the New York Board of Rabbis role in confronting family violence, sexual abuse, and the exploitation of children by reaching across faith communities. Rabbi Gerson has developed programs for the New York City’s mayor’s office to combat domestic violence and has provided prevention education to thousands of community leaders and clergy, whose roles she considers critical to ending sexual exploitation and all forms of violence against children. In addition, she also serves on the international steering committee for the interfaith forum on child dignity in the digital world. She received her master’s degree and rabbinic ordination in 2001 from the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. Diana, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.

Key Points

  • One of the largest initiatives globally is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was written and ratified by the United Nations in 1989. This is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the history of our global society, yet the only country who has not ratified this document to date is the United States.
  • We need to be mindful of the images we share of our children, because they are susceptible to becoming child abuse material.
  • The whole community, not just parents, has to be aware of the risks and the behaviors of people that might take advantage of their position. For every one adult that has training, at least ten children are safer in their communities.



Sandra Morgan 0:14 Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast here at Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice in Orange County, California. My name is Dr. Sandie Morgan. This is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. This year’s Ensure Justice Conference focused on keeping our children safe online. What an important topic. We continued the theme right after the conference when we aired episode #315, with Susan Kennedy, also focused on cyber safety. All this really got me thinking about an older episode we aired, #208: The Intersection of Children’s Rights and Combating Human Trafficking, with Rabbi Diana Garrison. I thought this would be a good opportunity to reshare that episode since I think it ties in with what I’ve been thinking, and I hope you find it as thought provoking as I did. Here’s Dave introducing our guest.

Dave [00:01:34] Rabbi Diana Gerson is the associate executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis. She has been a leading advocate with the New York Board of Rabbis role in confronting family violence, sexual abuse, and the exploitation of children by reaching across faith communities. Rabbi Gerson has developed programs for the New York City’s mayor’s office to combat domestic violence and has provided prevention education to thousands of community leaders and clergy, whose roles she considers critical to ending sexual exploitation and all forms of violence against children. In addition, she also serves on the international steering committee for the interfaith forum on child dignity in the digital world. She received her master’s degree and rabbinic ordination in 2001 from the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. Diana, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.

Diana [00:02:27] Thank you so much for having me. You guys are doing incredibly important and critical work bringing people together for a common cause.

Sandie [00:02:35] And many of our listeners will remember Ernie Allen. And so big shout out to Ernie because he’s the one who introduced Diana and I. And that’s how she came to Vanguard to speak for our Priceless event this year. And it was such a great program and her message was right on target, and the response was incredible so welcome today.

Diana [00:03:02] Thank you so much for having me. And absolutely, Ernie Allen always brings the best people together, he’s really one of the great connectors.

Sandie [00:03:11] So, talking about connections. Let’s talk a little bit about how our work intersects, my work on human trafficking and your work on children’s rights. What do you think are the most common denominators there?

Diana [00:03:26] Well, we’re talking about vulnerable populations, Sandie. Wherever we look there are vulnerable people amongst us, whether they understand that or not, whether they identify as bad or not. And it’s our job really to create safe spaces and opportunities for prevention, and effective responsible response, as well as collaboration.

Sandie [00:03:50] So, one of the big initiatives globally is the Convention on Children’s Rights, right?

Diana [00:03:58] Absolutely. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this November 20th.

Sandie [00:04:03] Do you want to kind of break that down for people who haven’t heard of that before? What is it? What’s its purpose? How does it help our initiative?

Diana [00:04:11] So, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is written and ratified by the United Nations voted on and by the United Nations November 20th of 1989, if you can remember back that far. And it brought together all the countries of the world and was saying that children’s rights are human rights, and we need to do our utmost to protect children because they are vulnerable, and they have no effective voice in government. After all, a five-year-old isn’t going to be able to reach their elected officials or their leader and say, “hey, someone’s got to protect me over here.” And so, it’s set forth a number of policies and protocols for governments to basically set a bar to protect children within community. And it really was a remarkable day, as it went around the world and it is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the history of our global society.

Sandie [00:04:49] I did not know that. Wow.

Diana [00:04:50] Yes. There’s only one country who has not ratified this document to date.

Sandie [00:04:55] Wow.

Diana [00:04:55] And that’s the United States, very frustrating.

Sandie [00:05:17] We really need to investigate what that is all about.

Diana [00:05:22] Well, I’ve had many many conversations with children’s rights experts and legal experts, and I have heard all kinds of reasons thrown around as to why the Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been ratified by the United States. It was signed at the time, by the president, but it was never ratified by Congress. And while there’s always a movement afoot to try and get it through Senate, which is where we ratify all international treaties that are binding, we don’t seem to have any political will to get this done at this point and not quite sure why but I can posit many guesses, which makes me a great you know guesstimater but not a real critical answer to the question. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t lack the opportunity to engage in its basic tenets. So, children’s rights are universal, and we have to think about how we do protect children, whether we’re protecting children from exploitation online, whether we’re protecting children from some type of a child abuse in the home and community, whether we’re talking about the age of marriage in society. We just watched in India, they have just outlawed marriage for all children under the age of 18. And even in the United States today, this is a slow movement which is going across state by state by state.

Sandie [00:06:46] I just spoke at a forum on child marriage, here in California, because it’s an initiative to follow suit here. At this particular point, only two states in the U.S. have outlawed marriage under the age of 18.

Diana [00:07:02] Exactly right. In fact, the first state was supposed to be New Jersey. And in fact, it was not. It passed in Trenton, and it was vetoed by then the governor. And it was interesting because he vetoed it under the understanding and the thinking that it put an undue burden on faith communities.

Diana [00:07:24] And as a result, Delaware was the first one to pass the law and the faith leaders of New Jersey descended upon Trenton and they said absolutely not. This doesn’t put an undue burden on us, this is us saying we want to protect our kids. And so, it really helped to flip the conversation and then New Jersey, they did pass it again in the next session and it did pass and was signed into law. New York State hasn’t had the same level of success, so I hope California really does.

Sandie [00:07:59] Me too.

Diana [00:08:00] I think it’s really important to protect their only childhood. And we know that for children who are married at a young age, there are so many risk factors for them both health and development and success in life and fulfillment. And we want to make sure that they have the opportunity to grow up first.

Sandie [00:08:13] Exactly. So, vulnerability of children globally, you also serve on I think a steering committee for digital safety, right?

Diana [00:08:26] I do, so I sit actually on two boards. One is the Child’s Alliance board which is chaired by Alan. And that was created back in 2017 after the Child’s Dignity Congress held by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, at the Vatican. He issued the declaration of Rome and set forth an incredible strategic plan on how we as faith communities can come together and really work towards effective change on behalf of children to keep them safe online. The second board I sit on is actually also an outgrowth of the same Congress as a fulfillment of one of the levels of the strategic plan, which is the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities. And I sat on their steering committee that launched their global forum in 2018 on Child Dignity in a Digital World.

Sandie [00:09:18] So, what does child dignity in a digital world look like? Everything is, I mean it’s out there on the cloud, how do I understand something I can’t touch?

Diana [00:09:30] Well, we all know that people post photos and videos online every single day. And sometimes its parents posting videos and parents posting photos, and sometimes its children posting videos and photos of themselves, and sometimes it’s people who’ve taken photos of children who don’t have the authority to have those photos and they’re using them for inappropriate and dark activities. And we have to be mindful of what we post online about our children. You know when a baby is born, we post photos of the baby we say the name, we say the date, at the time that they were born, and then these children live their lives kind of before our eyes on social media. But not every photo that was taken perhaps of us when we were kids that are sitting in a photo album in our house would be appropriate to share online. So, we have to think about the really the sexualized images that we’re posting online of children. We don’t necessarily think of this when we think about the family photos of yesteryear. But once a photo is shared online, it can be shared and re-shared, and posted reposted, downloaded and used for other purposes. And it may not be what we thought it was going to be used for, perhaps we just thought it was a nice photo, maybe you thought it was a really funny moment that we want to share with our family and friends. But unfortunately, these kinds of child abuse images are being traded like baseball cards on the dark web. And we need to be really mindful of how images of our children are being used.

Sandie [00:10:59] So, to be just a little more directed than what you’re really saying is that these images can be adapted and used in pornography?

Diana [00:11:10] So, we can we often call them sexual abuse material and it can be used for commercial purposes, absolutely. And they don’t even need to be altered. They can just be added to a group of photos, they can be put together in some kind of a montage if it’s a video of a child. But anything that would be posted online that has a, you know, a display of the genitals of a child of any age would be considered to be child abuse material.

Sandie [00:11:34] Wow.

Diana [00:11:34] And so we have to think about that when we post pictures online and the child can be fully clothed, but if it’s if it’s an explicit display we have to be thinking about that and sometimes we’re talking about young children. And sometimes we’re talking about older children who are posting self-generated pictures that they’re posting themselves or somebody they meet online asks them, send me a picture of yourself, you know send me a picture of yourself in a bikini. Then you get yourself a picture of her naked, all those images can be sent to somebody by a child who may not realize who they’re talking to online. And that material now can be used and misused, over and over and over again because it’s irretrievable, once it leaves your device, you have no idea where it will go.

Sandie [00:12:25] And that’s really hard for concrete thinking to move into the abstract and understand the risk and kids, their brains aren’t developed to the point where they have good risk management skills. They’re more likely to respond in the moment, oh this is fun, I’m having a good time and they’re doing this, not realizing it can come back later and then be used against them and they can be coerced into further explicit activity because they’re threatened that we’re going to send this to your father or your mother or your pastor. And then we start to see more of the actual commercial sexual exploitation that happens in the definitions of trafficking in persons.

Diana [00:13:14] Absolutely. We know that young people don’t have developed skills or really you know the brain development to understand the risks of this kind of behavior.

Sandie [00:13:26] So, we have to do a better job protecting them, right? I don’t mean to talk over you. I just get so frustrated with parents.

Diana [00:13:32] No, that’s ok. We do need to do a better job. I know, well I also think about this. You know I have nieces and nephews and oftentimes you know I see they post stuff on their Instagram, and they post stuff on their Facebook, and they’re on Snapchat and you know especially on Snapchat they just assume it disappears and you know 24 hours it doesn’t stay, Instagram live it doesn’t stay that they can’t figure out a way to download it, but it does stay. Everything leave an impression and imprint on the internet, and somewhere sitting on some server someplace and it will come back at you at some point in our lifetime. They have people, they come into the school, they come in every month and they talk to these kids about the risks and what they have to be aware of. And they’re thinking and they go Oh well that’s not me, it’s not going to happen to me, it doesn’t happen in my community. And there’s a sense of immunity. And what we do know about exploitation of children online digital world, is an equal opportunity destroyer that any child can be impacted negatively. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see an article somewhere in the world about some trusted adult who has either been taking photos, has been disseminating or not child pornography, sending it somewhere, uploading it someplace, keeping it on their own device, whether they’re keeping it on their computer at home or a computer even at work. This is something that is going on and people who are in positions of trust within community offend, and they offend thinking that they’ll never be caught because they think that this is a private thing that happens in the dark and they do things in the dark that they think that no one would they would never do in the light. Yeah, they won’t necessarily touch a child on the street, but I hear so often from pastors or rabbis or imams you know, “well if it was online, I didn’t touch the child, so is it a sin?” And I go- Of course it is because you’ve harmed that child and unawareness of what goes on online can actually hurt a child over and over and over again every time that image is shared. And that’s part of the education and the awareness building that we need to do with adults. And I think we have to start with clergy. I think we have to start with the rabbis, and the ministers, and the priests, and the imams, and the sheiks because we have incredible responsibility to our communities.

Sandie [00:15:49] So, how often do you see a faith leader actually speak on this from there during their worship service?

Diana [00:15:59] Not as often as I’d like, and not as often as it needs to be. To talk about an issue once from the pulpit is not enough, we need to create cultures of safety and community where these are issues that we talk about openly and often. They say that the institutional memory of any congregation doesn’t matter what faith, what denomination. If you were there in the room to hear the sermon, or the educational program, or the speaker they say that the institutional memory of a congregation is approximately three years. So, if we’re not talking about it at least every three years, if not more, because ideally, we should be talking about it more because not everybody is always there that one Friday, Saturday, Sunday that class, that speaker. We know how that works. You know last time I went to synagogue we don’t take attendance. Just everybody was there for the day. We need to be talking about it often, we have to really have literature out in our lobbies and inside of our offices, we have to incorporate this into the curriculum for our Sunday schools or our Hebrew schools. We have to empower children, but we have to really give knowledge to parents, we really need to be that resource.

Sandie [00:17:05] And it feels to me, because you’ve already mentioned the fact that we see stories daily of trusted adults who violated these principles. And so, one of the things that I think is really important in our community, is to make sure everybody understands this. It is not just for the parents of children that okay you need to know this to protect your children. The whole community has to be aware of the risks and the behaviors of people that might take advantage of their position, because we’re the ones who keep the whole community safe.

Diana [00:17:47] It takes a village.

Sandie [00:17:48] Absolutely.

Diana [00:17:49] It takes all of us to be that safety net around a child. And it’s up to the faith community, the religious institution, to strengthen the child’s environment. We have to protect kids; not one parent, not one adult. You know there are trainings that we know at least for everyone adult we train, ten kids are safer in that community, whether or not you have a child in your home.

Sandie [00:18:09] Talk about that training. What does that look like?

Diana [00:18:12] So, when I do trainings, I do a lot of work with Darkness to Light, which is a nonprofit based out of Charleston, South Carolina. And I started working with them back in 2007, I want to say, and we know that the stewards of children training and now actually they have an app and they have all kinds of resources out there, but it’s really to empower adults to protect children. And it’s third party evaluated, we know that it works. And we talk about online exploitation of children, we talk about c-sec, we talk about the commercial sexual exploitation of kids, and we know that for everyone adult we train at least 10 kids in that community are safer. And when you’re talking about environments that are urban and we see how many kids we interact with in the course of a day, whether or not I have a child in my home. I don’t have a child in my home, but I can tell you I’ve got probably about 50 kids who live in my building.

Sandie [00:19:14] Wow.

Diana [00:19:15] And I know that I am constantly the eyes and the ears. And everybody in my building knows what I do for a living, and I get knocks on the door saying, “hey I have a question, something’s going on with my kid, I don’t know what’s going on. Will you talk to my child?”

Sandie [00:19:23] Wow. So, you kind of flipped to the conversation. I’ve been in a lot of community meetings and things where they’re talking about doing prevention with the kids. And here’s a curriculum for the kids to make them safer, all of this. But you what you’re saying and what I’m hearing is we actually have to have adults that take that responsibility, we don’t dump that responsibility on a child.

Diana [00:19:48] You know when children hear somebody say oh this is going to be our secret. They know what it means to keep a secret, they don’t tell, or they’re perhaps threatened to don’t tell anyone. Or if you tell somebody, this is going to happen. Children are very aware of their environments. Kids keep secrets. Kids don’t want to tell on people, they want to be the tattletale. We have to ask the questions, we have to be the ones watching, it’s an adult’s responsibility. We can empower kids, we can give them all the tools in the world, we can have a million conversations with them in school, at the end of the day- we know that when we see inappropriate material, whether it’s online or on a child’s phone or we suspect something, 90 percent of the time it’s reported by average adults saying, “you know what this doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t seem right to me.” If you talked to people at Instagram, they’re going to tell you 90 percent of the material that are removed are not removed by their staff, but they’re removed by because someone reported it.

Sandie [00:20:32] Yeah.

Diana [00:20:33] And I can tell you there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t report something I see online.

Sandie [00:20:54] So, you know I would love to see 100 more adults just from listening to this podcast start being just like you.

Diana [00:21:00] If we have one hundred adults start being more aware, at least a thousand kids are going to be safer.

Sandie [00:21:06] I like that math.

Diana [00:21:09] Yeah that’s the power of community. Think about your congregation, think about the average church, how many kids do you have there? How many children are in it, in your doors, in that worship service? I think about when parents are preparing to have their first child. And they take the CPR class and the first aid class, and they take the parenting classes, and they start baby proofing the house before that baby can even turn over. Right?

Sandie [00:21:28] Yeah.

Diana [00:21:29] But how many of them are taking classes to figure out Well how do I keep my kids safe from people who might want to cause harm to my child? Before you hire that first baby sitter, before you for hire that first nanny, before you put your kid into a school. Are we asking: what are your child protection policies? How many of us have asked our actual house of worship: what is your child protection policy? Is it sitting next to the fire safety plan on a shelf with dust on it? Or is it something that we’re living and breathing each and every day? Is it on our Web site? If they can’t provide one for you, tell your leadership we need to make one and we need to do it now.

Sandie [00:22:14] That urgency is what we need in our communities too because our kids are our future.

Diana [00:22:22] They’re not just our future, Sandie, I believe they are our now, they’re our present. And that present is a gift entrusted to us and we must do something about it because it’s happening to them right now. Eight hundred million kids are at risk every single day because they’re online. That’s a lot of children. And if you think about the relationship you have with one child and what you would do to protect that one child, you know you’re going to teach them not to touch the stove because you don’t want them to burn their hand. You’re going to teach them to look both ways before they cross the street, so they don’t get hit by a car. Well, aren’t you going to tell them how to protect themselves every time they go online and talk to somebody?

Sandie [00:23:00] Absolutely. And that’s one of the reasons why I loved the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children where Ernie Allen has made tremendous progress in protecting children. And they launched NetSmartz.org, and the last S is actually a Z. So, it’s a NetSmartz.org. And there is an abundance of Internet safety curriculum for every age level. We see parents putting screens in front of children at a really young age. Last night I was giving a lecture and one of the mothers said that her younger son started using her older son’s x box to play a game and then she heard her little boy talking to somebody and ask him “Who are you talking to?”, “My friend”. Because these are open access games, and suddenly there’s a stranger right in your living room. And mom took the headphones away, she was aware of what was happening, and this was not another little boy, this was a man talking to her little boy.

Diana [00:24:12] Of course and it happens all the time. The gaming devices are really an open entry point to connect with children.

Sandie [00:24:22] We’re going to put the link to the resource you just mentioned too, Darkness to Light?

Diana [00:24:29] Yes, Darkness to Light, d2l.org. And they’ve been doing incredible work for so many years. I also, you know if you see something, you know you have to say something, that’s what we say on the New York City subway. Yeah, there’s always a sign, “if you see something say something.” So, if you see something and it’s Online, report it. And if you don’t get an answer that you think is appropriate for you know whatever the social media site is, go to the Cyber Tip line from NCMEC. Let them know, let them advocate to have something removed. It’s so important that we are vigilant. Yeah, don’t just let something pass by. I saw something recently online a friend of mine had posted a video of their child, and it was so inappropriate, and I reported it immediately. And then I called my friend and I said this is why this is wrong. This is why you can’t post videos like that of your child. And they were like, “you know what I never thought about it.”

Sandie [00:25:20] So, you directly confronted a friend?

Diana [00:25:24] Absolutely. I’m everybody’s worst nightmare.

Sandie [00:25:28] I love it. So, building that kind of passion and knowledge in our communities is what is going to keep our kids safe. And the overlap to human trafficking with online access from strangers reaches into every socioeconomic strata of our communities. And there are stories of little girls who want to be models and met a so-called agent in a chat room and end up being sexually exploited in commercial sexual exploitation of children. Access to our kids on the internet doesn’t allow us to put up a fence around our house anymore because the cloud is everywhere.

Diana [00:26:17] It’s everywhere, it’s in everybody’s hand.

Sandie [00:26:21] Yes, we don’t have to live in fear, but we do have to be responsible to build that security in our communities, it’s an invisible network of safety.

Diana [00:26:33] And it’s really means about being proactive, not reactive. We need to get ahead of this because we’re never going to legislate our way out of this problem. Technology moves too fast; the legislation moves too slow.

Sandie [00:26:42] So, tell me, we’ve got just a few minutes left tell me what proactive look like for parents who have never heard a message on this in their community.

Diana [00:25:49] They need to get educated, first and foremost, educate educate. Insist on bringing in speakers , insist on really gleaning as much information as you can from within community. There are so many resources online, there are so many resources in your community whether you’re talking to the local human trafficking networks, or if you’re talking to NCMAC, if you’re talking to your state task forces, you’re talking to your local police. They all have people working on these issues. So, educate educate educate, learn the facts, educate your community, learn how to identify and to respond and prevent, host awareness events in your community, distribute materials, and dedicate even a religious service. Even if it’s you know once a quarter, if it’s once a month, if it’s once a year then you know what this is something important that we’re going to figure out how to take collective action on it.

Sandie [00:27:35] So, I’m imagining that people listening to this podcast are going to call their clergy and say, “Why doesn’t our church, why doesn’t our mosque, why doesn’t our synagogue have anything like this?” And we actually have a feedback email on our podcast that I rarely mention. But you can go online and add feedback. So, if you are listening to this and as a result of this podcast you reach out to your community and ask them to host something, will you please let us know because I want to do the math. If we get 100 adults, that’s 10000 children. Am I right? Did I do the math right?

Diana [00:28:19] I like your math better than mine.

Sandie [00:28:24] Oh OK.

Diana [00:28:25] We’re going to go for that, I like that one. But if we gets one 100 adults, we got a thousand kids safer. So, it’s always upwards of 10 kids per adult. But I like your math better, so we’re going to stick with that.

Sandie [00:28:35] And I’m thinking if I get 100 adults to get 100 churches and clergy, then that’s going to be multiplying even faster. So, we want our kids to be safe. And we have to be proactive, that’s the message that I’m hearing here and there are resources to help us do that. But it’s our job to actually act.

Diana [00:29:02] Absolutely. And the last piece I want to add to that is if we’re look, we’re talking about education, we’re talking about advocacy, and we’re talking about reporting. But we also have to remember that we’re not the experts, we have to refer. We have the local service providers in our neighborhoods. We have to really make sure that we’re not trying to be vigilantes and trying to address the issues that we’re trying to connect to the experts in the field. So, I know everybody has the best of intentions, but we want to make sure we keep kids safe. So, we want to make sure that whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it in collaboration by building that network, that partnership. And I think that’s so important because we’re not in this by ourselves, we don’t have to figure it out all alone and the experts are here. You know all of you at the Global Center, you guys are experts, you provide an enormous amount of resource for community. Your local police, your state, don’t do this by yourself, look for the partners. You know we always say with little kids to look for the helpers. You know those are the people who are safe in the community. And I think that was Mr. Rogers. So, I really think it’s important for us to remember to partner partner partner partner partner.

Sandie [00:30:15] I love collaboration. That’s my favorite word. Diana, I can’t wait to have you back on the podcast. There are so many other topics I had on my list today, but this was fabulous, and I’ll get back to you and figure out the math as a result of this podcast. I promise you that.

Diana [00:30:32] Oh, I want to hear those numbers!

Sandie [00:30:36] Yes, thank you so much for joining us today.

Diana [00:30:40] Thank you for having me.

Sandra Morgan 30:43 So, what a great conversation. If you want to go deeper on this topic, have another listen to #315: Keeping Our Children Safe Online, with Susan Kennedy, which we aired a couple of months ago. And now, I invite you to head over to the endinghumantrafficking.org website. That’s where you can find resources we’ve mentioned in this conversation and so much more. If you haven’t visited our website before, a great first step is to become a subscriber, and you’ll receive an email with the show notes with every new episode. And of course, I’ll be back in two weeks for our next conversation.

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