Norfolk native sheds light on human trafficking

“Charlotte Salasky speaks about her experience as the Director of Anti-Trafficking Programs at the Somaly Mam Foundation, which works to combat the sex-trafficking industry.”

Imagine being 5 years old and living in extreme poverty – poverty so extreme that your loved one decides to sell you into sexual slavery for less than $10. Forced to work in a brothel along with other children, you are tortured and raped on a daily basis.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, this scenario – known as human trafficking – happens each day and affects nearly 2.5 million women and children all over the world.

Norfolk native Charlotte Salasky is helping to change that.

Shortly after graduating from the University of Virginia, Salasky, 25, moved to New York City to find meaningful work, preferably involving children. After spending time working as a waitress, Salasky came across The Somaly Mam Foundation.

The foundation was established in 2007 by Somaly Mam, a trafficking survivor and activist who was beaten and tortured while working as a sex slave in Cambodia. Based in New York, the foundation acts as a funding vehicle to support anti-trafficking organizations in the United States and abroad. It provides victims and survivors with a platform from which their voices can be heard around the world.

“When I heard her story, it was just unbelievable,” said Salasky, who is now a director of anti-trafficking programs with the foundation. “I knew I had to get involved.”

Fresh from a trip to Cambodia, where the sex slave industry is thriving, Salasky visited home this past weekend to speak to the community about her new position and how human trafficking is becoming a hot topic everyone should be aware of.

“A few years ago, nobody really gave this topic that much thought,” Salasky said Sunday afternoon in Virginia Beach. “They would say, ‘This is a problem, but it’s only happening abroad.’ The fact is that thousands of people are trafficked into the United States each year and thousands of children are being sexually abused.”

The Somaly Mam Foundation works with other organizations that rescue victims and provide them with food, shelter, and medical and psychological care, Salasky said. More than 5,000 people worldwide have been rescued as a direct result of the foundation, she said.

After being rescued and taken to a recovery shelter, Salasky makes sure the survivors have the programs and support they need to successfully transition back into society.

With money raised by the foundation, the shelters are given grants to help take care of any medical attention they need and train survivors with vocational skills needed to obtain jobs in fields such as hair styling or tailoring, Salasky said.

Salasky wants others to realize that human trafficking is happening in our own backyard, and the community can help prevent it.

“It’s happening in Virginia, and it’s happening all over the U.S.,” Salasky said. “It could be any one of our sisters, brothers or children.”

If anyone is aware of human trafficking in their area, they should first notify the authorities. Then, Salasky encourages them to send caution e-mails to family and send a letter to their local representative and “make this a priority for policymakers in the United States.”



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