Experts to convene at JHU to discuss needs of child sex trafficking survivors

Gov. Martin O'Malley, Kathleen Sebelius, Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Smart among those expected to attend two-day event

Greg Rienzi / April 18, 2013 Posted in Health, Politics+Society Tagged mental health, public health

Policymakers, researchers, and high-profile advocates from across the nation will convene at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health next month to address the needs of child sex trafficking survivors in the United States.

The first-of-its-kind symposium will focus on children, mostly female, who have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Scheduled to attend the two-day event are Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley; Gov. Bob McDonnell from Virginia; Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Issues; Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; Elizabeth Smart, author and president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation; actress Jada Pinkett Smith, an anti-human trafficking advocate and founder of Don't Sell Bodies; and many others.

The symposium—co-hosted by the Bloomberg School and the Advisory Council on Child Trafficking—will bring together leading experts on mental health research, law enforcement, survivor advocacy, disruptive technology, epidemiology, criminal justice, and public policy to better inform the treatment of victims of sex trafficking. Day two of the symposium will be a closed session to allow working groups to generate recommendations related to policy and research.

The event comes as part of a White House initiative, first announced by President Obama at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative, to bring together leading researchers, bipartisan policy makers, and advocates to identify gaps in research, best practices, and evidence to improve the lives of sexually-exploited children.

Child victims of commercial sexual exploitation are often but not always marginalized youth, including runaways, "throwaways," and homeless youth, says Judy Bass, assistant professor with the Bloomberg School's Center for Global Health and one of the event's organizers. Sex traffickers frequently target vulnerable people and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, or other forms of control and manipulation to keep victims involved in the sex industry, Bass says.

Bass, who has studied the needs of and recovery-related services for sex-traffic victims in Cambodia, says that some children eventually escape their abductors, are released, or are rescued by policing efforts. They are left, however, with a range of mental and health issues including sexually transmitted diseases, post-traumatic stress, and depression.

"They might be disconnected from their peers and family and have all manner of social and physical problems," Bass says.

The symposium participants specifically will look to find evidence-based protocols for first-responder interventions and best practices in mental health treatment for survivors. The working groups will also examine how international research in trafficking can inform domestic efforts, and how to better address prevention.

"We need to meet the needs of these first-responders and know what actually works and make sure we are conducting the best practices across all the domains," Bass says. "We want to make sure there is sound science behind all our efforts."

Coordinating this event on behalf of Johns Hopkins are Bass and Elizabeth Letourneau, associate professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Mental Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.

"We are committed to infusing scientific research into the nation's dialogue on child sex trafficking and, more broadly, child sexual abuse," Letourneau says. "A public health approach will be key to the development of evidence-based policy and practice that can end child sex trafficking and child sexual abuse."

Others scheduled to attend include Danielle Gray, assistant to President Obama and cabinet secretary; fashion designer Tory Burch, CEO of Tory Burch and founder of the Tory Burch Foundation; Withelma "T" Ortiz, survivor, advocate, and 2011 Glamour magazine "Woman of the Year"; and James A. Mercy, special advisor for global activities in the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Johns Hopkins-affiliated attendees will include Bass, Letourneau, Bloomberg School Dean Michael J. Klag, and Mohamed Y. Mattar, a senior research professor of international law and executive director of The Protection Project at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The invitation-only conference will kick off at 9 a.m. on May 1 at the Bloomberg School's Sommer Hall. To register or for more information, go to

The event will be shown live via webcast at

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