The Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program

Photographs of Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Program in action at the All Souls Church in New York City

Slide Show | Photos of the Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program.

For an understanding of what Human Trafficking is, Article 3, paragraph (a) of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons begins to lay the ground work of defining the act, or commission of “Human Trafficking.”  The Protocol notes the coercion or exploitation of individuals, to include prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.  The definitions contained in the Protocol are meant to provide consistency and consensus around the world on the phenomenon of trafficking in persons.  Further, the Protocol calls for the local criminalization of any of the defined acts of Human Trafficking.

The term “human trafficking” is an umbrella term for the acts of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force or coercion.  For a detailed definition as provided by the U.S. Department of State, please read its Trafficking in Persons Report 2013.

It may be surprising to some, but the United Nations only began addressing the phenomenon of Human Trafficking in the late 1990s when it issued a comprehensive strategy to combat Human Trafficking and migrant smuggling.  Human Tracking is a crime most people fully do not understand, or care to hear about: there exists a general lack of awareness of the crime of Human Smuggling, and little empathy for the victims and survivors of said crime.

Many Human Trafficking victims are never heard from again, and simply vanish from society and our collective consciousness.  However, there are also many survivors who are on the mend and weaving their way back to normalcy.  I have met many Human Trafficking survivors through the local New York City nonprofit organization, Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program, Inc.  Mentari is dedicated to providing Human Trafficking survivors with direct services, education/training, advocacy initiatives, and mentorships.  Directing Mentari through all of its advocacy and assistance programs for the many survivors are Randall Roca, President, and Shandra Woworuntu, Founder, Vice President, and Human Trafficking survivor.

Ms. Woworuntu is one of the strongest and most amazing people I have ever met.  To learn more about Ms. Woworuntu’s plight and her story of survival, please read the BBC Magazine article chronicling her story.  More recently, in 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Ms. Woworuntu to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.

The photographs I have taken of team Mentari are meant to document a story of survival and empowerment, rather than a story of victimization and marginalization.  My work with team Mentari is intended to be a long-term project as I hope to be able to follow some of the many survivors as they re-enter society with a sense of purpose and normalcy.  Please follow the following link to the photos gallery: Mentari, Images Gallery.