Salaam fellow Rotarians! I am happy to recount the details of our 18 February gathering.
 
President Jennifer called the meeting to order at 12:30 PM, leading us in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. She asked John Jackson to offer words of inspiration. John explained that he was standing in for Russ Savage who was in Virginia leading an Ash Wednesday service. Thankful for Rotarians’ support of the Salvation Army, John pointed to Sharon Taylor’s and Marta Pentassuglia’s participation in the previous night’s Grate Patrol amid frigid temperatures and indicated that he is working with Nancy Riker to define his organization’s role on our 25 April Rotary Day. John closed with the Bible’s counsel to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
 
President Jennifer then called on me to introduce guests and Rotarians from other clubs joining us for lunch:
  • Francisco Anguita, Financial Advisor at Morgan Stanley, and Diego Grajales, both invited by Guillermo Grajales;
  • Milton Babirak, accompanying his wife, our guest speaker;
  • Marilyn Cruz, President of the DC Rotaract Club;
  • Gib Leonard, Founding Director of The Buy A Brick Foundation, invited by Sam Hancock;
  • Catalina Lillo and Carmen Pena, Program Officer and Assistant Director at the Partners of the Americas, respectively—Valentin Solis’ guests;
  • Theresa McKillop and Leslye Wooley, Program Manager and Director of Program Services at the Salvation Army, respectively—invited by John Jackson;
  • Dayna Neef, Financial Advisor at Raymond James & Associates, visiting from the Saginaw, Michigan Rotary Club;
  • Kelly Reid, COO of Atlas Corps, Liz Salett’s guest; and
  • Marcus Soriano from the DC Rotaract Club.
As I took my seat, Sargent-at-Arms Buz Gorman approached the podium to congratulate Rotarians celebrating birthdays this week:
  • Jim Brookshire on 16 February – Joining our club in 2000, sponsored by Larry Margolis, Jim is a Past President (2007-2008); his classification is law-environment and natural resources. 
  • Josette Conell on 16 February – A member of our club since 2008, sponsored by Paula Delo, Josette’s classification is education-French.
  • Sharon Taylor on 21 February – Sponsored by Marjorie Scott when she joined our club in 2013, Sharon’s classification is law-litigation.
Back at the microphone, President Jennifer shared club news and announced upcoming events:
  • She welcomed Alexander Kravetz’s visit from Iraq where he has worked in Erbil for the better part of a year. Briefly in DC, he joined us for lunch, much to the delight and surprise of his friends. Alexander had to return to Iraq after a few days but will be back with us as his work there ends hopefully this spring.
  • Mark your calendars because, as President Jennifer noted, our new Fellowship Committee’s Co-chairs Ken Brown and Valentin Solis have planned a happy hour on Thursday, 26 February from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon on 2007 18th Street, NW. Please RSVP on our website because they are reserving a room at the Saloon.
  • President Jennifer invited Red Badge members to attend the next meeting of our club’s Board of Directors scheduled for Thursday, 19 February at 12 noon in the American Beverage Association’s Board Room at 1101 16th Street, NW on the building’s seventh floor. (Please note that this meeting has already taken place.) Attending a Board meeting is one of the tasks new members are required to perform to earn their Blue Badges.
And speaking of that much sought-after Blue Badge, Valentin Solis proudly received his from President Jennifer before we turned our attention to the day’s guest speaker.
Louise Babirak, Author of Shadow Children—Shedding Light on Domestic Trafficking  
Past President Shaun English introduced his friend and our guest Louise Babirak, whose 2014 novel Shadow Children examines the hidden world of domestic minor sex trafficking. Ms. Babirak’s inspiration for her first novel was the combination of outrage and sadness she felt upon reading a newspaper article about children being abused by traffickers throughout the United States.
 
As she delved into this topic, she discovered that the traffickers and buyers of sex transcend ethnic, religious, professional and socio-economic categories. The children who are trafficked and sold for sex are typically ages 11 to 14, and they too come from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. What they share in common is vulnerability—the sense that they do not quite fit in to their families and social circles—which enables traffickers to prey upon them.
 
Traffickers recruit vulnerable youths everywhere, as Ms. Babirak detailed. From shopping malls to parties to bus and train stations to Facebook, pimps find and enlist children with promises of security, belonging to a community and even gifts. Once a young person has placed her/his trust in the pimp, s/he becomes property to be bought and sold.
Ms. Babirak described how traffickers adopt a “sophisticated business model and keep meticulous records” while trying to create a “pimp family.” In this criminal version of the family, the brothel is the home, the pimp is the “daddy” and the trafficked youths are “sisters and brothers.” Additionally, some pimps have “their children tattooed to show the competition who they belong to.” The practice of tattooing is only one of many forms of physical and psychological abuse to which trafficked youths are subjected with devastating consequences. Most children last no more than seven years in “the life,” ending up with enduring bodily and emotional scars—if they do not die due to disease, drug addiction, suicide or murder.
 
Concluding her remarks, Ms. Babirak stressed the need to educate youths about the dangers of trafficking, to teach them that “adults should treat them with nothing less than the utmost respect.” In addition to anti-trafficking legislation and severe punishment for buying and selling children, she advocated an effort to “change pimp culture.” She cited instances of how our culture glorifies the pimp lifestyle—the video game “Grand Theft Auto” which rewards points for killing prostitutes and the 2006 Oscar Award winner for Best Original Song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the movie Hustle and Flow, to name two examples. Acknowledging that changing the culture is an ongoing and long-term project, Ms. Babirak underscored that identifying society’s “shadow children” is a significant first step toward preventing domestic minor sex trafficking.
 
In a lively question-and-answer period, Rotarians inquired about organizations that strive to prevent trafficking and/or to help youths who have been trafficked. Ms. Babirak referred to her own website www.theshadowchildren.com which elaborates on various efforts and organizations that address human trafficking. 
 
Adjourned Until Next Week
President Jennifer awarded our “Trees for the Capital” certificate to Louise Babirak. Meanwhile, members were eager to learn who bought the winning raffle ticket from Pat Cunningham. As President Jennifer read the lucky numbers, Bill Busker quietly arose from his chair, seemingly surprised that the small pot of $101 was his. With the deck of cards down to a dozen, Bill chose carefully but did not draw the ace of spades. So the grand prize of $2,412 will keep growing.
 
Before President Jennifer thanked those Rotarians who supported our meeting, Sam Hancock raised his hand to declare the start of a new lunar year. From DC’s little China Town to the other side of the Emerald Planet to which Dr. Sam aspires, millions would be celebrating the Chinese New Year, welcoming the year of the goat.
 
Our gratitude extends to Stu Shalloway for greeting visitors at the Hospitality Table.
 
On 25 February, we will hear from guest speaker Catherine Meloy, President and CEO of Goodwill of Greater Washington.
 
President Jennifer adjourned the meeting at 1:30 PM … And then I put down my pen—until next week!