Ashley Judd & Gloria Steinem Address Human Trafficking at Apne Aap Benefit

October 02, 2017 2:00 PM

The award-winning actress Ashley Judd, luminous in a bisque maxi-dress, was feted at a Manhattan soiree on Thursday night. But she wasn't celebrating her latest film or enjoying a festive night out with friends, rather, she was in town to speak about an issue that she has dedicated herself to for more than a decade: human trafficking, specifically the sexual exploitation of women and girls.
Around the world, there are more humans in slavery now than at any other time in history. Each year, more than 1.4 million girls are sold into prostitution, and Ruchira Gupta, an Indian journalist-turned-activist is determined to provide the advocacy, protection and services needed to rescue every last girl from a life of involuntary servitude. In 2002, she founded Apne Aap Women Worldwide (AAAW), a non-profit which helps former prostitutes obtain training and micro-loans to support themselves outside of the sex trade. They also assist with the filing of police complaints and legal action against pimps and traffickers and organize public education campaigns to discourage men from purchasing sex.
Judd and Gupta met in India at the behest of author/activist Gloria Steinem when Judd was traveling to India for her work as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. All three women spoke at Thursday's gala which was a benefit for Apne App and also served as a platform to celebrate other activists working against human trafficking. Philanthropist Emma Snowdon-Jones co-hosted the event, at which Judd was honored along with human rights attorney Dorchen Leidholdt and gender equality advocate S. Mona Sinha for their indefatigable efforts to enact social change. 
"It is a miracle that I was not prostituted at age 12," declared Judd, referring to an arduous childhood in which her loving but imperfect family had left her to fend for herself. Her mother and sister were on the road making music, and her father, struggling with alcoholism, took leave of his parental responsibilities– with $50 and a farewell note- abandoning Ashley before she had finished high school. Judd attended the University of Kentucky and has become an acclaimed actress, with credits in more than 50 films. But she has never forgotten what it felt like to be a vulnerable young woman, and it fuels her activism. In addition to her work against human trafficking, she has also traveled to the Congo with the Enough Project to speak against genocide, and also worked with Malaria No More and YouthAIDS in Africa.
A highlight of the evening was when the group of Manhattan teens who formed the non-profit "Girls for the Last Girl" to raise money for AAAW took to the stage to speak about their visit to a safe house in India and show a short film that they had produced. It stressed that the teens they met in India had similar aspirations despite the disparity of their circumstances. "People ask me if I'm worried about the future," said Steinem. "Are you?" she asked, smiling and gesturing toward the teens.
"We are at the beginning of a new consciousness and a new set of possibilities. What happens to the female half of the human race effects everyone," said Steinem. Now 83, she burst into infamy in 1963 when she went undercover as a Playboy Bunny to write an expose about the dark side of the sexual revolution. She marched for women's rights when "feminist" was uttered as a derogatory epithet, and after eight books, countless humanitarian awards, and nearly six decades of activism, she has never stopped speaking, teaching and writing in support of human rights. "I'm so grateful I get to do work that I love that means something to me," Steinem told me. Indeed, every human should have the right to choose their own path in life, free from exploitation or coercion. But there is a lot of work to be done before that will be a reality in every corner of the globe.  



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