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Opinion | Sexuality

The Woman Who Shelters New York City's Trafficking Victims

Faith Huckel, founder and director of Restore NYC, took her social-work skills and a heap of prayer to launch the city's first and only long-term aftercare shelter for foreign-born trafficking victims.

When award-winning nonprofit leader Faith Huckel moved to New York City in 2003, she expected her time there to shape her career, but she thought that impact would come more from the social work graduate program she was entering than events at the United Nations headquarters nearby.

Then, just weeks into her studies, President George W. Bush addressed the UN, concluding a speech focused on the Middle East with a discussion of human trafficking, which he called a "modern-day form of slavery." Four months later, The New York Times Magazine ran an 8,500-word cover story on sex trafficking in America that launched thousands of shocked conversations.

Speaking to me recently, Huckel recalled the typical reaction to the report: "What? This is happening here? No. Come on. That's crazy." But, for her, she said, curiosity became an "obsession."

During previous social work in Philadelphia, Huckel, 33, had already seen the connection between poverty and commercial sex. "No one wakes up as a little girl one day and says, 'I think I'm going to be a prostitute. That's a great career for myself,' " she said. "Because of poverty, of gender oppression, of life situations and circumstances of being coerced, oftentimes forced, you are then forced into prostitution."

Yet, like many Americans at the time, Huckel was stunned by what she learned about the scale of sex trafficking. "The more and more that I learned, the more broken I became for wanting to do something about this," she said.

A few months later, ...

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