Katie Sturino & Restore NYC

Working to end sex trafficking

July 1, 2019

Forty million across the globe are in a trafficking situation or a form of forced labor. Let that figure sink in for a moment. The most populated city in the world, Shanghai, only has roughly 24 million residents. Now here's another number that's a punch in the gut: 71% of the 40 million are female.

"By no choice of their own, these women are stepping into a world where they’re more ripe for exploitation than others," says Katie Sturino, style influencer, advocate, Megababe entrepreneur and our #VBGivesBack woman of the month. "Sex trafficking isn't something we usually talk about. I wanted to bring the issue to light."

This July, we're proud to support her charity of choice, Restore NYC, which works to end sex trafficking in New York by providing these women a safe home, a safe job and a safe community. The goal is something we all take for granted: freedom. Imagine if home wasn't a place of comfort but horror and exploitation—that's the reality for many victims of trafficking, over 400,000 in the U.S. alone. Let's change that.

Katie Sturino wearing the cutaway dickey jacket and Dakota dress in New York.


Restore NYC is...
A nonprofit working to end sex trafficking. Although it specializes in serving immigrant women in New York, because the city is a hub of trafficking, the agency ends up serving women across the country through referrals, too.

How vast of a problem is sex trafficking, globally?
Estimates from 2017 show that there are 40 million people across the world who are either in a trafficking situation or a form of forced labor. 40 million. And 71% are women. By no choice of their own, these women are stepping into a world where they’re more ripe for exploitation than others.

And in the U.S.?
The most recent estimate, also from 2017, reveals that over 400,000 are in a trafficking situation in the States. Meanwhile, Restore has a yearly average of 450 referrals between the years of 2015 and 2017, and, at any point in time, is actively serving 125 survivors. And, remember, Restore is just one agency in New York.

What inspired you to become involved?
Sex trafficking isn't something we usually talk about and I wanted to bring the issue to light. It's important, as a woman who has a voice, to use your voice for women who don't.

What's the mission behind Restore NYC?
To make freedom real for the survivors. All of us could define freedom in different ways. But if you ask survivors, time and time again, they'll answer with two things: a safe job and a safe home. If they didn't have a safe place to go home at night, for example, it's impossible to see stability and restoration. So those two pillars—safe housing and economic empowerment—really guide so much of what Restore does, in addition to counseling and case management. The goal is to have these women not just survive the experience, but thrive.

What else does Restore provide?
Community—it's essential to our identity and our well-being. Traffickers know this, so one of the top coercive tactics is isolation from community, from language, from safe contacts. Restore helps these women restore these relationships.

The goal is to have these women not just survive the experience, but thrive.

How does Restore build trust with these women?
So much of trafficking starts with a lie: a promise of a place to stay, a good job... There are boundaries that have been crossed, trust with an institution or family member that has been broken. It may seem so basic, but the key to building trust with these women is to, one, never rush and, two, establish safety. It starts with establishing confidentiality and allowing the women to direct their journey of healing and restoration; Restore puts the survivor at the center. Plus, the staff really reflects the populations they serve. They close the gap that exists because of gender, language, race, you name it.

How does Restore measure success?
Freedom—is the person actually free from trafficking?
Well-being—are they physically and mentally better off since their trafficking situation?
Identification—providing the best type of services that are tailored and specialized to a specific person.

Could you share some examples of Restore's impact?
The agency has served over 1,600 women since launching in 2009. In the past year, 92% of the women Restore has served are free from trafficking—and that means these women are no longer in and have not returned to their exploitative situation. You might wonder why anyone would ever want to go back, but trafficking is a very complicated and traumatic experience and women often bond to their exploiter—not unlike in the domestic violence space, where a victim has to leave her partner seven times before actually leaving that relationship.
But the best example I can give is a personal one. A woman came to the U.S. to work for a high-ranking official from her home country, but ended up being forced into sex trafficking. Law enforcement got tipped and they contacted Restore to provide safe housing for her after the raid. She was a resident in the home for a year and, after graduation, returned to become a staff member at Restore to serve other survivors in their healing journey. This speaks volumes. She not only escaped and survived trafficking, but now uses her experience as an empowering force to show other survivors that they can thrive, too.

How can we help and get involved?
So many ways! The most simple is to become a monthly supporter and give financial aid. So much of what Restore does is create stability for these survivors—and for a nonprofit, stability comes from consistent financial donation. You can also volunteer, either as a translator or as a professional mentor in the economic empowerment program. You can even just help connect Restore with other business partners who could offer jobs to survivors, whether part-time or full-time. One job can literally change the trajectory of not just the person's life but their family's lives too.
And then there's Amazon Smile, which is the easiest way to make a difference. Set Restore NYC as your charity of choice and every time you buy something on Amazon, money goes to the organization.

discover more