Junior Leagues have long valued their identities as independent organizations, tied together by a common heritage and served and supported by AJLI as an umbrella organization.
And that’s good!
But sometimes it just makes sense to unite to achieve more, particularly at the state level in the U.S. through League-sponsored SPACs (State Public Affairs Committees), which currently operate in nine states, with single-League PACs in Denver and Missouri (St. Louis). And when that happens it’s interesting to see how much can happen!
The New York State Public Affairs Committee of the Junior League, or NYSPAC, representing 17 Junior Leagues across New York with more than 7,500 members, has thrown its weight behind the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act, which seeks to strengthen provisions of the New York Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act. The new act seeks to address child sexual abuse and exploitation, including forcing minors into prostitution, in a comprehensive way by enhancing protection for trafficking victims. It would also increase accountability for buyers and traffickers who are fueling the growth of this massive underground industry and it helps prevent re-victimization of trafficking victims by the justice system.
Over the last two years the Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee, or California SPAC, has become increasingly involved in supporting policies and programs at the state level that stop human trafficking, advocate for victims, and educate the community at large. California SPAC recently adopted a position statement on the issue of human trafficking that commits it to ending human trafficking in all its forms, both forced labor and prostitution. Additionally, California SPAC believes minors who are commercial sexually exploited should be treated as victims and not criminals. They are co-sponsoring a human trafficking bill this legislative cycle relating to sexually exploited and trafficked minors. SB 738, which recently passed the Senate, would provide that a minor come within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court if the minor is a victim of human trafficking. In order to further serve and protect these vulnerable minors, the bill also calls for the appropriate government agencies to develop a coordinated plan to provide comprehensive care to these victims. Lastly, it requires cultural and sensitivity training related to human trafficking victims for administrators of group home facilities, licensed foster parents and kinship providers.
As we have discussed before, this is not a new issue for The Junior League. In fact, we have been collectively honored by the United Nations Association of New York for League-based initiatives in fighting against human trafficking. The honor recognized the work done at the state level by SPACs, including the Junior Leagues of New Jersey State Public Affairs Committee (NJSPAC) and the Michigan State Council of Junior Leagues (MSC), as well as more localized efforts by individual Leagues in Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, Owensboro, KY and Westchester County, NY.
And human trafficking is by no means the only issue that SPACs are addressing. As detailed on the new AJLI website, since the 1930s, many of the laws we take for granted originated with an idea that was first proposed by a SPAC or other public affairs committee made up of Junior League members. Here are just a few of the issues the committees have tackled over the years as well as some of their accomplishments, legislative or otherwise:
- St. Louis: Marched and advocated for women’s right to vote.
- Ohio: Testified in hearings leading to the passage of the Clean Water Act.
- Florida: Advocated for a law requiring safety seats in motor vehicles for children between ages 4 and 7.
- Denver: Advocated for a bill establishing a drop-out prevention program for high-schoolers.
- New York: Advocated for the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act that would allow judges to exercise discretion in adjudicating criminal cases involving victims of domestic violence.