Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eleanora Kennedy and Human Trafficking

Eleanora Kennedy with her daughter Anna and Simone Monasebian, Chief of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
By Kate Ballen

Gazing out at the glorious views of Central Park from Eleanora Kennedy’s Central Park South apartment, you could almost believe the world is perfect. Silver mirrors reflect the many family photographs and her warmth fills the elegant art deco living room with additional light. “My essence is made up of what I’m passionate about; my family, nature, art, women and children,” pronounces Eleanora. Already in a few minutes, I’m convinced that Eleanora with her genuine empathy and quick intelligence is a woman that any cause would be fortunate to have on their side.

In fact, this woman about town is devoted to causes that go beyond borders. She is now fiercely involved in bringing attention to the unspoken horrors of human trafficking (sex slaves, forced labor, child soldiers etc.) around the world. “My daughter Anna brought me in on this issue,” she says. And there is nothing more amazing than working together with your daughter.”

Anna, a 22-year-old graduate of George Washington University, is working almost round the clock (and the globe) for the Human Trafficking project of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. As I listen to Eleanora describe the victims of trafficking, the glamour of her castle in the sky starts to fade. Each statistic of this horrendous exploitation of women and children is horrifying. Human trafficking is a $32 billion a year business, its profits second only to drugs and arms.

Michael and Eleanora Kennedy
And in case you think human trafficking only occurs in some far off countries such as India and Africa, I was amazed to hear that some 50,000 women are trafficked annually to the United States. In fact, all you have to do is drive over the George Washington Bridge to find women who have been brought in from other countries to end up trapped as sex slaves.

Before the car and driver wisk us away from Central Park South to the U.N. photo exhibit by Howard Buffet (Warren’s son) on “Human Trafficking: Images of Vulnerability,” Eleanora reminisces about her richly involved life of service.

There is no doubt this woman truly believes in her causes, you can instantly feel her emotions rise with each topic. “With privilege you can reach people, with service you can elevate yourself,” Eleanora says. Starting with her protests  for the suffering of children during the Vietnam War, Eleanora  went on to become a board member of Madre, an organization dedicated to helping women and children in Central America.

Of course, her hometown of New York has not been left out of her good work. Thanks to her involvement as a member of the Women’s Board of the Central Park Conservancy, 26,000 trees have been endowed for care during their life. And for the past seven years, Eleanora has chaired the benefits of Sloane Hospital for Women. With this resume, it is no wonder that the late journalist Shauna Alexander selected Eleanora to be one of two people in charge of distributing funds from her foundation dedicated to human rights.

But despite all her activism, Eleanora has always been determined that her three children and husband remain the center of her sphere. “You know I’ve been married for forty years,” she says about her husband, the trial lawyer, Michael Kennedy, who represented Jean Harris.

“My husband says divorce trials are the most painful of all,” she adds softly. Around Eleanora’s neck is a heavy pendant which was given to her by Sloane Hospital for her work and reads: You don't have to live in a cave to be progressive. She talks with love of her three getaways, a Victorian jewel overlooking the sea in Wainscott, a stone cottage in Ireland, and her favorite — the “Love Shack” in West Palm Beach.

My stomach churns as we are given a tour of the United Nations exhibit by Anna and Simone Monasebian, Chief of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Images of child prostitutes, enslaved mothers, chained young boys are framed on the wall. (I now understand the New York Social Diary piece, dated March 7th, in which DPC writes about the overwhelming emotions he felt watching “Trade” at the U.N. benefit which Eleanora chaired.)

It is difficult to erase the horrors as I walk out of the United Nations. But as I look over my shoulder at Eleanora and her daughter walking back to the U.N., the sun lights up the East River. I breathe with gratitude knowing there are devoted people, like Eleanora, raising awareness for the thousands upon thouasands of exploited victims of human trafficking.

For information please visit: WWW.UNODC.ORG
For Contributions, please email: MONASEBIAN@UN.ORG