In the fall-out around MIT’s prestigiously respected Media Lab over its acceptance of repeated donations from Jeffrey Epstein, a known sexual predator of underaged girls, a number of sheros shine. Each act of these women highlight a different aspect of the larger cultural problem about misogyny and how deeply masculinist views are entrenched at multiple points in society. I list the women here as the chronology of the story unfolded:
Arwa Mboya, MIT graduate student in Civic Media, a division of the Media Lab
Do major league sports leaders have a responsibility to model respect for women in everything they do? This question is fresh on the minds of many due to Robert Kraft, philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots, being charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute in Florida, where he was allegedly engaging in sex acts with women at Orchids of Asia Salon.
Through his philanthropy, Robert Kraft has funded initiatives specifically aimed at ending sexual exploitation of women and girls. USA Today reports that Kraft gave $100,000 in 2015 to My Life, My Choice, a Boston-based organization that works on ending child sex trafficking. Some might ask how the same man can be both perpetrating sexual exploitation and funding initiatives to end it.
Despite the prevalence of the sexual exploitation of women and girls, gender-based violence funding accounts for just 1.8% of all foundation giving. And even within that small percentage, the majority of funds go to domestic violence, with commercial sexual exploitation often remaining neglected.
To bridge that crucial gap, the NoVo Foundation recently announced a $10 million, 3-year funding commitment for U.S.-based programs. The funding will go to programs that are aimed at “opening exit ramps” and “closing on-ramps” to the commercial sex trade–or, as it’s often called, The Life.
Good news for the women’s philanthropy sector: Sheryl Sandberg has added another $100 million in Facebook stock to a Donor Advised Fund she uses to fund causes she cares about, with much of this new money going to Lean In, the nonprofit named after her best-selling book about how to succeed as a woman in business.
Sandberg represents a new prototype for women’s philanthropy: the young tech executive who sees gender equality philanthropy as a priority. These new funds will help Leanin.org expand its mission of increasing women in leadership.
Recode.com recently reported that Sandberg has transferred 590,000 shares of Facebook stock to a Fidelity Donor Advised Fund which she uses to donate to organizations she supports. According to Recode:
That includes two philanthropies Sandberg founded: LeanIn.org, a nonprofit focused on female empowerment; and OptionB.org, a nonprofit helping people overcome grief and adversity. Sandberg founded OptionB.org following the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, in 2015.
The Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg Family Foundation, the umbrella organization for both nonprofits, will be one of the major recipients of this money, according to this source.
Sandberg has made major donations like this an annual affair. She donated $100 million worth of Facebook stock to her fund in late 2016, and another $31 million earlier that same year.
Some of the funds will also go to other causes, including childhood hunger, and funding for college for disadvantaged individuals.
Sandberg’s imprint on American society is growing as she continues in her executive business role at Facebook, and expands her gender equality philanthropy. She also plays a minor role in Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, as a friend to Clinton who helped her understand the gender dynamics impacting her campaign for President.
We here at Philanthropy Women are very glad for Sheryl Sandberg’s support for women’s leadership and are inspired by hear attunement to the issues women face. We would like to see Ms. Sandberg pressure Facebook to stop supporting Backpage.com in its efforts to shirk off responsibility for the child trafficking that happens on their site.
Last night I watched I am Jane Doe on Netflix. Narrated by actress and social justice advocate Jessica Chastain, the documentary reveals the money and power behind sex trafficking of children, primarily girls, in America.
It’s a horrifying story, but one that is important to know if you are a gender justice advocate, since it gets at the reasons why child sex trafficking, aided by internet hubs like Backpage, is a large and growing business in America.
The inability to end the practice of websites like Backpage.com advertising child prostitutes revolves around the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230, which protects internet providers who publish information provided by another source. Backpage.com has been able to effectively use Section 230 to shield itself from legal challenges brought by the mothers of children who have been sex trafficked.
The biggest defenders of Section 230 are the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, both of which have filed Amicus Briefs in support of Backpage, helping that corporation continue to make millions in profits off child prostitution.
The documentary tracks the progress that advocates for ending child sex trafficking have made in the past decade, but this fight is far from over. Particularly in light of today’s political landscape, where conservatives are gaining power, it is an uphill battle for gender justice advocates who want to find a way to protect free speech while also protecting children, primarily girls, from being irreparably harmed by exploitation and sex trafficking.
The film contains interviews with both the mothers who have filed lawsuits against Backpage.com, and the middle-school daughters who suffered exploitation, partially due to Backpage.com allowing sex traffickers to use code words in order to advertise the girls. Although Backpage.com claimed they were trying to prevent child sex trafficking by “moderating” the advertisements, lawyers for the child victims argue that the moderators were coached in how to let through code words and phone numbers that would allow the practice of selling children for sex to continue.
The film is directed by Mary Mazzio, Babson College Filmmaker In Residence, and Founder and CEO of the film’s Producer, 50 Eggs Production. Many important nonprofits working to end child sex trafficking are featured in the film, including Polaris Project and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Supporters of the film include the Jeb Charitable Fund, the Lovelight Foundation, the Angel Foundation, John H. Carlson, and Babson College.