NYU Helps Sex Trafficking Victims Build Startups

A two-week summer program that taught entrepreneurial skills to survivors of sex trafficking will have participants meet with a mentor on a monthly basis.

Julia Santiago, Contributing Writer

NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life held a summer program to equip survivors of sex trafficking with entrepeneurial skills, and it will continue to help participants throughout the year, according to a press release.

Participants, who are survivors of forced commercial sex work, range from 20 to 60 years old and come from 19 different countries. The program is led by social entrepreneur Nir Tsuk, who recently also launched the Institute for Impact and Intrapreneurship at the Bronfman Center.

To create the program, Tsuk partnered with the national nonprofit organization Restore NYC, which focuses on helping victims of sex trafficking access housing and employment.

The women attended seminars on topics ranging from technology and professionalism to self-care and nutrition. Each subject was taught within the framework of entrepreneurship, business planning and finance. Although some of the women already had begun start-up businesses, the program focused on helping them either further develop or launch new start-ups.

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“[The goal was] bringing the language of entrepreneurship to people who need it most,” Tsuk said in an interview with WSN.

NYU Professor of Nutrition Lisa Sasson taught one of the courses for the program and said the women who took part in it were great to work with.

“[They were] committed and eager to learn and super optimistic and positive and grateful for being there,” Sasson said. 

Ongoing projects by the participants include catering companies, a nail salon and a line of custom shampoos for women of color. Over the course of the next year, the participants will meet one-on-one with a business mentor every month to continue developing their start-ups and apply the skills learned in the program. The mentors serve only as guides, however, as the program focuses on empowering participants’ choices.

“When they were trafficked, choice was taken away,” Restore NYC Director of Economic Empowerment Sandra Diaz told WSN.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 print edition. Email Julia Santiago at [email protected]

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