The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), a component of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), has presented the Special Courage Award to Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman, a human trafficking survivor and advocate residing in Seattle, Washington.
This Special Courage Award category honors a victim or survivor who has shown exceptional perseverance or determination. It may also acknowledge one who has acted bravely to aid a victim or to prevent victimization.
“After enduring a terrifying and traumatic ordeal at a young age, Mr. Piraino-Guzman became a courageous advocate who has used his personal tragedy to help community leaders better understand the atrocities of human trafficking,” said Amy L. Solomon, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OJP. “Through his experience and advocacy, he has brought international attention to the critical importance of trauma-informed counseling and services at the onset of recovery, taking his message to communities throughout America and to nations across the globe. He is a remarkable man whose courage is an example to all who know him.”
In 2004, Mr. Piraino-Guzman, 14-years-old at the time, was abducted from his native country of Honduras and smuggled into the United States where he was abused, exploited and trafficked in California until he was identified during a police raid. He was held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, then placed in a mental health facility, then a group home and subsequently with a foster family, who took him to a border station and left him with Customs and Border Protection officers to be deported.
When he was identified as a trafficking victim and returned to foster care, he assisted in the prosecution of the traffickers without receiving any trauma-informed medical care or services from a case manager. He survived, but the experience instilled in him a need to help other children, immigrants and trafficking survivors obtain the services he was denied. He has facilitated a series of listening sessions on men and boys for the Office on Trafficking in Persons at the Department of Health and Human Services, and he appeared in the video education series, “The Faces of Human Trafficking,” released by OVC in 2014. He also served on the first U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, comprised of survivors charged with advising U.S. Government agencies on improving responses to trafficking and was appointed by the U.N. Secretary General as the first Central American survivor of trafficking to serve in the United Nations Trust Fund for Contemporary Forms of Slavery Board of Trustees and as the Special Rapporteur on the Labor and Sexual Exploitation of Children, Especially Boys. Currently, Mr. Piraino-Guzman is the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Partnerships Manager for King County, Washington.
“It is a great privilege to honor a man who has faced the darkest of moments and emerged with such strong reserves of empathy, compassion and love,” said Kristina Rose, director of OVC. “Mr. Piraino-Guzman’s courage lies in his resilience and strength but also in his insistence on a safer, better world. We are proud to recognize him for his extraordinary contributions.”
Every April, OVC leads communities across the country in observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. President Ronald W. Reagan proclaimed the first Victims’ Rights Week in 1981, calling for greater sensitivity to the rights and needs of victims. This year’s observance is taking place April 24-30, and features the theme, “Rights, Access, Equity, for All Victims.”