Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis

"My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."


Joseph’s father emigrated from the USSR during a time of famine in the late seventies. He came to New York through a “Jews for grain” deal brokered with the U.S., which allowed several thousand Soviet Jews to leave the USSR in trade for American wheat. Once settled in his new country, he married an American-born daughter of immigrants from Poland and Latvia, so English was the language they spoke at home.

Joseph wishes he had acquired Russian growing up, but he presumes that the political climate of the late Cold War years made his father reluctant to pass on his language. “When I was a kid, all of the bad guys in the movies were still Russian,” he explains. Joseph did manage to pick up a few words and phrases while helping his dad at the family’s construction company—but nothing that helped in his high-intermediate classes at Middlebury this past summer. “I could swear really well in Russian from a very young age,” Joseph jokes.

After majoring in psychology at Brandeis, Joseph pursued a master’s in social work and is now a clinical forensic specialist at a child advocacy center in Brooklyn, working with the NYPD and the FBI. On the NYPD Brooklyn Child Abuse Squad, he specializes in interviewing child victims of commercial sexual exploitation—commonly known as human trafficking.

The job is demanding not only for the expertise and care it requires, but also for the ever-present threat of emotional burnout. In addition to aiding with investigations, he also provides trauma-focused therapy for children and caregivers after the investigations are over. The work can be overwhelming, but it is also rewarding to battle on the good side. “Trafficking is probably one of those intractable human problems,” Joseph says, “but that doesn’t mean you don’t pay attention to the kid in front of you. There are so few things in this world that are morally black and white, and this is one of those things.”

“I am now able to do everything in my power to help save some of the most vulnerable, overlooked populations of child
victims in the U.S.”

Improved language proficiency will help Joseph communicate with many Russian-speaking children he was unable to reach before. Many of the minors currently being exploited in New York come from Russia, which is on the UN watch list for human trafficking. “Wherever people are isolated and impoverished, they are vulnerable,” Joseph explains. “Trafficking correlates with economic hardship.”

He believes economic interventions will ultimately be more effective than legal interventions in stemming the tide of trafficked children, and he aims to help shape U.S. foreign and domestic policy on the issue. In the future, he can see himself at the State Department or running a nongovernmental organization. In the meantime, Joseph remains dedicated to his work on the front lines. “The fellowship is helping me sleep easier at night,” he says. “I am now able to do everything in my power to help save some of the most vulnerable, overlooked populations of child victims in the U.S.