The Problem of Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is not a distant problem affecting only people in the developing world. It is a problem that resides in our own backyard, throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan area, taking the form of pimp-controlled prostitution – with its victims often subjected to threats, beatings, mutilations, branding, rape, physical confinement, and psychological torture. The phenomenon goes by many labels: “Human Trafficking;” “Sex Trafficking;” “Modern-Day Slavery;” “Forced Prostitution.”
We often think of CSE as a problem that involves victims who have been brought into the U.S. for the purpose of sexual exploitation – but, in fact, many of its victims grew up right here in the Philadelphia area. Indeed, the experience of one such girl, Jamilynne Cleary, has inspired the creation of an Institute designed to address the problem of commercial sexual exploitation and empower its victims.
Due to the hidden nature of commercial sexual exploitation, it is difficult to study and quantify the problem. That said, according to studies relied upon by the U.S. Department of Justice, it is estimated that anywhere from 100,000 – 300,000 children are at risk for being commercial sexually exploited each year in the United States.
CSE: A Local Issue
As a major urban center linking the cities along the North Atlantic coast, Philadelphia is a well-known center for commercial sexual exploitation. Indeed, by extrapolating from a recent report by the Urban Institute, it is possible to estimate the size of Philadelphia’s underground sex economy (including street prostitution, internet-facilitated prostitution, commercial sex occurring in massage parlors and residential brothels) as ranging anywhere from $98 million up to $831 million.
While the commercial sexual exploitation of children has received increased national attention in recent years, it is important to keep in mind that CSE victimization can occur at any age, and that its victims also include adult women exploited through pimp-controlled prostitution – who are subjected to myriad forms of force, fraud, coercion, abuses of power and/or abuses of positions of vulnerability, to keep them trapped in “the life.”
Addressing CSE in Pennsylvania
Over the course of the 2015-2016 academic year, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law launched the CSE Institute to address commercial sexual exploitation. Spearheaded by Professor Michelle Madden Dempsey, Faculty Advisor to the CSE Institute, and Shea M. Rhodes, Director, the CSE Institute has just begun to address the significant work that must be done to address commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania.
While it is still very early days, the CSE Institute has recruited a highly accomplished and dedicated Board of Advisors, attorneys, judges, survivors, advocates, and other professionals with deep knowledge, understanding and experience of combating commercial sexual exploitation.
The CSE Institute has also set out its specific work agenda for the 2014-2015 academic year.
As the academic year progresses, the CSE Institute is currently seeking partners – both individuals and organizations – who are interested in supporting our work to address commercial sexual exploitation.