The Problem of Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a problem that exists globally, nationally, and throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. From urban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to the rural and suburban counties of Berks, Cambria, Chester, Lehigh, and Wayne, just to name a few. The issue is pervasive. We commonly see CSE taking the form of pimp -controlled prostitution– with victims subjected to threats, beatings, mutilations, branding, rape, physical confinement, and psychological torture. The phenomenon goes by many labels: “Human Trafficking;” “Sex Trafficking;” “Sexual Slavery;” (Just remove MDS) “Forced Prostitution.” We chose to use the label “CSE” to encompass the multifaceted ways this problem presents in society.
It is not uncommon to think of CSE as a problem that involves foreign national victims who are brought into the U.S. for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Indeed, this is a significant aspect of sex trafficking worldwide. However, native U.S. citizens are also commercially sexually exploited. The law does not require a victim to be moved or transported to show that trafficking occurred. In fact, a victim can be exploited or trafficked without ever crossing state lines or leaving their house. Many victims of CSE experience victimization in the very cities they grew up in. Indeed, the experience of one such girl, Jamilynne Cleary, inspired the creation of the CSE Institute. Her memory and passion to address the problem of CSE by empowering victims and survivors remains a guiding principle for us today.
Due to commercial sexual exploitation’s illicit and hidden nature, as well as its many forms, it is difficult to study and quantify. That said, according to studies relied upon by the U.S. Department of Justice, it is estimated that anywhere from 244,000 – 360,000 children are at risk for being commercially sexually exploited each year in the United States. Furthermore, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that out of the children reported as runaways in 2016, 1 in 7 are most likely a victim of sexual exploitation. Another study done found that 14% of the youth experiencing homelessness that were interviewed were victims of sex trafficking. While the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) 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 persons are subjected to countless forms of force, fraud, coercion, abuses of power and/or abuses of positions of vulnerability, to keep them trapped in “the life.”
CSE: A Local Issue
As a major urban center linking numerous cities along the North Atlantic coast, Philadelphia is a hotspot for commercial sexual exploitation. It is well known that sex trafficking is supported by the basic economic theory of supply and demand. Sex buyers who are looking to pay for sex with women and children make CSE a profitable venture. Traffickers capitalize on demand for commercial sex and rely on the street corner, the internet, massage parlors, hotels, and other facilitators to meet market demand. Of course, there is high demand for human trafficking in Philadelphia. However, what may be less obvious to the general public is that sex buyers live in every town throughout both Pennsylvania and the U.S. in its entirety. To learn more about convictions and arrest rates in your county, check out our annual Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania.
Addressing CSE in Pennsylvania and Beyond
The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, founded by Director Shea M. Rhodes, Esq., and Professor Michelle Madden Dempsey, D.Phil., was formally launched in September 2015. Since then, the CSE Institute has both partnered and engaged with numerous organizations united against sex trafficking and CSE. We educate and provide technical assistance to legislators, policy decision makers, and other stakeholders in order to improve legal responses to CSE. In 2016, we added a direct legal services component to our roster with the establishment of the Justice for Victims Fellowship.
Since the Fall of 2014, the CSE Institute has recruited and retained a highly accomplished and dedicated Board of Advisors. This Board includes attorneys, judges, survivors, advocates, and other professionals, each of which has profound knowledge, understanding, and experience in combating commercial sexual exploitation.
As we progress into the future, the CSE Institute is currently seeking additional partners – both individuals and organizations – who are interested in supporting our work in addressing commercial sexual exploitation.