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 exists locally, throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, from urban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas to rural and suburban counties including Berks, Cambria, Chester, Lehigh, Wayne, and more. 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;” “Modern-Day Slavery;” “Forced Prostitution.” We chose to use the label “CSE” to encompass the multifaceted ways this problem presents in society. (To learn more about the legal definition of sex trafficking in Pennsylvania, click here.)
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, victims of CSE include native U.S. citizens as well. 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 even leaving the house.– Many victims of CSE grow up in the same cities where they experience victimization. Indeed, the experience of one such girl, Jamilynne Cleary, inspired the creation of the CSE Institute, with a passion to address the problem of CSE and empower victims and survivors.
Due to the illicit and hidden nature of commercial sexual exploitation and the many forms it takes, 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 244,000 – 360,000 children are at risk for being commercial 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 6 is most likely a victim of sexual exploitation. 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 – 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.”
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 in Philadelphia, but there are sex buyers in every town throughout Pennsylvania and the U.S. 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 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, which includes attorneys, judges, survivors, advocates, and other professionals with profound knowledge, understanding, and experience in combating commercial sexual exploitation.
As we progress into 2018, the CSE Institute is currently seeking additional partners – both individuals and organizations – who are interested in supporting our work to address commercial sexual exploitation.