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CSE Institute Celebrates Successful Conference: “Combatting Sexual Exploitation through Law and Policy.”

Posted: September 14, 2022

On June 7, 2022, the CSE Institute held our annual symposium at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, titled “Combatting Sexual Exploitation through Law and Policy.”  We brought together criminal justice stakeholders, direct service providers, survivors, and academics to focus on the intersection of the law with commercial sexual exploitation. We took this opportunity to focus this year’s symposium on why the CSE Institute exists in the first place: to change the laws and policies that impact those who are harmed in the commercial sexual trade. This year’s symposium addressed the issue of commercial sexual exploitation and the importance of reforming and shifting laws and policies.  With a diverse group of panelists audiences had an opportunity to learn about the commercial sex trade from a variety of perspectives.

The first panel, “Criminalization of the Trafficking Victim” provided audience members an opportunity to learn about the current legal framework in the United States and the criminalization of victims of sex trafficking.  The panel discussed the importance of educating others about the victim-offender overlap within the criminal legal system. This education is important to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, erroneous criminalization of a victim. Additionally, the panel made suggestions for ensuring that victims are treated with trauma-informed and victim-centered care. Panelists included, Sean Camoni, Assistant United States Attorney, Middle District of Pennsylvania; Heather Castellino, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General; Emily Murbarger, Assistant Defender, Defender Association of Philadelphia; and Tammy McDonnell, Survivor Leader and Transitional Housing Specialist, Covenant House Pennsylvania, along with moderator, Dr. Angie Henderson, Professor of Sociology, University of Northern Colorado.

The second panel, “Post Criminalization: Criminal Record Relief,” incorporated a diverse set of perspectives, all examining the importance of criminal record relief for survivors. Panelists discussed the options that are available to survivors in the criminal justice system – namely, records sealing, expungement, vacatur, and pardon. The panelists also emphasized that the criminalization of victims is widespread. Most survivors of sex trafficking are arrested at least once during the time of their trafficking victimization. Panelists included, Mary McDonough, Policy Director for The Human Trafficking Interagency Coordinating Council; Liam Riley, Assistant District Attorney and Supervisor of the Major Trial Unit at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office; Mariana Kosharovsky, Executive Director of Alliance to Leave Impact in Global Human Trafficking (ALIGHT); and Bekah Charleston, CEO and Co-Founder of The Charleston Law Center in Nevada.

The third panel, “Solving Collateral Legal Consequences,” explained the collateral legal issues that survivors face as a result of their criminalization and trafficking victimization. These collateral legal consequences may include economic barriers, child custody disputes, immigration enforcement, geographical issues, language access and cultural differences. The panelists also highlighted that holding traffickers accountable is only the beginning of the healing process. Collateral legal issues play a huge part in that journey, and there must be avenues for relief. Panelists included, Alicia Anguiano, Immigration Attorney at Justice at Work, Nadeem Bezar, Partner at Kline & Specter, Dr. Marian Hatcher, Co-Founder at Alliance of Leadership & Innovation for Victims of Exploitation, and Nicholas Moore, a Supervising Attorney at Free to Thrive. Moderator: Rachel Foster, Founding Co-Chair of World Without Exploitation served as the moderator for the panel.

The fourth and final panel of the symposium, “Policy Solutions,” discussed the recent development of the Equality Model into the U.S. policy discussion.  The panelists specifically explored how different countries addressed the sex trade through various policy solutions.  They emphasized the importance of Sweden’s and Norway’s policies in the development of the Equality Model.  The panelists then analyzed the impact of the Equality Model, as well as statistics showing the effectiveness of this model and corresponding legal frameworks, compared to other policy models such as full decriminalization or legalization of the sex trade. The panelists included Alisa Bernard, the Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Thistle Farms; Taina Bien-Aimé, the Executive Direct of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women; Ane Mathieson, the Program Director at the EMPOWER Center at Sanctuary for Families; and Becca Zipkin, the Policy Director at World Without Exploitation.  The panel was moderated by Eliza Reock, Human Trafficking Consultant.

The conversations throughout the conference were truthful, enlightening, and empowering. Most importantly, these conversations centered around survivors’ voices. The conference panels and discussions promoted the dignity of victims and survivors and examined how to combat commercial sexual exploitation through law and policy. CSE Institute Director, Shea Rhodes and CSE Institute Faculty Advisor, Michelle Dempsey, along with the Justice for Victims Fellows and the student externs, would like to express our gratitude to everyone who helped to make this conference successful.

All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University. 

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