Welcome back! This is the fourth installment in our month-long series highlight panels from the Robina Conference held on June 24, 2016, at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. The CSE Institute collaborated with the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School to host this conference, titled Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Shifting Perspectives and Policing Practices. During this conference, our panelists discussed current and potential law enforcement practices, policies, and reform strategies for handling cases involving commercial sexual exploitation.
In this week’s installment, we cover the fourth panel, “International Perspectives on Commercial Sexual Exploitation.” The panelists included Reverend Margaret Fowler, Executive Director of the Theodora Foundation, Ruchira Gupta, Founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, and Nicole Siller, a research fellow and PhD Candidate at the University of Groningen. Ruth Gordon, Professor of International Law at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, served as the moderator for the panel. The panelists discussed commercial sexual exploitation in countries around the world and various domestic and international approaches to combat commercial sexual exploitation.
The first panelist, Rev. Fowler, shared her experiences working in Jamaica and the steps that her organization and the Jamaican government have taken to combat commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in persons. Central to her discussion was the Trafficking in Persons Report, an annual publication of the United States Department of State that ranks governments based on their efforts to acknowledge and combat human trafficking. The 2015 report listed Jamaica as a Tier 2 Watchlist country, based on standards outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Rev. Fowler outlined the standards used in the Report and subsequently chronicled Jamaica’s extensive efforts to address trafficking under each of these factors that the State Department purports to consider. While Jamaica has made incredible steps to address trafficking in persons, they remain under this Tier 2 Watchlist classification. Rev. Fowler suggests that these classification standards are arbitrary, and depend more on a country’s political relationship with the United States than any substantive work the country’s government may have done to tackle commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in person. In the 2016 Trafficking in Person Report, published after the Robina Conference, Jamaica remained a Tier 2 country.
Second, Nicole Siller discusses the understanding of the international definition of trafficking and how that definition might be understood in domestic criminal justice mechanisms. She points out the current definition of trafficking, which emanates from the Palermo Protocol, and she seeks to better define some of the more controversial terms under current international law. Ms. Siller gives a brief history of international trafficking law, from the first laws in 1904 and 1910, which referred only to “white slave” victims of trafficking, through the Palermo Protocol in 2010. She highlights the evolution of these laws, which have broadened these definitions of victims, consent, and the actual act of trafficking. The current frequently debated terms in the realm of international trafficking law include “vulnerability,” “coercion,” “power,” “consent,” “harbor,” “exploitation,” and, comparatively, “transfer” and “transport.” Ms. Siller focuses on the concept of abusing a position of vulnerability and how that idea has led to an international coalition seeking a clearly codified definition of trafficking to protect these vulnerable victims. The Palermo Protocol lists attributes of vulnerability, including poverty, underdevelopment, and lack of equal opportunity. These conditions of vulnerability are often listed as factors that make people more susceptible to trafficking, but, deviations in definitions can make it difficult to prove trafficking or prosecute those responsible. Ms. Siller concludes by highlighting the roles that definitions originating in international law can play in domestic state and federal law.
The third panelist, Ruchira Gupta, discusses the widespread issue of trafficking and exploitation of women and girls in India. Victims are prosecuted in India, yet they do not make their own decisions regarding their body, or their future, because they are brutally victimized and oppressed. Because of this medieval approach to trafficking and prostitution, Ms. Gupta organized Apne Aap, and shared her experience initiating this movement to save women and girls from brutal and cruel sexual violence. Apne Aap seeks to protect these girls from trafficking and exploitation, and educates them so that they can serve their communities and further implement change across India and around the world. Ms. Gupta highlighted the strategies to protect these girls from traffickers and arrest and prosecute those who seek to exploit these young girls for sex. She also shared the legislative advocacy activities of her organization that have contributed to the implementation of more comprehensive trafficking laws in India.
Our distinguished panel shared experiences combating sexual exploitation and trafficking around the world. While this is a problem that persists around the world, the work of our panelists on behalf of victims and survivors serves as incredible inspiration for the CSE Institute and those we work with to continue combatting commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania, the United States, and with our incredible allies around the globe.
Our panel included:
- Margaret Fowler, Executive Director, Theodora Foundation (Negril, Jamaica)
- Nicole Siller, Research Fellow and PhD Candidate, University of Groningen (Groningen, Netherlands)
- Ruchira Gupta, Founder, Apne Aap Women Worldwide (Kolkata, India)
- Moderator: Ruth Gordon, Professor of Law, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law (Villanova, Pennsylvania)