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Student Blog Series: The New Abolitionists – Protecting and Empowering Survivors

Posted: April 13, 2018

Addressing the issue of commercial sexual exploitation requires an approach that is nuanced and capable of adequately dealing with the complex array of challenges involved. This is why it is important to acknowledge and support the many organizations whose ceaseless efforts have made signifigant impacts in this space. The New Abolitionists are one such group whose work reminds society that what has been termed “modern day slavery” is actually a contemporary issue. The organization acknowledges the many abolitionists—those whose goal it is to abolish modern commercial sexual exploitation—by sharing a photo and a brief summary of the individual’s work within the movement. Their gallery of portraits celebrates all of these individuals and their “work to end slavery once and for all in our lifetimes.” It contains actors, designers, a former US attorney, a former mayor, a police commissioner, a US President, college activists, and so many more accomplished individuals.

Most importantly, the New Abolitionists’ gallery presents photographs of survivors, like Amy Andrews, who have dedicated their lives to combatting this issue through training, educating, and providing services to other survivors. This work done by survivors is integral to the movement as their experience means they have the best knowledge of how to succesfully combat the issue and assist other survivors’ in their recovery. Additionally, the gallery contains pictures of physicians like Holly Atkinson, who trains healthcare professionals on how to best “identify and intervene on behalf of trafficking victims.” This collection of photographs demonstrates that although commercial sexual exploitation is a vast issue, there exists an equally-sizeable group of individuals, each with unique skills, working to combat it.

In addition to their gallery, the organization educates the public on the realities of commercial sexual exploitation as it is happening now in our communities. They attack the issue holistically, pointing to the fact that “traffickers are only half of the slavery equation,” pointing to the need to end the demand for purchased sex. The New Abolitionists address the common misconception that survivors are to blame for their experience. Instead, as the organization notes, adequately addressing the issue of commercial sexual exploitation requires combatting the structures and criminals who exploited the survivors in the first place.

As an organization, the New Abolitionists pursue the protection of all survivors regardless of gender, age, sexual identity, race, or immigration status. Their website provides numerous facts and statistics on the issue including that, “83 percent of victims in federal investigations of confirmed sex trafficking incidents were identified as US citizens.”

Their website also features a list of opportunities for anyone to engage with the issue. The list includes organizations to get involved with like Sanctuary for Families and Restore in New York. They also provide a number of resources such as the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report and The Polaris Project, for those who would like to further educate themselves about the topic of commercial sexual exploitation.

The battle to end commercial sexual exploitation in this country requires the abilities and support of individuals from all walks of life. The New Abolitionists’ work acknowledges all of those who have contributed to this effort and those who will continue to engage with this issue in the future.

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.










Emma Sullivan is currently a first-year law student at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Emma is from Parker, Colorado and received her BA from the University of Oklahoma in International Relations and Area Studies with minors in African and Latin American Studies. After graduation, Emma hopes to work towards addressing the topic of violence against women in international policy.

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