“If a law is not working the way it is supposed to, we need to revisit it. We need to do better.” This quote by Shea Rhodes, Co-Founder, and Director of the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, ties together the title of the symposium, “Combatting Commercial Sexual Exploitation Through Law and Policy,” and the title of panel one, “Criminalization of the Trafficking Victim.” The panelists address how current laws affect the victims of commercial sexual exploitation and how we can do better in supporting survivors.
The discussion “Criminalization of the Trafficking Victim” featured 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 panel delved into the current legal framework in the United States and the criminalization of victims of trafficking under this framework. The panel also discussed the importance of educating others about the victim-offender overlap within commercial sexual exploitation. This education is important to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, a victim’s criminalization. Additionally, the panel made suggestions for ensuring that victims are treated with trauma-informed and victim-centered care from the moment they are identified.
Tammy McDonnell shared her experience as a survivor and highlighted the importance of giving survivors a choice within the criminal legal system. Throughout the panel discussion, all panelists highlighted the need to ensure all interactions with victims are both victim-centered and trauma-informed. This should be consistent throughout every step of the criminal legal process. The panelists suggested that all advocates and attorneys should be transparent with their clients, to ensure that victims know, not only all their options and possible outcomes, but also that they are in control of the legal process.
Furthermore, audience questions sparked a discussion on the lack of resources to combat trafficking. The panelists stressed the importance of diverting resources to help educate and train law enforcement officers on the realities of commercial sexual exploitation. They also highlighted that it is essential to direct resources toward offender-focused investigations.
The panelists expressed hope that all jurisdictions will eventually hold the perpetrators of sex trafficking accountable and give survivors both the space to heal and the opportunity to seek justice. This holistic, humanitarian approach is how we do better.
Thank you again to our incredible panelists! The panel was moderated by Dr. Angie Henderson, Professor of Sociology, University of Northern Colorado. The panelists include:
- 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
- Tammy McDonnell, Transitional Housing Specialist, Covenant House Pennsylvania
The CSE Institute invites you to watch Panel 1, Criminalization of the Trafficking Victim here.
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.