Welcome back! This is the fourth and final post in our series recapping the panels from our annual symposium, which was held on October 13, 2023, at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. During the symposium, “Combatting Commercial Sexual Exploitation through Equality Model Policies and Laws,” panelists discussed the origin of the Equality Model and its implementation in Sweden, the efforts made in France for the international abolition of the systems of prostitution and trafficking, the successful advocacy lessons learned following the adoption of the Equality Model in Maine, and the survivors pushing for Equality Model legislation in Massachusetts.
This week, the CSE Institute invites you to watch the third panel, “Massachusetts: Survivors Driving Equality Model Legislation.” The panelists included Audra Doody, the Co-CEO of Living in Freedom Together, Inc. (LIFT); Nora Gallo, the Public Policy and Advocacy Manager of My Life My Choice; Audrey Morrissey, the Co-Executive Director of My Life My Choice; Delia Vega, the Senior Survivor Mentor and Policy and Advocacy Specialist of My Life My Choice; and Ryann Whitaker, the Coordinator of Transitional Housing Resources for Victims of Exploitation at LIFT. The panel was moderated by Alisa Bernard, the National Campaign Manager of World Without Exploitation. With extensive backgrounds in survivor-led advocacy, the panelists discussed the recent developments in Equality Model legislation in Massachusetts. The panelists specifically stressed the importance of uplifting and empowering survivor voices in all spaces to reach policy goals. They explored the statewide policy efforts that have been spearheaded by survivor-led organizations. The panelists then emphasized the imperativeness of inter-organization cooperation and relationship building in the push to implement an Equality Model framework within Massachusetts.
The panel begins with the overarching theme of survivor humanization. All the panelists discussed the significance of changing the way in which society interacts with survivors and the barriers that bias creates for survivors seeking support. It is important that all survivors are met with an unconditional positive regard and open mind when seeking services. Often, survivors are severely dehumanized due to the pervasive lack of trauma-informed practices in hospitals, treatment facilities, and social services and the failure of not asking the right questions or providing the right answers. Delia Vega further explores this notion by responding to the phrase, “giving a voice to the voiceless” and states, “people have a voice, but have we heard them? Have we created the platform for them to be heard and seen?” There are a multitude of elements that are involved in how people are being impacted by trafficking in Massachusetts, thus, it is imperative that policy work is informed by survivors leading the efforts to implement Equality Model legislation.
The panelists also discussed the existing statewide policy efforts that have been directed by survivor-led organizations, such as LIFT and My Life My Choice. Specifically, the panelists explored the Equality Model in Massachusetts Coalition (EMMA), a group formed through a survivor-led agency to uplift survivor voices and change policy in Massachusetts. The creation of the EMMA Coalition influenced the importance of relationship building amongst survivors, allies, and other survivor-led organizations. The primary function of the EMMA Coalition is to get the Sex Trade Survivors Act passed, which is an act to strengthen the justice and support for sex trade survivors. The Act has three key components: 1) to end the criminalization of those in prostitution 2) to ensure that records are expunged for those with prostitution, common night walking, or common street walking charges, and 3) to amend the forfeiture statute so that when fines from buyers are forfeited, they go into victim services. The panelists then summarized the most recent hearing for the bill, in which the room was full of survivors and allies who testified before the Massachusetts judiciary committee to get the Sex Trade Survivors Act enacted.
Lastly, the panelists emphasized that implementation of the Equality Model will look different in the United States, compared to Sweden or France, because of the prominence of de-institutionalization within our country. Specifically, panelists discussed what implementation of the Equality Model will look like in Massachusetts and stressed that implementation must be considered during the process of getting a bill passed. All highlighted the significance of inter-organization cooperation and relationship building to propel effective implementation once the Equality Model is adopted in the state. The panelists talked about the importance of having conversations with different agencies and institutions, such as hospitals, schools, district attorneys, public defenders, and law enforcement, to ensure that Equality Model policies are being properly implemented. To this point, Audrey Morrisey asserted that, “Relationship building is so important, especially on a national level. Events like the Symposium are how these national relationships are built. People bring different expertise, and one person cannot hold all the information. Each person plays their part and has a role in the fight.”
The work our panelists have accomplished and the efforts they continue to pursue serve as an incredible inspiration for the CSE Institute and stakeholders in Pennsylvania, the United States, and beyond. We applaud and support the efforts of these panelists, as well as all the other individuals who spoke at our symposium and are working tirelessly to combat commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania and beyond.
Thank you again to our great group of panelists. The panel was moderated by Alisa Bernard, National Campaign Manager of World Without Exploitation. The panelists include:
- Audra Doody, Co-CEO of Living in Freedom Together, Inc. (LIFT)
- Nora Gallo, Public Policy & Advocacy Manager of My Life My Choice
- Audrey Morrissey, Co-Executive Director of My Life My Choice
- Delia Vega, Senior Survivor Mentor & Policy and Advocacy Specialist of My Life My Choice
- Ryann Whitaker, Coordinator of Transitional Housing Resources for Victims of Exploitation at Living in Freedom Together (LIFT)
- Moderator: Alisa Bernard, National Campaign Manager of World Without Exploitation
Watch the full panel and experience the impactful and wise statements of these panelists for yourself 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.