Scranton, Pa

Third Annual Survivor-Led Symposium: Engaging Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation to End Gender-Based Violence

Posted: May 15, 2019

On April 11-12, 2019, the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation hosted its third annual Survivor Symposium,  “Engaging the Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation to End Gender-Based Violence”.  Survivor leaders from across the county convened at the Inn at Villanova to lead a series of workshops ranging from a discussion on historical and contemporary manifestations of oppression,  to an exploration of social media’s role in recruitment, to trauma-informed law enforcement  interview strategies. Students and professionals representing various disciplines were convened to hear the Survivors’ insights, guidance, and messages. Throughout the entirety of the event, the recognition that the survivors voices are  imperative to success of the anti-exploitation movement was paramount.

The Symposium began with a plenary presentation featuring a panel of survivor leaders, Those Questions You Need Answered But Are Afraid to Ask. [1]  The discussion reignited the fellowship, humility, and momentum that was cultivated at the close of last year’s Symposium. Following the plenary, participants had the opportunity to engage in fourteen breakout sessions over the next two days – four of which were offered that first morning.  All attendants reconvened at lunch on the first day for another plenary session led by Marian Hatcher, Connecting Personal Experience to Policy Reform:  Examining “Exited Prostitution Survivor Policy Platform. [2] The plenary detailed the article written by Hatcher and twelve other survivors. The article centered around three pillars: criminal justice reforms, fair employment, and standards of care.  Hatcher tied these pillars to her personal background to illustrate the relevancy and necessity of policy reform.  Hatcher also briefly discussed her experience successfully navigating the executive clemency process in Illinois.

Keynote Speaker, Anne Ream The Voices and Faces Project

Sarah Robinson, Shea Rhodes, and Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, Justice Done Award recipient

The first night of the Symposium ended with a Reception and Justice Done Award Ceremony.  Jennifer Storm, Victim Advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, introduced the night’s featured speaker, Anne Ream, Founder of the Voices & Faces ProjectSarah Robinson, the CSE Institute’s Inaugural Justice for Victim’s Fellow, presented the 2019 Justice Done Award to retired State Senator, Stewart J. Greenleaf. We celebrated Senator Greenleaf’s tireless work to combat human trafficking in Pennsylvania evidenced through his leadership in passing two critical pieces of legislation in Pennsylvania: our comprehensive anti-trafficking statute, Act 105 (2014), and Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children, Act 130 (2018).

Alisa Bernard and Anjilee Dodge started the second day of the symposium with their plenary presentation, Trauma-Informed Organizations in a Survivor-Centered Movement.  This presentation focused on remaining trauma-informed and survivor-centered on both macro- and micro-levels within the movement to end commercial sexual exploitation. The first half of the plenary focused on creating sustainable processes from an organizational perspective that promote a trauma-informed workspace where both survivors and allies can thrive. The second half focused on creating practices that move the needle toward promoting a survivor centered movement.

To view video of select presentations and read more about the breakout sessions, please continue reading below. Please note that due to unfortunate technical challenges, video of certain sessions is unavailable.


Haley Halverson, of National Center on Sexual Exploitation, co-presented with survivor leader Anna Ptak’s in A Click Away: How Pimp’s & Sex Buyers Use Social Media & Porn to Exploit gave an enlightening discussion regarding the inherent risks of social media and online platforms, which are used as primary grounds for trafficker recruitment. [3] Halverson’s comprehensive research made it clear that traffickers have the access to exploit girls on common sites like Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp.  Ptak contributed pointed commentary on sites where buyers purchase and review women.  Halverson and Ptak were engaging and found ways to bring humor into a difficult conversation of how the Internet has impacted the commercial sex industry.


Participants were also able to learn about the historical context of commercial sexual exploitation from Christine Stark’s presentation, Sex Trafficking of Indigenous Women.  Stark is an award-winning author, visual artist, national and international speaker of European, Anishinaabe and Cherokee ancestry.  Some of her work includes a report entitled Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota and an article entitled Native Women Easy Prey for Traffickers.  In her presentation, Stark spoke to historical European conceptions of women as property, in contrast to Native American societal norms in which women were treated as equals.  Stark discussed centuries of sexual violence against and the dehumanization of Native women beginning with colonization and continuing through to today.  This presentation highlighted the need to work together to provide Native women with protection and justice moving forward, something that has been consistently absent in the past.


Alisa Bernard’s Versus: Lateral Oppression in the Movement to End Commercial Sexual Exploitation, focused on the lateral oppression that occurs among survivors, between survivors and allies, and among allies  within the movement to end commercial sexual exploitation.  Participants gained valuable insight to the impacts lateral oppression has on the survivor community and individuals through understanding its root causes, recognizing how it is perpetuated, and identifying potential solutions.


Audrey Morrissey’s From Awareness to Prevention: The Role of Survivor Leadership in Effective CSEC Prevention Program, detailed My Life My Choice’s survivor-led prevention model, which includes the development of specialized policies and procedures and prevention curriculum.  Taking the prevention curriculum one step further, participants had the opportunity to learn about this enhanced model and apply it to their programs and organizations.


Christine Cesa and Marc Wirtz’s presentation, Human Trafficking and Healthcare: Survivor Advocates Essential Members of the Emergency Department Medical Team, demonstrated the key role the survivor voice plays in the medical field. [4]  Wirtz, Director of Emergency Services at Dignity Health, discussed how having a survivor on staff helps nurses and doctors to recognize the signs of commercial sexual exploitation and to provide better, trauma-informed and victim-centered services.  Overall, the presentation demonstrated the vital role survivors play in helping other survivors and the important role survivors have in ending commercial sexual exploitation.


Vednita Carter and Joy Freidman led a mesmerizing session, Black Women & Sex Trafficking/Prostitution, detailing the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and how it has directly fed into “modern-day slavery”.  Both women outlined the history of the objectification and commodification of black women and how that presents today in prostitution and human trafficking.  There was a lively discussion of the use of the term “modern-day slavery” and how it has the power to bring the necessary amount of gravitas to these issues.  Carter and Freidman’s session was very well-received by their audience.


Together, Jamie Rosseland, a survivor-mentor, and Sarah Helms, a licensed psychologist, delivered a challenging and unique presentation entitled Survivor Led: Working with Survivor Leaders to Serve Victims.  In this interactive workshop, participants could text in their answers to questions posed by the presenters.  The questions focused on the intricacies of survivors working as professionals in traditional work environments, whilst still processing their own trauma.  Rosseland and Helms directed the attendees to think critically about survivors’ roles in the workplace as more than just “survivor,” but as their skills, contributions, and the actual position they are hired for. The workshop concluded with an opportunity for participants to send in one significant word that represented what they had learned through the presentation. Words appeared on the screen, the most common ones including support, community, strength, and value.


Det. Les Glauner and Det. Connie Marinello presented along with a CEASE Survivor Leadership Panel moderated by Angie Henderson, PhD Law Enforcement Response & Demand Driven Investigations.  This presentation explained how members of law enforcement conduct demand-driven investigations and engage in victim-centered policing tactics. The presentation also outlined how law enforcement utilize the internet and databases in their investigations as well as how law enforcement can establish successful interviewing techniques. [5]


Symposium participants had the opportunity to learn directly from two leaders in the field of academic research. Dr. Angie Henderson and Megan Lundstrom presented From the Researched to the Researcher, which focused on how research professionals and survivors can collaborate in a mutually beneficial way.  Research is a useful tool in combatting commercial sexual exploitation and the participation of survivors is necessary for meaningful data.  Henderson and Lundstrom discussed how survivors’ experience in participating in research impacts various research methodologies. The presenters found that while many survivors had positive experience in past research, there were common threads that explained why survivors often stop participation.


Josie Feemster and Kristina Fitz led an engaging, informal conversation about their experiences as survivor leaders in California in their presentation, CSEC Survivor Leadership Panel. [6]  Feemster and Fitz discussed their passions and what they hope to do to change the world as they move on from their positions as full-time survivor leaders.  They finished their conversation detailing the importance of connections and taking breaks to be the most effective, supportive leaders they can be.


Tammy McDonnell and Sarah Robinson’s Face it to Erase It: Vacating Convictions for Survivors, outlined the process of vacating convictions for survivors in the state of Pennsylvania. [7]  Robinson detailed the process from the perspective of an attorney working on vacatur, while McDonnell gave her perspective from the side of the survivor and client.  Both McDonnell and Robinson highlighted the challenges attorneys and survivors may face in working towards vacatur and gave practice tips so that providers will be able to advise clients in the best way possible.


Symposium participants also had the opportunity to learn about the Abolitionist approach to prostitution from Autumn Burris, Founding Director of Survivor for Solutions. In her workshop, Re-examining Harms and Shifting Perspective Towards Solution-based Public Policies-Globally and the U.S., Burris provide a comprehensive look at the economics, realities, and harms of the sex trade. Burris emphasized that the Abolitionist approach – which criminalizes sex buyers and provides social services and exit programs to prostituted persons – is the best model for addressing the sex trade. Burris concluded the workshop with a brainstorming session focused on how attendees could best address the sex trade and potentially implement the Abolitionist approach in their own jurisdictions.


Symposium participants then had the invaluable experience of hearing from Kathleen Mitchell and Vednita Carter, trailblazing advocates in the anti-commercial sex industry. In 1989, Mitchell founded the first county-jail-based program for prostituted women. Her program at the Durango jail established direct victim services to survivors, which include counseling, addiction recovery, education, life skills training, job placement, and transitional housing. Carter is the founder of Breaking Free, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending all forms of prostitution and sex trafficking, and she was recently honored by President Barack Obama with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her work to end commercial sexual exploitation.  Together Mitchell and Carter joined forces to present Working with Survivors. In this interactive workshop, participants were assigned to play the role of a prostituted person who works either on the streets or within a brothel. Participants then considered the work schedule, benefits, wages, attire, duties, and employment atmosphere of each “profession” if prostitution were to be legalized as “sex work.” This exercise illuminated the lack of personal autonomy and the minimal protections experienced by prostituted persons—as compared to a typical salaried position, like an administrative assistant—and helped to debunk the myth of the “profession” of prostitution. Mitchell and Carter also highlighted how lack of personal choice makes it difficult for prostituted persons to transition into their lives post-victimization, and how many personal, social, and economic hurdles prostituted persons can face when they decide to leave prostitution.


In Choice vs. No Choice:  Law Enforcement’s Approach to Psychological Intervention, presenter Megan Lundstrom provided an unfiltered portrayal of what it’s like for a victim who is psychologically trapped in “the life” or “the game.” [9]  The purpose of this presentation was to educate law enforcement on the full state of mind and body in which they may encounter a victim.  In recognition of the fact that commercial sexual exploitation differs based on geography and time, Lundstrom, relying on her own lived experiences, tailored her discussion to contemporary pimp-controlled prostitution in heavily populated communities. Throughout the presentation, Lundstrom inserted vocabulary and anecdotes (such as “16’s and 304’s” and “trick roll”) that further educated participants on nuanced aspects of pimp-controlled prostitution. Then, Lundstrom provided a brief overview of the 15 elements of Cultic Theory, expertly pausing to illuminate how several of the elements are satisfied in pimp-controlled prostitution. Meanwhile, Lundstrom reminded participants that in addition to the psychological manipulation exacted by pimps, tricks, and others in “game,” victims are simultaneously suffering from sleep deprivation, dehydration, malnourishment, physical pain, trauma, and the side effects of withdrawal or active drug use. She then explored the five core interactions of social coercion: exchange, competition, conflict, cooperation, and accommodation; again, Lundstrom expertly explained how pimps cycle through these interactions to manipulate and control their victims.


Alisa Bernard and Audrey Morrissey finished the symposium with a thoughtful audience question and answer session –  Reflection & Goodbyes [10].



[1] Shea Rhodes, Alisa Bernard, Autumn Burris, Vednita Carter & Christine Stark, Those Questions You Need Answered But Are Afraid to Ask, YouTube (Apr. 11, 2019),

[2] Marian Hatcher, Connecting Personal Experience to Policy Reform:  Examining “Exited Prostitution Survivor Policy Platform, YouTube (Apr. 11, 2019),

[3] Haley Halverson & Anna Ptak, A Click Away:  How Pimps & Sex Buyers use Social Media & Porn to Exploit, YouTube (Apr. 11, 2019),

[4] Christine Cesa & Marc Wirtz, Human Traffikcing and Healthcare:  Survivor Advocates Essential Members of the Emergency Department Medical Team YouTube (Apr. 11, 2019),

[5] Les Glauner, Angie Henderson, PhD & Connie Marinello, Law Enforcement Response & Demand Driven Investigations, YouTube (Apr. 11, 2019),

[6] Josie Feemster & Kristina Fitz, CSEC Survivor Leadership Panel, YouTube (Apr. 11, 2019),

[7] Tammy McDonnell & Sarah Robinson, Esq.  Face it to Erase It:  Vacating Convictions for Survivors, YouTube (Apr. 11, 2019),

[8] Alisa Bernard & Anjilee Dodge, Trauma-Informed Organizations in a Survivor-Centered Movement, YouTube (Apr. 12, 2019),

[9] Megan Lundstrom, Choice vs. No Choice:  Law Enforcement’s Approach to Psychological Intervention, YouTube (Apr. 12, 2019),

[10] Alisa Bernard & Audrey Morrissey, Reflections &Goodbyes, YouTube (Apr. 12 2019),


All viewed 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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