Villanova University School of Law Announces Launch of Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation


A $450,000 grant from the NoVo Foundation provided seed funding for the establishment of The Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation


VILLANOVA, Pa. – The Villanova University School of Law has announced the launch of The Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE Institute). Established with a $450,000 grant from the NoVo Foundation, the CSE Institute seeks to educate and provide technical assistance to those who respond to commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania and to promote victim-centered, multidisciplinary collaboration. The NoVo Foundation grant provides the CSE Institute funding for operations and a full-time Director for its first three years.

“Villanova’s Augustinian Catholic heritage encourages us to create a community in which every human being is treated with dignity, compassion and respect,” remarked John Y. Gotanda, Arthur J. Kania Dean of the Villanova University School of Law. “With The Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, we seek to advance our mission by providing legal support and guidance to one of society’s most vulnerable populations.”

Dean Gotanda continued, “The launch of the CSE Institute would not be possible without the generous grant from the NoVo Foundation. We are deeply grateful for its support and proud to join the Foundation as it works to promote a culture of equality and partnership across the world.”

“By pointing the way toward victim-centered responses that prioritize the dignity and rights of those who are exploited, the CSE Institute has the potential to serve as a model for systems-level change in communities across the country,” said Pamela Shifman, Executive Director of the NoVo Foundation. “We are deeply proud to support its launch and excited to watch its progress in the years ahead.”  

The Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation is under the leadership of Director Shea M. Rhodes and Faculty Advisor Michelle Madden Dempsey. The Institute’s areas of focus include:


  • Policy education and training

Through education and training, the CSE Institute aims to transform the Commonwealth’s response to CSE into an approach that identifies victimization and supports survivors. While significant strides were made to address CSE in Pennsylvania with the recent enactment of Act 105, limited resources are available to implement these new legal strategies. The CSE Institute provides training and education to Pennsylvania law enforcement, prosecutors and private attorneys, as well as the broader community regarding commercial sexual exploitation.


  • Data collection and reporting
    Due to a number of issues—including limited law enforcement resources, the clandestine nature of CSE and the lack of self-identification by trafficking victims—there is no reliable data regarding the prevalence of CSE in Pennsylvania. To address this, the CSE Institute is collaborating with local law enforcement and the victim services community to undertake a data collection project to identify and document cases of commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania. This project—informed by consultation with leading empirical researchers throughout the U.S.—aims to build the nation’s most robust and reliable data set documenting the issue.


  • Legal research and technical assistance

The CSE Institute conducts legal research to inform the development of strategies for litigating cases under Pennsylvania’s newly enacted Civil Cause of Action for Victims of the Sex Trade (18 Pa.C.S.§3051). It also provides technical legal assistance to courts and state agencies, as well as public and private attorneys representing the interests of victims in the criminal and civil justice systems.


In its pilot phase during the 2014-15 academic year, the CSE Institute began its engagement in several key activities. It conducted trainings sessions on Act 105 for more than 500 individuals in Pennsylvania, including judges, prosecutors, police officers, probation and parole officers, social workers and community advocates. The CSE Institute also drafted model “Safe Harbor” legislation for Pennsylvania that will, if enacted, decriminalize child victims of sex trafficking and provide necessary support for their treatment. Finally, the CSE Institute established itself as the state-wide clearinghouse for information relating to the implementation of Act 105, providing key administrative and training support to the Pennsylvania Alliance Against Trafficking in Humans (PAATH).

The NoVo Foundation—under the leadership of co-presidents Jennifer and Peter Buffett—is dedicated to catalyzing a transformation in global society, moving from a culture of domination to one of equality and partnership. The Foundation supports the development of capacities in people, individually and collectively, to help create a caring and balanced world. Its grant-making initiatives are designed to advance adolescent girls' rights, end violence against girls and women, strengthen social and emotional learning, and promote local living economies.


About Villanova University School of Law: Founded in 1953, Villanova University School of Law provides broad-based legal education that is grounded in academic rigor, practical hands-on training and a foundation in business that prepares graduates for diverse and rewarding legal careers. The Law School, which is accredited by the American Bar Association, offers seven in-house clinics and more than 150 externship opportunities that immerse students in the real-world application of their legal skills. Villanova is home to three Centers of Excellence—the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law; the David F. and Constance B. Girard-diCarlo Center for Ethics, Integrity and Compliance; and the John F. Scarpa Center for Law and Entrepreneurship—which provide students the opportunity to pursue innovative, interdisciplinary legal fields through study, practical experience and mentorship.


About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.



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Kate Johnston
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