Skip to main content

The Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Playing Key Role in Fighting for Victims of Trafficking

CSE Institute

Recent NoVo Foundation grant provides $600,000 in funding to continue work through 2020

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is not a distant problem affecting only people in the developing world. It is a problem that exists locally, throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Over the past several years, a number of groups and organizations have stepped up the fight against trafficking. Since its launch in 2015, the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE Institute) has provided educational training and services and impacted key legislative efforts in the fight to support survivors of trafficking in Pennsylvania and beyond.

The CSE Institute educates and provides technical assistance to policy makers, law enforcement officials, and others who respond to commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania, as well as throughout the United States and beyond, promoting victim-centered, trauma-informed multidisciplinary collaboration. The CSE Institute assisted advocates in Nebraska in passing legislation in 2016 that provides victims of sex trafficking with immunity from arrest and prosecution for prostitution. The CSE Institute also drafted a pending senate bill in Pennsylvania which would provide safe harbor for sexually exploited children. In April 2017, the CSE Institute published model legislation in conjunction with a National Analysis of Demand Legislation.

The CSE Institute’s Director, Shea Rhodes, has also presented numerous trainings throughout Pennsylvania and beyond, equipping attendees with the skills and knowledge needed to improve the legal system’s response to commercial sexual exploitation. More than 2500 attorneys, law enforcement, transportation workers and community stakeholders have participated in these sessions, which provide guidance on how to identify and support possible victims. 

The work of the CSE Institute will continue through 2020 thanks to $600,000 in funding recently awarded by NoVo Foundation. The Foundation previously committed $450,000, which helped launch the Institute and fund the first three years of operation.

“We are very grateful for the generosity and commitment of NoVo Foundation to support our work,” said Rhodes. “We will continue to work extremely hard to fight for and protect victims and survivors, by working with law enforcement, policy leaders and concerned citizens, and by offering trainings and resources to better support members of their communities.”

NoVo Foundation is dedicated to building a more just and balanced world. Founded in 2006 by Jennifer and Peter Buffett, NoVo has become one of the largest private foundations in the world to support initiatives focused explicitly on girls and women, including a dedicated focus on ending violence against girls and women and supporting adolescent girls. NoVo also works to advance social and emotional learning, support Indigenous communities and promote local living economies.

For more information on the CSE Institute, visit its website or view its annual reports for 2016 and 2017.

About Charles Widger School of Law: Founded in 1953, the Villanova University Charles Widger 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 six 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 Centers of Excellence—the Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy; the David F. and Constance B. Girard-diCarlo Center for Ethics, Integrity and Compliance; the John F. Scarpa Center for Law and Entrepreneurship; and the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law—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 M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit