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The Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation Works Internationally to Combat Human Trafficking

Shea Rhodes
Shea Rhodes meets with girls from the Center for Achievement.

Human trafficking and sexual exploitation are forms of gender-based violence that affect millions of women and girls worldwide each year. Villanova Law’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE Institute) works to fight this international problem by educating and providing 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.

In October, CSE Institute Director Shea Rhodes ’97 travelled to Ghana to participate in the Global Women’s Business Exchange Conference. Organized by the U.S.-Ghana Chamber of Commerce, Rhodes joined business and professional women from all over the world to exchange and leverage their experiences in the fields of healthcare, finance, law, business and education.

Presenting on “Trauma Informed Legal Counsel for Victims of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation,” Rhodes equipped attendees with the skills and knowledge to provide legal support for victims of commercial sexual exploitation in their home countries. The workshop focused on trauma-informed lawyering and the need for cross-disciplinary collaboration with social services when working with victims and survivors of sex trafficking.

“No matter the location, the root causes of commercial sexual exploitation are universal and almost always include poverty and the subordination of women,” Rhodes said of the “life changing” trip.

While in Ghana, she also had the opportunity to meet with the young women and girls from the Center for Achievement, an organization that supports young people in Ghana to find their passion, voice and confidence. “Engaging with the young women and trying to empower them was the best part of the trip,” said Rhodes. “They are amazing, kind, resilient young women.”

Other notable CSE Institute work includes participating in the drafting and negotiation regarding legislation which would provide “safe harbor” from arrest and prosecution for sexually exploited children in Pennsylvania. The bill was passed by both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature and was signed into law by Governor Wolf on October 24, 2018. The Institute also assisted advocates in Nebraska in passing legislation in 2016 that provides victims of sex trafficking with immunity from arrest and prosecution for prostitution. In April 2017, the CSE Institute published model legislation in conjunction with a National Analysis of Demand Legislation.

For more information on the CSE Institute, visit its website or view its most recent annual report.