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Combating Sexual Exploitation

Leah Oswald interned this summer with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) in Washington, D.C., a non-profit organization dedicated to stopping pornography and exposing the links between pornography and sexual exploitation.  Leah worked in the law center at NCOSE updating and editing the Sexually Orientated Business manual (a manual that is used by local governments to enact ordinances aimed that curbing sexually orientated businesses). 


Today I woke up for work, got ready, and had to mentally prepare myself to go to work at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). While working for NCOSE, the most unexpected thing I have encountered is coming face-to-face with the reality of sexual exploitation. I knew that sexual exploitation existed in various forms, but since I’ve started working for the National Center, I’m finding sexual exploitation is a much more pervasive problem that many people brush under the rug. And I understand why people are scared to talk about this—it’s everywhere and it’s profitable. Our society sells sex (e.g., Game of Thrones, The Girlfriend Experience, PornHub, strip clubs, massage parlours . . . just to name a few). But here’s the problem I’ve encountered: sexual exploitation harms women and men in a very real way, and what am I going to do to combat this problem? There are so many ways to get involved but the scary thing is that our society says that sex is great. Sex is what makes us “awesome and sexy” and it’s hard to stand up to an idea that is so endemic. So the most unexpected thing here at the National Center isn’t the work load; instead, it’s learning how to channel my emotional outrage at this sexual exploitation issue into productive counter measures.

And you know, maybe I should’ve realized when I took this position that with “sexual exploitation” in the title, this job was going to be emotionally trying. But in the past couple weeks, my heart has broken repeatedly. The most challenging thing at my externship hasn’t been the onerous amounts of research, editing, and writing; it’s been maintaining my emotional welfare. Here’s one example of why my heart broke: in the Illicit Massage Parlor (IMP) business there are websites upon which, after paying a small fee, a user can search for an IMP, rank it (“it” often meaning the sexual services offered by the women who, by the way, are often victims of sex trafficking) and tell other users about their “service.” It’s sick enough to read reviews by married men complaining about their wife not “giving it up so they had to go here,” but it’s worse to realize that the lingo which pervades this sick group of people is common among everyone. For instance, a user make rank a women “ATF butterface.” This means “All Time Favorite” (ATF) and her body is incredible but her face isn’t so great (butterface). When I read a review similar to this I was sick because I realized that I recognized that term ‘butterface’ from a male who had used that word in high school. But how did this young teen male know this word that is so pervasive among porn users and IMP’s? That’s when it really hit me. The link between porn, the sex trafficking business, and sexual exploitation really is endemic. I don’t know if IMP businesses and the porn industry borrow from popular culture phrases such as ‘butterface’ or if all these people saying the word have been, in some way, exposed to porn and IMPs, but either way, it’s saddening and sick. So, the most challenging thing is keeping my emotional welfare in balance while trying to fight the sexual exploitation of women by men who don’t care about systematically exploiting and raping these women. But there is hope and I can never forget that. There are people out there who are fighting for these women. These women are made in God’s image and therefore naturally endowed with dignity and I pray that someday that dignity will be fully realized and reached.


I know I could easily say that the best thing about my internship with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has been learning how to research and edit . . . but that’s not true. This summer has exposed me to the underbelly of porn. I’ve seen how porn harms not only women (through sexually exploiting them and often being a link to sex trafficking), but also men, children, marriages, and families. But not all hope is lost. The most rewarding aspect of my job has been knowing that there are people out there who are fighting against porn. The groups who are willing to come together to combat pornography is vast: liberal feminists to religious conservatives. This issue of porn knows no bounds and the people fighting it also come from various backgrounds. So that’s the great thing: there is a growing movement to stop porn and sexual exploitation. I am not alone in my passion to help sexually abused women. There are thousands of wonderful women and men out there who are dedicating their lives to helping stop sexual exploitation. In sum, the most rewarding aspect has been seeing a network of people striving together to combat the ills of our society. I’ve always had hope that people care about others being exploited, but now that hope burns a bit brighter.

This summer experience has opened my eyes to see more evils but something else has also happened: I experienced firsthand the beauty that is a sex trafficking survivor. The best reason I can give for why people should fight against pornography and sex trafficking is in the form of a survivor. If you’ve ever seen a survivor speak candidly about their experience then you’ve seen incredible strength from that woman who has endured so much but come out fighting and alive. It’s beautiful to see how God can restore a woman’s life and make her stronger in the process. It’s an awful thing that trafficking (in any form) exists. But it’s a miracle that we have a God (and people) who are fighting for that trafficked individual.

This post was written by a Center for Global Justice student intern.  The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.