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Walking with Trafficking Survivors Through Healing

Post written by Caroline Jackey

My name is Caroline Jackey, and this semester I have the privilege of working on a project for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE).

NCOSE is a leading organization on the issue of exposing and battling sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Currently, NCOSE is focusing efforts on holding large internet providers who are knowingly benefiting from trafficking accountable under two federal legislative acts: FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act).

CDA: The Communication Decency Act

Providers like Twitter, MindGeek, and Pornhub are immune under the Communication Decency Act (CDA) 230 because the current standard for civil liability is “actual knowledge.” Under this standard, a defendant is only liable if the plaintiff can prove that defendant actually knew trafficking was being facilitated through their site. As actual knowledge is difficult to prove, NCOSE’s long-term goal for this project is to change the standard from “actual knowledge” to “constructive knowledge,” which would find any internet provider liable that should have known that trafficking was being facilitated through their site. Making “constructive knowledge” the standard would effectively implicate these providers for participation in trafficking and would force them to be accountable to justice.

What Comes After?

But while pursuing justice is important, it cannot be our only goal. I once heard someone say that their life’s mission was to fight trafficking “until all are free.” This is a noble calling, but the statement made me think about the victims. Once victims are free, what happens to them? As we see first-hand from military veterans with PTSD, trauma changes a person’s very being. Life cannot just go back to normal after experiencing such intense exploitation and so many of these survivors are experiencing this shame, fear, and pain alone.

In an article about the mental health impact on survivors of the commercial sex industry, NCOSE explains how devastating it is to be stripped of one’s humanity through abuse and betrayal and then left emotionally and mentally shattered. The article emphasizes that while legal accountability for traffickers is important, the justice system is not equipped to provide recovery support.

Put simply, “no amount of legal action can undo the psychological trauma that survivors of sexual exploitation have suffered; recovery takes more than simply removing victims from their trafficking situation and prosecuting their abusers.”1

Studies show that trafficking survivors experience intense psychological and emotional changes because they were exploited; 88% are depressed, 54% have PTSD, and 41% attempt suicide. These numbers are saddening, but they should not be surprising.

Destigmatizing Survivors

These victims do not have to suffer in silence alone. We have the power to destigmatize the circumstances surrounding trafficking, promote trafficking awareness, and help the survivors find the support and healing they need to once again be thriving members of society. As passionately as we pursue justice, we must also show mercy. God is the perfect picture of the balance between justice and love; thus, justice and mercy must go hand in hand if we are to truly share the love of God with these survivors. As advocates, we must be committed to being the voice for the voiceless in this area of great need.

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