Why the National Center on Sexual Exploitation?
13 years ago, I stood on a corner in Kaposvar, Hungary after teaching English lessons for a young survivor of sex trafficking. I had just been sexually harassed by a group of men I had to walk past, a common occurrence, and I could see a pornographic ad on the front page of a newspaper being read by a man on a nearby bench. As I stood there, I felt this calling clear as day. I joined the fight to end sexual exploitation right then and have fought to make a difference in a world that has too long ignored the connections between forms of abuse I could see all around me.
As I looked around, the only remaining organization attempting to make systemic changes was the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Thankfully they accepted me as a volunteer and later as Executive Director.
I am honored to now serve as the CEO of NCOSE and look forward to realizing our grand goal and vision: a world free from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation.
In the decade since, I’ve seen NCOSE step up as a unifying force, reigniting a global movement which demands that no human being be sexually exploited and that no system, entity, or individual be allowed to profit from exploitation. Thanks to NCOSE’s leadership, many of us who share this truth have found each other and joined together in spite of the myriad political ideologies, religions, social backgrounds, and tactical perspectives we bring to the table. Instead of siloed effort, we’re able to make greater progress as a movement knit together by a common goal.
At the heart of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is both a creed to defend human dignity and a steadfast commitment to doing so in a nonsectarian and nonpartisan way—because the fight to end sexual exploitation knows no political or religious borders. The inherent harms and oppression of sexual abuse and exploitation impact people regardless of their age, sex, nationality, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or creed.
Despite the efforts of the exploitation industry and some biased journalists to mischaracterize NCOSE and this movement as an extreme or single-track perspective, or to highlight random campaigns from over 20 years ago, it is our unity and truly holistic approach that has brought millions of us together and which has yielded massive progress in the drive to create a world where all can thrive.
I’ve stayed at NCOSE all of these years because—through our multi-pronged and big tent approach—we have seen massive victories which give me hope that a world free from sexual abuse and exploitation truly is possible.
Likely similar to you, I believe in human dignity and in safeguarding the light that radiates from within each of us. I believe every human being deserves the opportunity to live life to its fullest potential: to pursue dreams; seek beauty, truth, and faith; experience hope, joy, and love with family and friends—to thrive.
Such a vision requires not only individuals and institutions that work towards its realization, but also a culture that embraces its responsibility to preserve and protect human flourishing.
But there are forces at work in our society, robbing children of their innocence, sapping humanity’s capacity for love and compassion, and extinguishing our culture’s will to protect. These are the forces of sexual exploitation.
Sexual exploitation encompasses a wide-range of sexual abuse or utilitarian sexual uses of persons, regardless of age, including (but not limited to): sexual objectification, sexual violence, pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking, and child sexual abuse.
These forces have always been at work in society, but in our world today their chasms loom larger, deeper, and darker than ever before.
Through many conversations with lived-experience experts, further learning, and our advocacy at NCOSE these past 12 years, we became keenly aware that these forms of sexual exploitation connect, overlap, reinforce, and fuel one another—creating powerful black holes where sexual exploitation and injustice devour goodness, light, and hope.
While so many individuals and groups are struggling to respond to systemic sexual exploitation, NCOSE is one of the only organizations working to provide holistic and comprehensive approaches to the full range of sexual exploitation issues.
My vision and NCOSE’s are the same. At the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, we work for a world free from sexual exploitation in all its forms. We work for a world in which the light within each of us and within our culture burns strong and bright. Such a vision is beyond the ability of any one individual or organization—including NCOSE—to realize without the help of many others. Those with this shared vision must join together to lay the foundations for sweeping societal change.
How can we achieve this?
Before any real problem solving can be done, it’s essential the problem is properly laid out and defined. That’s why NCOSE’s work to expose the interconnected web of sexual exploitation issues is so critical to achieving our vision—we cannot solve one problem while ignoring the influences and tangled nature of another.
Our nearly 60-year history has given us a unique, panoramic perspective which enables us to see that we cannot succeed in preserving human dignity if we approach the work from a narrow lens, such as a singular religious, political, or social perspective. It’s this wisdom that has allowed NCOSE to adapt and change over the past decade to unite and grow a movement and address current issues while utilizing myriad advocacy tools, cutting-edge tactics, and the latest research.
NCOSE has built a diverse team of top experts, broad coalition partners, and a deep grassroots network and it now leads the movement to end sexual abuse and exploitation through research, litigation, and corporate and legislative advocacy.
NCOSE’s current main objectives for bringing the world closer to our inspiring vision include:
1. Destabilize the Pornography Industry and Make Pornography Intolerable in Society
Pornography’s negative influence on the lives of those who watch—as well as those used to make it—cannot be understated. The pornography industry is built on the exploitation and abuse of women, children, and men. And it doesn’t just affect those directly interacting with pornography, as the normalization of graphic and violent sexual content has proliferated to nearly every corner of the Internet. Among its many public health harms, pornography negatively impacts neurological, psychological, and social development—including fueling child sexual abuse, compulsive sexual behavior, sexual dysfunction, sex trafficking, sexual violence, broken families, and more. In order to curb these harms, responsibility must shift from individual accountability alone to holding the forces and influences that generate and distribute the material liable.
Children are being exposed at younger and younger ages, teenagers and young people are feeling pressured to perform increasingly degrading sex acts, and the demand for pornography has created an unsustainable pipeline of vulnerable individuals who become unwilling victims of filmed exploitation—all while people being told this is somehow “empowering.”
Pornography does not have room to exist in a world that truly believes in human love, connection, and equality.
That’s why I am dedicated to utilizing NCOSE’s body of research and accredited expertise to continue to fight the narrative that pornography isn’t harmful. We will continue to:
- Shift the conversation to the negative public health impacts of pornography by convening academics and experts from diverse fields of study, gathering and synthesizing reliable studies, and attracting public attention to harms correlated to pornography
- Expose the rampant sexual abuses, sex trafficking, and other criminal activity related with the pornography industry
- Equip and empower caregivers, concerned citizens, and NGOs to rally and demand change
- Pass legislation that hampers the industry with strict regulations, minimum standards around unambiguous consent and age verification, and restrict the ease of access to deliver its content it currently enjoys
- Exact justice on behalf of those harmed by the industry through coordinating and launching a movement of lawsuits
- Spur criminal investigations and prosecutions
- Provide holistic solutions and preventative measures for individuals, families, communities, legislators, and other influencers
2. Stop Sex Buying to End Sex Trafficking and All Exploitation
Most of us long for a day when there will be no more stolen innocence, no more trafficking in human beings, no more broken bodies and minds, no more victims, and no more tears. Even so and despite the tireless efforts of countless individuals dedicated to fighting sexual exploitation such a possibility can seems remote at best. And, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, most days it can feel impossible. The cycle of identifying, rescuing, and restoring victims, and prosecuting sex traffickers continues on and on. The fundamental dynamics of sex trafficking remain largely unchanged.
One of the key elements often missing in the national discussion surrounding trafficking, prostitution, and so-called “sex work” is the role of the buyer—a simple question of supply and demand. Without the (mostly) men who feel entitled to the bodies of mostly women within the commercial sex industry, there would be no such industry that preys on the most vulnerable in our society.
At present the systemic failure to combat sex buying—consumer-level demand for paid sex—guarantees not only the survival of sex trafficking/prostitution, but also the creation of future generations of victims. Sex trafficking exists because the male demand for people to buy for sexual use outstrips the supply of those available for purchase. We can go after the networks and enterprises facilitating the distribution again and again, but no matter how often we tear those down, they will be re-built as long as a demand exists from the sex buyers.
NCOSE doesn’t believe in a world that allows and even celebrates the commodification of women and girls, while the men who drive the systemic pipeline of the predatory commercial sex industry continue to benefit. NCOSE is combatting this by continuing to:
- Conduct, synthesize, and share research, data, and anecdotal evidence to educate the public, movement leaders, and key individuals in government, corporate, and media on the need and ways to reduce sex buying behavior
- Influence government bodies to issue directives, funds, and training to equip law enforcement officers and prosecutors in targeting (especially high frequency) sex buyers
- Train law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and community leaders on why and how to target and deter high frequency sex buyers since only 25% of high frequency buyers drive 75% of the prostitution marketplace
- Pass state and national legislation with focus on male accountability, including jail time and increasing income-based fine structures that will assist in paying for law enforcement efforts and exit and recovery services for survivors of prostitution/sex trafficking
- Identify initiatives from the US and abroad aimed at deterring men who buy sex and provide details on tactics and how to start, improve, and sustain an initiative
- Move corporations to adopt policies prohibiting sex buying behavior among employees
3. Protect Children Online
Many families, teachers, and caregivers are either unequipped or feel powerless to deal with the many endless new pieces of technology introduced by friends—whether it be at school or at home. This often leaves children fending for themselves in a digital world infested with predators, hardcore pornography, image-based sexual abuse, and messages that encourage them to sell their bodies for empowerment or survival. As adults, we must do better and take a stand for these vulnerable children.
As a mother myself, I am passionate about creating a world that is safe for my four children. But it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) require being a parent to care about protecting the rising generation from the harmful impacts of technology—it’s common sense.
NCOSE is not a political organization—we aren’t trying to remove free speech or police the Internet. Instead, we imagine a world where the Internet is a safe space for all, including the children who are now growing up with access to unlimited people and information.
We want to ensure that guardrails are in place for the “wild West” of the Internet. We want to convince social media platforms to institute common-sense safety measures that protect children from sexual predators who find them to be easy prey by initiating relationships and then grooming them for sexual abuse and exploitation. We want to equip parents with the tools and information they need to help their children safely navigate the Internet. We want to file and win lawsuits against those companies which have profited from allowing or posting child sexual abuse material online. We want to raise public awareness of the dangers children face online in order to rally grassroots opposition towards those who exploit other human beings for personal profit.
We can’t accomplish those desires without continuing to:
- Provide a library of model legislation regarding filtering, combating online grooming and image-based sexual abuse, and addressing smartphone usage in schools
- Draft and provide testimony for federal legislation such as ensuring age-verification of all depicted in explicit material, or policies that would hold Big Tech accountable for the harms that are proliferated on their platforms
- Win the public relations war through various innovative communication efforts
- Lead global advocacy campaigns against mainstream corporate offenders profiting from online child sexual abuse material or enabling child sexual abuse online
- File lawsuits against online platforms, such as Twitter, who have profited from the sexual exploitation of children online or have refused to take action to stop such exploitation
- Work with corporations on ways to improve the safety of youth and all using their platform
- Survey youth and compile research about the experiences of children online to provide the arguments needed to win in courts of law, the court of public opinion, and in state legislatures
- Train and educate caregivers on changing online dangers and ways to protect the youth in their lives. Coordinate and lead a taskforce of other groups to do this better as a movement
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has made significant progress on these three objectives and more in just the last few years, but there are more victories and accomplishments to come.
The light of human dignity will always burn brighter than the shadow of exploitation. By eschewing the boundaries of politics, religion, and other divisive backgrounds, NCOSE is in a unique position to ignite that light and continue to bring organizations and individuals from all walks of life out of the shadows of a world that allows and normalizes sexual exploitation to thrive.
All our work is comprised on fulfilling the vision of a world free from sexual abuse and exploitation—a world I know is possible. I invite you to join with us in seeing our vision come to fruition.