Conference addresses sexual exploitation, slavery

By Sara Yufa, For the Daily
Published October 19, 2013

On Friday, the School of Social Work’s Child Welfare Learning Community and the Global Initiative and the Human Trafficking Clinic at the Law School hosted a day of events addressing the sex trafficking of young women.

The Fedele F. and Iris M. Fauri Memorial Conference addressed exploitation of girls both domestically and internationally. It’s estimated that two-million children are exploited in prostitution or pornography every year — more than 100,000 of those victims currently in the United States, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Population Fund

At least 75 percent of child victims of sex trafficking are girls. Female victims are exploited via prostitution, pornography, sexual servitude and sex tourism. Girls become victims because of factors like severe poverty, the low value attached to their education, family dysfunction, cultural obligation to support their families and the need to earn money to survive, according to the event’s organizers.

Celia Williamson, a professor of social work at the University of Toledo and founder of Second Chance, the Ohio-based sex trafficking support group, delivered the keynote address at the conference. She discussed the different ways that children are recruited into sex trafficking.

Williamson pointed out that 59 percent of domestic minor sex trafficking victims are recruited by female friends.

Throughout her address, Williamson contrasted the current sex trafficking policies in the state of Michigan with those in Ohio, where she advocates for policy change.

According to Williamson, about 100,000 domestic minors are trafficked into the sex trade each year. In Ohio, there are 783 foreign victims of the sex and labor trade and an additional 3,000 Ohio residents are at risk. No data was available for Michigan. However, in a report by advocacy group Shared Hope International analyzing legislative components that must be addressed to respond to domestic minor sex trafficking, Ohio scored a C, while Michigan scored an F.

Williamson also criticized weak sexual offense laws against men who hire prostitutes. For example, she noted that some states allow offenders an excuse from registering as sex offenders if they claim they didn’t know the prostitute was underage.

In discussing possible ways to combat child trafficking, Williamson emphasized the need for expansion of police enforcement units dedicated to helping victims of exploitation in metropolitan areas around the country, including improved social services for the victims of sex trafficking and increased responsiveness on the part of healthcare professionals.

Williamson’s program, Second Chance, continues to work with victims of sex trafficking in Ohio. They currently offer online courses with education about sex trafficking and held their first online conference in September.

Following Williamson’s address, several academics, professionals, legal experts and care group representatives from across the country led lectures and panel discussions. Representatives from law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were scheduled to attend but were forced to cancel their panel discussion in the wake of the government shutdown.

The Fedele F. and Iris M. Fauri Memorial Lecture Series is an annual conference focused on child welfare in remembrance of Fedele Fauri, a former dean of the University’s School of Social Work.