A Visit to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation

By M.A. Student, Sarah Thomas

On October 11th, Catholic University’s M.A. in Human Rights cohort visited the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) in Washington, D.C. NCOSE is an NGO dedicated to shining a light on sexual exploitation, building a stronger and safer world free from sexual exploitation, and advocating for the rights of victims. Upon entering the NCOSE offices, my colleagues and I were particularly struck by a mural depicting the connections between a variety of issues: violence against women, prostitution, pornography, sex trafficking, child sexual abuse, and more.

At the beginning of our meeting, NCOSE’s COO, Edward Reinhold, explained that NCOSE has a three-pronged mission. This involves litigation, corporate advocacy, and policy. Regarding corporate advocacy in particular –– a topic that had been unfamiliar to me –– he explained that NCOSE works with corporations to try to persuade them to pass preventative measures against sexual exploitation. This is especially relevant for tech and social media companies, such as TikTok, with whom NCOSE has been working to install greater parental controls on explicit content.

Following Mr. Reinhold’s introduction to NCOSE’s mission, the organization’s CEO, Dawn Hawkins, led the rest of the discussion. Ms. Hawkins went deeper into NCOSE’s work, illuminating many topics we hadn’t considered before. For instance, she made the case that there is a connection between pornography and sex trafficking. She also addressed a tension she’s seen in the field: many people are categorically opposed to sex trafficking, but have no qualms with prostitution. However, as Ms. Hawkins pointed out, sex trafficking only exists within the prostitution marketplace. Therefore, as we see a rise in U.S. efforts to decriminalize prostitution, we’ll also see a rise in sex trafficking.

Ms. Hawkins also answered questions from the M.A. students. One student asked if NCOSE was engaged with helping vulnerable women in desperate circumstances who feel no choice but to turn to pornography and prostitution, given that such careers can be lucrative. Hawkins responded that NCOSE very much cares about these women, but that their actual work focuses more on large corporate and legal structures. Another student asked about NCOSE’s partnerships, and Ms. Hawkins explained that NCOSE leads a coalition of over 600 member organizations, in addition to working with an additional 1,000. I was most intrigued by her remark that the NCOSE coalition includes both feminist organizations and pro-family organizations. As we learned, NCOSE’s president, Patrick Trueman, sought to bridge the gap between feminist and pro-family stakeholders with shared concerns. This coalition-building work is made stronger by the fact that all of NCOSE’s policy work is bipartisan. Overall, this was a thought-provoking meeting that enriched my understanding of the sexual exploitation landscape, the interconnections between various issues, and the importance of coalition-building for the good of all.