'(S)exploiting the Vulnerable'

prev
next

Wayne Law School conference to address the challenges of combating sex trafficking

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

“Ours is a society that craves vulnerable flesh,” says Blanche Cook, an assistant professor at Wayne State University Law School and a leading national expert on sex-trafficking prosecutions and the commercialization and exploitation of females.

Cook, previously an Assistant U.S. Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in Nashville, Tenn., specializing in large-scale drug and sex-trafficking prosecutions, is helping organize an April 12 conference, “(S)exploiting the Vulnerable: Empowering Future Legal Advocates to Combat Sex Trafficking.”

“Unlike other sex trafficking conferences, Wayne Law’s conference centralizes the point of view of the survivor and uses that point of view to critique the legal process,” Cook says.

Cook notes sex trafficking, that victimizes both children and adults, has reached epidemic proportions. Homeless youth, victims of discrimination or domestic violence, and asylum-seekers are frequent targets, and the Internet and substance dependency makes vulnerable people easy prey, often through force, fraud, or coercion,

“Sex trafficking is omnipresent and always has been,” Cook says. “Vulnerablity is the lynchpin—or epicenter—of exploitation. Geographic location is peripheral, vulnerability is key.

“Large scale events like trade shows, where there is disposable cash, large crowds, and an abundance of recreational time and party-like atmosphere are often a recipe for commercialized sex disaster. Vulnerability combined with domination and control by reducing human beings to commodities to be bought and sold on an open market are the essence of commercialized sex.”

Cook references the recent highly publicized cases involving R. Kelly, accused of sex with underage girls; and Cyntoia Brown, granted clemency in January after 15 years in prison for killing a man who bought her for sex when she was 16 years old.

“These are primary examples of an inability to see the humanity of victims who are women and persons of color,” Cook says.

“Recent cases establish two things that are key to the domination and control of vulnerable bodies: an inability to see humanity in bodies that are raced, classed, and gendered, and an inability to see treachery in bodies that are privileged.”

Cook notes many laws, policies, and practices misplace the emphasis on criminalizing and pathologizing trafficked individuals, erroneously prosecuting victims and empowering traffickers.

“Over-simplification leads to over-criminalization of the victims and de-emphasis on the demand—eradicating the demand will end the commercialization of human beings,” she says.

“For example, there are recent sting operations of massage parlors across the nation. The court of public opinion readily recognizes criminality of owners and operators, but what about the criminalization of ‘johns’ and purchasers of sex—why is there not the same thirst for blood when it comes to the purchasers, those that drive the demand? Over-simplification leads us to believe sex trafficking is a ‘foreign’ problem and that both victims and perpetrators are not right next door.”

Taylor Hilton, a 2L student who is vice president of the Criminal Law Society and president of the school’s Women’s Law Caucus, is serving as communications liaison for the event, and will moderate a session, “Investigation and Adjudication at the Federal Level.”

Hilton’s desire to attend law school stemmed from an internship at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

“I was assigned to work on sex crimes, and had the opportunity to witness these types of cases in court—I instantly knew I wanted to pursue a career of either federal law enforcement or prosecution to seek justice for the victims of these heinous crimes,” she says. 

“Having the opportunity to work with Professor Cook on this conference has allowed me to contact individuals in the community who are also passionate about combating sex trafficking.”

The day-long event, in the school’s Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium at 471 W. Palmer in Detroit, is free and open to the public. A continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.

To register visit https://rsvp.wayne.edu/law-0419.

 

Conference Line Up

9 a.m. Welcome
    Dean Richard A. Bierschbach, Wayne State University Law School
    Governor Kim Trent, chair, WSU Board of Governors

9:10 a.m. Opening remarks
    Angela Povilaitis, Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board

9:30 a.m. “The Insatiable Appetite for Sexually Exploiting Vulnerability”
    Assistant Professor Blanche Cook, Wayne State University Law School

10 a.m. “Insight and Perspective from Survivors”
    April Doss and Alice Jay
    Moderator: Ben VanSlyke, first-year Wayne Law student

10:40 a.m. “Sex Trafficking in Social Policy and Legislation”
    Celia Williamson, executive director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute and professor of social work at the University of Toledo

11:20 a.m. “Meeting Needs and Overcoming Barriers: Legal Advocacy for Sex Trafficking Victims”
    Heidi Naasko, National Pro Bono and Diversity Counsel, Dykema
    Melissa Novock, human trafficking specialist, Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner
    Sandy Palazzolo, victim-witness coordinator, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan
    Celia Williamson, executive director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute and professor of social work at the University of Toledo
    Moderator: Rebecca Bundy, first-year Wayne Law student

12:30 Lunch and “A Closer Look Inside the Federal Cases”
    James Gerometta, federal public defender
    Margaret Smith, assistant U.S. attorney, Eastern District of Michigan
    Andrew Wise, federal public defender
    Sara Woodward, assistant U.S. attorney, Eastern District of Michigan
    Moderator: Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, introduced by Lydia Mikail, first-year Wayne Law student

1:50 p.m. “Investigation and Adjudication at the State Level”
    Danielle Bastien, registered nurse, Henry Ford Hospital
    Danielle Bennetts, lead attorney, Sexual Assault Team, Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office
    Kelly Carter, assistant attorney general, Michigan Department of Attorney General
    Allen Williams, police officer, Detroit Police Department - Vice Squad
    Moderator: Elisabeth Moore, second-year Wayne Law student

3 p.m. “Investigation and Adjudication at the Federal Level”
    Amanda Jawad, assistant U.S. attorney, Eastern District of Michigan
    Nate Knapper, special agent, FBI
    Nicole McGee, victim specialist, FBI
    Moderator: Taylor Hilton, second-year Wayne Law student

4:10 p.m. “A Multi-Faceted Dialogue on Sex Trafficking”
    Danielle Bennetts, lead attorney, Sexual Assault Team, Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office
    David Champine, APA, Sexual Assault Team, Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office
    Nicole McGee, victim specialist, FBI
    Moderator: Lydia Mikail, first-year Wayne Law student

5:10 p.m. Closing remarks, networking reception to follow

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »