Law student inspired to activism by prof's class

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Taking one class has inspired Wayne State University Law School student Jessica Hoyer to work with its professor, lobby Congress, and write an article soon to be published.

“I took Professor Blanche Cook’s Criminal Procedure: Adjudications class last fall,” Hoyer said.

A Livonia resident, Hoyer is a third-year law student, and Cook is an assistant professor of law, who, before joining the faculty in 2014, served as an assistant U.S. attorney with the Department of Justice, where she specialized in large-scale drug and sex-trafficking prosecutions.

Cook has established herself as a leading expert on sex trafficking by contextualizing the problems of commercialized sex in the entire spectrum of the ways in which the vulnerable are exploited.

She is actively involved in shaping the emerging nationwide discourse on sex trafficking and victims’ rights as it relates to evidentiary issues, race-class-gender profiling and sex-trafficking laws.
And now, so is Hoyer.

In the Wayne Law class that so inspired the student, Cook used many examples from her work prosecuting sex-trafficking cases.

Hoyer, who majored in sociology with a concentration on feminist political theory during her undergraduate years at Marygrove College, has been concerned with human rights and social justice for many years.

Cook’s class resonated strongly with Hoyer – so much so that she asked the professor to serve as her faculty advisor, was inspired to research and write a related article that has been accepted for publication as a note in Wayne Law Review and also has been working as Cook’s research assistant.

Hoyer’s article, which will be published early next year, is “Sex Trafficking in the Digital Age: The Role of Virtual Currency-Specific Legislation in Keeping Pace with Technology.” In the article, she explores the use of bitcoin – encrypted, untraceable digital currency that can be converted to conventional money – in sex trafficking.

“Not only is bitcoin used in illegal transactions via the Deep Web (private websites not available to casual users of the internet), it is also used on otherwise legitimate internet spaces where individuals are daily victims of sex trafficking as a result of weak or nonexistent regulations,” Hoyer said.

In her article, she explores the lack of clarity in the text of the sex-trafficking statute, as well as the need for the regulation of bitcoin and of internet advertisements for commercial sex in light of the pressing concern of simultaneously protecting internet freedom.

Having her article chosen for publication has been memorable for Hoyer, who also was awarded a 2016 Peggy Browning Summer Fellowship to work for the United Auto Workers International Union at its Detroit headquarters for 10 weeks.

“I think that writing my law review note and actually getting chosen for publication was the most astonishing thing,” Hoyer said. “It was a surprise and an honor.”

With Hoyer as a research assistant, Cook is writing an article about the federal sex-trafficking statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1591(d), and a provision in the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, Title 42 U.S. Code, Section 16901 et. seq. (SORNA). The SORNA provision requires anyone who obstructs a federal sex-trafficking investigation or prosecution to register as a sex offender.

“The problem is there may be a sex-trafficking victim, for example, who refuses to testify in a sex-trafficking case or declines to be interviewed during an investigation who can be convicted for obstruction and then required to register on the national sex-offender registry,” Cook said.

Those who obstruct in such a case could very well be the victims of sex trafficking as well as a congressional oversight in drafting SORNA, Cook said.

“A major issue that hasn’t been addressed by Congress is whether individuals who are convicted of Section 1591(d) obstruction also have to register as sex offenders,” she said.

Cook, who identified the issue, is researching and writing about why this provision was added and how it conflicts with the legislative intent behind SORNA and the federal sex-trafficking statute.

Under Cook’s direction, Hoyer said she is going to be bringing her paper and this issue to the attention of Congress.

“I am not sure if I’ll be testifying in front of Congress,” Hoyer said. “This whole thing is still in the planning stages, so the first things I will be doing are calling the Department of Justice, and figuring out which legislators would be the most receptive to the changes Professor Cook and I think need to be made to (the law) and delivering Professor Cook’s article to their offices.”

In 2015, Hoyer worked on the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office helping prosecutors organize and develop cases stemming from more than 11,000 untested sexual-assault kits discovered in a storage warehouse.

Hoyer also has served as a student lawyer with Wayne Law’s Disability Law Clinic.

“Basically, I’ve been making the most of the time I have in law school by exploring all of the areas of law that I’m interested in, and I’ve been lucky to run into a lot of different opportunities to do just that,” Hoyer said. “All of the things that I’m interested in have one connection – I’m fundamentally concerned with justice and human rights.”

Labor law and sex-trafficking law aren’t as unrelated as they may appear, she said.

“They have the common purpose of protecting the rights of people who face exploitation for monetary gain,” Hoyer said. “I chose law school because I want to help people with real-world issues – primarily those that result from marginalization based on race, class, gender and the like, but I also want to learn about what creates those disparities in the first place. I also like a good intellectual challenge, and law school has definitely given me a run for my money.

“I want to pursue a career in legal scholarship. Ideally, I’d like to get into a more research- and writing-based job, maybe as a judicial clerk or a research attorney where I’d have the opportunity to explore a lot of different issues from an academic perspective.”