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Help Gain Justice for Survivor Bekah Charleston! Stop Sexual Exploitation Now!

Bekah Charleston is a survivor.

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The youngest of six children, she grew up in a loving home in Keller, Texas. Her parents have been married for 57 years. As a little girl, Bekah loved soccer, school, and cheerleading, and looked forward to going to church every week with her family.

But it took just one horrible event to turn her idyllic childhood into a living nightmare.

At just 14 years old, Bekah was raped, shattering her innocence and her life. Feeling immense shame and fear, she refused to tell anyone, including her loving family, about what happened. Like many survivors of sexual assault, she blamed herself for the crime that was committed against her.

Alone and afraid, she turned to drugs and acting out in various ways to cope with the trauma from what she had experienced. Three years later, at the age of 17, she ran away from her family and loving home, exchanging that secure environment for the harsh life of a new home on the streets.

It was there where she thought she met her rescuer — her “knight in shining armor.”

Her “knight” was an aspiring magician in his twenties. At least that was the story he told Bekah. He promised to take care of her. Being young, vulnerable, and afraid, Bekah fell for all his lies.

First, he became her boyfriend. Then, he started to incrementally establish absolute control over every aspect of her life. Bekah moved in with him and was quickly introduced to a vicious cycle of copious drug consumption, including hallucinogens, which turned her life into a confused blur.

The drug use was followed by punching, kicking, and beatings. Sadly, as is similar with many victims of abuse, Bekah felt he loved her. Instead, he only saw her as a product to be sold, bought, and consumed.

Her rescuer, her “knight in shining armor” was, in reality, a trafficker who took her across state lines to Nevada, where the state’s practice of legalized prostitution allows sex trafficking to be openly practiced, resulting in Bekah’s abuse escalating even further. Her trafficker then moved her to Las Vegas, placing her in one of Nevada’s most “famous” legal brothels where she was held as a virtual captive. Bekah was not allowed to turn down any sex buyer for fear of being kicked out and beaten by her trafficker who also received all the money she was paid for providing sex.

For ten years, Bekah endured this sexual servitude until her real rescuers came in the form of a church, along with federal authorities, who helped Bekah escape her living nightmare. While   now free from her forced imprisonment, she remained terrified of her trafficker who still threatened to kill her.

Although Bekah will struggle with a lifetime of triggers and emotional scars from the complex trauma, indescribable violence, and sexual abuse she endured, she is a woman of great courage. She now leads national efforts to prevent other young women from experiencing the very type of exploitation she suffered as well as helping women escape these abusive situations.

With the backing of the NCOSE Law Center, Bekah is going to court and asking that the state of Nevada be held accountable under the law. The NCOSE Law Center filed a suit on her behalf and one other survivor to sue Nevada for creating, promoting, and advertising the environment that made her abuse possible — an environment that made the state not only a magnet for trafficked women but also a jackpot for those who profit from sexual exploitation. Bekah says in a powerful video:

Forty-eight years ago, prostitution was legalized in Nevada. It was a social experiment. That experiment has failed. Women and children have paid the price. Nevada has the largest sex trade (illegal and legal) of any state in the country. Sixty-three percent higher than the next highest state. Nevada ranks in the top 10 for trafficked and exploited youth. It’s time to end prostitution and trafficking in Nevada.

NCOSE could not agree more. Just like you, we cannot hear stories like Bekah’s and do nothing. We must stop this gross abuse and exploitation of vulnerable young women like her. It is her story, and the tragic stories of all the women who have been trafficked and exploited in the Silver State, that led NCOSE to name Nevada to our annual Dirty Dozen List last year.

These stories also shed light on the patterns and realities of human trafficking and show why we must act now to stop more tragedies before they occur.

That is why I am writing you today. Will you join with the NCOSE Law Center to hold the state of Nevada accountable and protect innocent young women from the horrors of the state’s sanctioned sex trafficking?

But if we are to be successful in stopping the exploitation of young women like Bekah, and all the others who have fallen or could fall prey to being sex trafficked, we need the necessary resources to file these lawsuits and win. Those resources are your generosity, passion, and partnership. Equipped with these resources, we are confident that we can defeat the powerful forces the commercial sex industry, including Nevada’s legal brothel system, with its deep pockets and long-held traditions, has its disposal.

Bekah’s story also serves to highlight another key part of this exploitation — one that is often overlooked by the media and others concerned with human trafficking — the intersection of trafficking and prostitution.

The simple answer to stopping trafficking is this: without the men looking to buy women in prostitution (the demand), there would not be a need for traffickers to supply victims.

We are at a critical time. Occasionally, we are faced with landmark opportunities that have the potential to change the world. This is one of them.

We can strike at the heart of so much needless sexual exploitation and suffering by making an aggressive strike against one of the hotbeds of this endless and tragic sexual demand. Nevada’s sex tourism industry has created an unquenchable demand, one that requires more and younger women each year to satisfy the ravenous hunger of commercial sex buyers. Many young women, like Bekah and the other plaintiff in this case, have been or are being brought across Nevada state line against their will, all to satisfy this demand.

©National Center for Sexual Exploitation. All rights reserved.

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Law Center Files First Ever Anti-Trafficking Lawsuit Against Pornography Producers on Behalf of Survivor

How Cissy Steele Groomed Jane Doe

Cissy Steele was using the internet to disguise herself as a talent agent from Royal Loyalty Management who was looking for models and actresses when she came across Jane Doe (not her real name). Steele then proceeded to prey upon Jane Doe by intentionally cultivating a sense of trust and building a false relationship. Steele reached out to Jane Doe online and offered her lucrative acting and modeling opportunities. After communicating, Steele convinced Jane Doe to take a modeling opportunity with the promise of making Doe into a successful model and actress. Steele manipulated Doe to go a step further and move into Steele’s home with the reassurance that this move would benefit Doe’s supposed new career.

Online Grooming Turns Into Sex Trafficking Situation

Once Jane Doe was ensconced in Steele’s house, Steele furthered her deception of Doe by setting up several faux modeling photoshoots. After a few months, Steele began verbally degrading Doe and telling Doe that the only way she had a chance at becoming a lucrative actress or model was through pornographic “acting.” When Jane Doe resisted this pressure, Steele began using psychological manipulation, direct coercion, intimidation, threats, and physical violence against Doe including threatening to kill Doe’s dog and harm her family. In the end Steele managed to effectively imprison Jane Doe and coerce her into commercial sex acts with men at various hotels in several states. All the money made from Jane Doe’s sexual exploitation was immediately pocketed by Steele.

From there, Steele also trafficked Jane Doe to multiple pornography production companies in California and Nevada including Diabolic Video Productions, Black Ice Ltd., Zero Tolerance Entertainment, Third Degree Films, and Elegant Angel, Inc.  All of the pornography producers directly paid Steele for Jane Doe’s participation in the videos despite clear signs that Doe was being trafficked.

Pornography Production Companies Complicit in Crime

The pornography production companies distributed the videos of Jane Doe to a multitude of internet pornography providers. As a result, the online porn providers illegally profited from the sex trafficking of Jane Doe through advertisements on their websites as well as through viewers’ subscription fees.

Eventually, with the help of a friend, Jane Doe escaped from Cissy Steele’s home and control and began a new life. Despite Jane Doe’s many efforts to have the videos taken down, her videos remain on several online sites to this day.

Legal Argument Filed on Behalf of Jane Doe

Cissy Steele, the pornography production studios, and the internet pornography websites violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) which prohibits anyone from knowingly using force, fraud, and coercion to entrap victims into commercial sex acts and profiting off of their exploitation.

Accordingly, Jane Doe has now sued Cissy Steele, the pornography production companies, and the online pornography providers which continue to show and sell videos of her sexual abuse and exploitation against her will. The case, filed on September 24, 2020, is in federal district court in San Diego.

As horrific as this case is, it is not an anomaly. Countless Jane Does are trafficked and exploited by the pornography production industry and internet pornography providers. Jane Doe repeatedly attempted to have her sex trafficking videos removed to no avail and there are websites that continue to profit off of her sexual abuse and exploitation to this day. The same is the case for myriad survivors who find their sexual abuse images and videos on internet pornography websites and are afflicted with the paralysis of not being able to remove the degrading and re-traumatizing content. As long as someone is willing to pay for this content, pornography production companies and internet pornography providers have proven more than willing to provide it—no matter how violent, dangerous, and degrading the content may be.

Jane Doe is Not the Only Victim

Take the case of Mia Khalifa as another example.

In 2015, Mia Khalifa mistakenly signed a contract with a pornography production studio and resigned after two weeks. The contract she signed gave the company control over the websites and domains that contained her stage name. Although Khalifa has been out of the pornography business for over five years, the pornography production company is still promoting her videos and creating an illusion that she is still engaged in the commercial sex industry even though she has worked hard to have her videos removed from pornography sites. This reality has made it difficult for Khalifa to find employment in other fields, which only furthers the reach and extent of the exploitation.

Like many others, Khalifa’s attempts to remove her videos have been met by indifference from the pornography companies. “Pornography companies prey on callow young women and trap them legally into contracts where they’re vulnerable,” Khalifa noted in comments published by The Guardian. She also stated that during every filmed scene she would black out, yet no one on the set seemed to notice or offer any assistance: “The abuse and exploitation of young women is normalized in pornography, and if you don’t comply, you’re threatened, beaten, and intimidated.”

Pornography Producers Are Sexual Exploiters

Whether or not there is a contract in place, the sexual exploitation and abuse that comes from pornography production studios and internet pornography providers is degrading, traumatizing, and crippling. These abusive companies know they are profiting off of the sexual exploitation of women who have been beaten down, manipulated, often drugged, and are in no condition to acquiesce to such exploitation. The pornography industry’s lack of regulation hinders many survivors from fully healing, as they are continuously haunted by the existence of videos of their abuse living on in the Internet.

The Hope Jane Doe v. Cissy Steele Gives

The Cissy Steel lawsuit is the first federal lawsuit against a pornography producer and online pornography website for federal anti-trafficking violations. We hope this lawsuit and many others like it will hold pornography producers and internet pornography providers accountable for the damage, abuse, and exploitation of the untold numbers of women and children trafficked in the pornography industry.

Read NCOSE Law’s Amended Complaint here.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center offers survivors of pornography-related abuse a way to seek justice. More information can be found at: https://sexualexploitationlawsuits.com/.

COLUMN BY

Madison Van Oss

LEGAL ASSISTANT
Madison is the Legal Assistant for the Law Center at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Madison supports the Law Center and its quest to bring justice to survivors of the sex trade industry through civil and criminal litigation. Madison brings with her a master’s degree in Homeland Security, several years of professional experience in the corporate world, as well as strong desire to protect and defend individuals against sexual abuse and exploitation.

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EDITORS NOTE: This NCOSE column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

Ghislaine Maxwell’s Arrest is a Step Toward Justice for Survivors of Epstein’s Abuse

Ever since Jeffrey Epstein’s untimely and unjust death in August 2019, survivors, advocates, and many others have been asking an important question regarding those who participated in the sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated by Epstein:

Will justice be served?

Due to Epstein’s connections with a vast web of wealthy and influential individuals, many have worried that those involved in suspected crimes would not be pursued after his death.

We are glad to see that justice is still being pursued.

Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s confidante and accomplice, was arrested on Thursday, July 2, 2020. Since she was directly involved in Epstein’s affairs, this is an important development for survivors and seems to indicate that justice may yet be served to the individuals involved in these abuses despite Epstein’s death.

What Filthy Rich Got Right, Wrong About Jeffrey Epstein and His Crimes

Recently, the Netflix documentary Filthy Rich rocketed to the top of Netflix’s charts. We anticipated this with great excitement due to the fact that, although they did not get their day in court with Epstein himself, survivors would be able to share their stories and speak publicly.

The documentary portrayed and reinforced several important points: the wealth of evidence of Epstein’s trafficking and rape crimes, the fact that many men with financial means perpetrate and get away with a lot of sex crimes, and the failure of systems that should have prevented these crimes and punished perpetrators. Importantly, victim-survivors were given a platform to speak out and share their stories.

However, Filthy Rich missed some important pieces as well. Not all offenders of sexual crimes and abuse are prominent or wealthy. Nude images of victims, likely young girls, were shown in the film. The stories shared by victim-survivors included prurient details of their abuse and exploitation and, by doing so, they may have been re-traumatized by those trying to help them tell their story.

Despite its shortcomings, however, the documentary made a meaningful attempt at centering survivor voices. When these realities are recounted from survivors’ perspectives, that is meaningful and empowering. Especially in cases where perpetrators were/are wealthy and have held outsized power in exploitative scenarios, it is necessary to make space for victims to be heard.

The Death of Jeffrey Epstein Was Not the End of the Story

While we must be survivor-centered, we also need to be offender-focused.

This means that, in order to support the survivors’ struggle for justice, we must call out all the collaborators. This includes those who participated in abuse, those who facilitated it, and the legal system that failed to act on the overwhelming evidence presented. Effectively combating sex trafficking means understanding and ending demand for commercial sex.

Filthy Rich made a foray into this territory by questioning the lack of action by prosecutors and examining the generous deal that Epstein received. However, in the end, it was an unsatisfactory exploration that fell short of meaningful investigation. Discovering that Epstein’s original deal included immunity even for unnamed collaborators made it seem as though the deal was designed by collaborators for collaborators—this thread must not go unfollowed.

Police, probation officers, corrections officers, the US Attorneys’ office, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, as well as participants, neighbors, observers, staff, and countless unnamed others permitted these abuses to happen again and again. It was a tragedy of failed systems of accountability. A change in the culture and systems that permitted this must include a deep examination of the myriad personal and systemic failures that have occurred.

Thankfully, we believe Filthy Rich was just a start. Over time, as more investigation uncovers the depth and breadth of Epstein’s web of exploitation, we believe that other perpetrators will have to face justice. Ghislaine Maxwell’s arrest reminds and gives us hope that justice is coming for victim-survivors.

“There are others who facilitated or participated in his web of sexual exploitation who must still be brought to justice,” said Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of NCOSE.

By arresting Maxwell and continuing to look into this case, some measure of justice can be recovered for survivors. We hope that the truth about predators who remain unidentified or shielded by power and influence will fully come to light and that restorative justice will come to fruition.

You can read Ghislaine Maxwell’s full indictment here.


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No, It’s Not Your 1st Amendment Right to ‘Talk Dirty’ to a Child by Dani Bianculli

Criminal laws must be updated to adapt to the new Internet community.

Like any other community the Internet is a place for business, relationships, dating and unfortunately criminal activity, including the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. This is why the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has filed an amicus brief for a court case in Georgia stating that it should not be legal to “talk dirty” to a child.

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on February 22ndregarding this First Amendment challenge to a Georgia statute criminalizing obscene Internet contact with a child. NCOSE believes that Georgia’s statute is necessary to protect children from harm because the First Amendment does not protect sexually exploitive speech to children. The person challenging the statute, states in his brief to the Court that he has a First Amendment right to “talk dirty to a child.” We at NCOSE, think absolutely not. This is not harmless chatting but rather child exploitation. And the most frightening aspect of this case is that a very similar statute in Texas[1] has already been struck down on First Amendment grounds led by the same defense attorney challenging the statute in this case.

The sad and scary reality is that child sexual abuse and exploitation has moved online. And due to the nature of the Internet the problem is only growing. A child predator has instant, anonymous access to children all over the country, and even the world. Meanwhile, young adolescents looking to make friends while both curious and naïve about sex are virtually all online, all the time.[2] And this is not on the family computer under the watchful eyes of mom and dad but on tablets and smartphones, which are carried around with the child everywhere they go.[3] This means those who would mean to harm these children can find them on social media platforms and chat rooms any time, anywhere, and children of these young ages tend to share too much information and actively seek out online friendships. Especially, those children who are most vulnerable to sexual abuse.

States have been trying to protect children from predators since the dawn of the Internet ageabuse moved online child but there is still much left unaddressed and technology has changed faster than laws have been updated. Most States have laws against online solicitation of minors. And most States have laws against exposing oneself to a minor in person or selling minors obscene or indecent materials. But what if an adult uses a webcam to expose himself/herself to minor online? Or what if he/she describes in graphic detail sexual encounters, or sexual acts he/she would like to perform on the child he/she is speaking to via online messaging? And even more disturbing, what if the adult instructs the child to touch themselves sexually, directing and commanding their movements? These are real examples of the activities which have been prosecuted under this Georgia statute. And without this statute such activity would considered legal. This activity does not fall under other statutes aimed at prohibiting child abuse and exploitation. But because these actions, which amount to cybersex, and sometimes even remote child molestation, are occurring via Internet chat there is a real possibility that it could be given a pass under the guise of First Amendment freedom.

This serious confusion over the First Amendment’s role in the Internet space could cause serious consequences for children who are being victimized and traumatized by predators online. And it would be completely inconsistent with First Amendment jurisprudence. The First Amendment does not protect child exploitation and has always restricted a minor’s access to material that is harmful to them. And the content of these communications meet the standard for material that is harmful to minors. But because harmful to minors laws do not encompass live online communications this statute is needed to cover this ground.

The Supreme Court of the United States has already held that material, such as magazines, books, pictures, or videos containing sexually explicit nudity or sex acts appealing to the prurient interest of a child may be restricted to children, even material that would not be obscene as to adults, without offending the First Amendment. In fact, the Supreme Court has placed the protection of children from sexual exploitation as the highest priority of the States and material that is harmful to them receives no First Amendment protection in its distribution to children. The Georgia state legislature used the same language that has been upheld in harmful to minors laws and merely applied these restrictions to live streaming video or instant message conversations online. Further, we argue that these online communications are even more harmful than obscene magazines or videos, and therefore the State has an even greater interest in protecting children, because it is not simply mass produced and available to children, but created for a specific targeted child by an adult. The exposure is intentional and crafted around that particular child’s vulnerabilities and inexperience with sexual matters.

Furthermore, freedom of speech does not protect criminal speech. For example, conspiracy, which amounts to criminal conversations, obscenity, and advertisements and solicitations for child pornography are all “speech” and yet completely excluded from First Amendment protection. Similarly, there is no reason why conversations or webcam video which would be rightfully restricted if printed in a book or contained on a DVD cannot be restricted merely because they occur in real-time through the medium of Internet communications. Such harmful material does not become transformed into political speech imbued with value simply because it takes place online.

And this statute is careful to prohibit only conversations between an adult and a child online which intentionally exploit and abuse a child. The statute requires belief by the adult that he/she is speaking to a child and the intention to sexually arouse either himself/herself or the child. Any doubt or concerns about overbreadth are dispelled in looking at the statute’s real world application. It reveals that what is in fact prohibited is the grooming of children for sexual abuse and/or exposing them to sexually explicit language and images. Such actions are harmful to children and inherently exploitive.

States must be able to extend the protections for children that already exist in the physical world to the realm of the Internet. And the State of Georgia has properly done so with this statute. This is why the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has written and filed an amicus brief to inform the Georgia Supreme Court on the exploitive nature of the content restricted in this statute, how such exposure to sexually explicit material is harmful to children, how the sexualization of children is harmful to them, and that such explicit conversations are a well recognized tool by researchers and law enforcement in the grooming of a child for further sexual abuse by child predators and should therefore receive no First Amendment protection.

Read the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Brief Here

END NOTES:

[1] See Ex Parte Lo, 424 S.W.3d 10, 24–25 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013).

[2] “Fully 95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online.” http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/teens-fact-sheet/

[3] Id. “Three-quarters (74%) of teens have accessed the internet through a mobile device such as a cell phone or tablet.  One-quarter of teens (25%) access the internet mostly on a cell phone.”

Dani Bianculli

Dani BianculliEXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE LAW CENTER

Dani Bianculli joined the NCOSE team as Director of the Law Center in August of 2015. Dani has a passion for human rights issues especially those affecting women and children. This passion is what led to her decision to attend law school. Dani received the Wilberforce Award, a full academic scholarship for those with human rights interests, to attend Regent University School of Law. While at Regent, Dani was in the Honors Program, a member of the Moot Court Board, the Journal of Global Justice and Public Policy, and the Student Bar Association. During her studies Dani interned with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Prior to law school Dani worked as a government relations intern for multiple DC policy organizations and graduated from the University of Central Florida with dual degrees in Psychology and Marketing.