On October 19, 2022, WCW hosted “Searching for Truth: Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation,” a virtual Social Change Dialogue about one woman’s journey to investigate her history as a child sex trafficking survivor, with the help of a journalist.
Panelists included WCW Visiting Scholar Kate Price, Ph.D., Boston Globe Reporter Janelle Nanos, M.A., and WCW Senior Research Scientist Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., who serves as director of WCW’s Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative. The conversation was moderated by WCW Executive Director Layli Maparyan, Ph.D.
A decade ago, Price and Nanos began working together to investigate Price’s history as a child sex trafficking survivor. The culmination of their partnership, a multi-media article in the Boston Globe Magazine, was published in July 2022. Nanos and Price discussed their project and how they unearthed pieces of Price’s history.
I don't think we could have done this story a decade ago
“I don't think we could have done this story a decade ago,” said Nanos, who mentioned the #MeToo movement and the trial of former Pennsylvania State University football coach Jerry Sandusky as cultural shifts that made sources more open to speaking about issues of child sexual abuse. “That really helped us make inroads and afforded people the opportunity to understand that this was not something that was unique to Kate—this was something that was endemic in some ways and that we really have to identify and to talk about.”
Price and Williams also shared their research and expertise on child sexual abuse cases and talked about how Price’s personal experience connects to broader research findings.
Williams spoke about her recent study funded by the National Institute of Justice, which led to a white paper titled Prosecution of Child Sexual Abuse: Challenges in Achieving Justice. The study analyzed 500 child sexual abuse reports, finding that over half of cases stalled at the investigation stage, fewer than 25% moved forward to any kind of prosecution, and only 14% resulted in some determination of guilt.
“In short, prosecution is really difficult,” said Williams. “It requires prosecutors to overcome the evidentiary barriers, because where's the physical evidence? You're searching for it in a garage that doesn't exist anymore. Or a child is unable to explain the date and time that this happened. And so prosecutors have to overcome that.”
Price talked about her own research, as well, which found that states that have more people living in concentrated disadvantage—based on factors like percentage of people living in poverty, percentage of female-headed households, percentage of people on public assistance, percentage of people unemployed, percentage of households with children, and percentage of children in a state—are significantly less likely to pass legislation that protects children from being arrested and/or prosecuted for prostitution.
“Put simply, states with more kids who are at risk for being trafficked are actually significantly less likely to protect them,” said Price.
The panel concluded with a discussion of how society can better support healing and justice for survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Though there is much work to be done, there is reason to hope.
“Each of your comments has shown the importance of research, journalism, personal testimony, and activism working together in synergy to make change in society,” said Maparyan. “We know that when those things converge, it amplifies change and really moves the needle.”
October 19, 2022