Interview article by M. Dante originally for SWOP-Philly, and Union Lip Service (ULS).


In effort to better understand how the new human trafficking legislation reviewed and implemented between 2012-2014 impacts Pennsylvania sex workers including escorts / prostitutes, dancers and massage parlor employees, M. DANTE caught up with SHEA RHODES of the new Villa Nova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Philadelphia.

Ms. Rhodes – amongst many professional platforms – is part of the Philadelphia Anti Trafficking Coalition (PATC), and the Pennsylvania Alliance Against Trafficking in Humans (PAATH) promoted in the hyperlink on popular media such as Facebook.

Dedicated to fighting sexual violence in the form of commercial exploitation, Shea supports CEASE / Demand Abolition. CEASE – Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation –  is a U.S. based non-profit organization  out of Massachusetts, dedicated to eradicating commercial sexual exchange, and is funded by oil heiress Swanee Hunt. CEASE is stylized after the 1999 Kvinnofrid Law, most easily understood in popular mainstream press as the Nordic Model . The Nordic Model finds all forms of female prostitution to be an act of violent exploitation, and currently arrests sex-buyers (who those who oppose  consensual adult sex work (CASW) define as “johns”) in an effort to put sex workers out of business by – theoretically – “ending demand”. The U.S. effort towards implementing the Nordic Model  relies heavily on interdisciplinary penal and social services for mainstream societal re/habilitation based on the Massachusetts Interagency Human Trafficking Task Force Policy of 2013.

As clarified in the CSE Mission: [The CSE Team] educate[s] and provide[s] technical assistance to those who respond to commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania, promoting victim-centered, multidisciplinary collaboration. [They] equip policy-makers and the broader community with the knowledge they need to improve the Pennsylvania legal system’s response to commercial sexual exploitation, in order to support survivors and hold perpetrators accountable.

SWOP-USA / SWOP-Philly in alliance with The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), and the Erotic Service Providers Union (ESPU)  opposes the Nordic model, favoring the sex workers’ rights centered New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act (PRA 2003). We support the collective styles of both the New Zealand model, and the 65,000 member strong Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, where the government acknowledged sex work collective has created their own community support systems, even starting their own micro-banking system. New Zealand – despite abolitionist argument on the PRA decision – is now Tier 1 TVPA compliant.

Globally, sex worker advocates – such as Canadian Triple X – oppose the  Nordic model because of hurtful hidden language in the laws. Here in the United States, California’s Maxine Doogan of ESPU/ESPLERP agrees, and stands in alliance supporting the AI call for DECRM in the style of the NZ model. Ms. Doogan currently leads the nation with precedent challenge ESPLERP v GASCON.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the current prostitution laws are extreme, involving more severe penalties than many other states. In a recent Philly dot com article by  hot trafficking topic interviewee Ms. Rhodes and her professional peers,  it is noted, “Pennsylvania ranks among the top 10 states for harshest penalties for a first or nongraded offense of prostitution, and is one of three states with the harshest maximum penalties. Even with the changes in the law last year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 133 women have been incarcerated in state prison for prostitution – 33 of them from Philadelphia”.

Also – Philadelphia has one of the most violent Bad Date Alerts (BDA) in the nation, showing trends in serial violence – especially in the Kensington section of Northeast Philadelphia – demanding strong community alliances regardless of philosophical differences.

Especially since the 2012 state legislative shift defining prostitution as sex trafficking to combat sex/labor/human trafficking, the need to communicate sex worker perspectives is essential, necessitating formerly polarized sides of this discussion try meeting  to discuss impact issues.

Ms. Rhodes – whose comprehensive bio is available at the end of this discussion – has been gracious enough taken time to share her views with us, and hopefully consider our views for future discussion.


M. Dante: Sex worker advocates in Greater Philadelphia – along with national and international human rights affiliates – are confused and concerned by the fact that all commercial sex work is basically being defined as sex trafficking. This discussion is to clarify the new organizations and alliances that currently exist to combat trafficking, and to attempt to start dialog regarding sex worker inclusion in the – authentic – anti-trafficking discourse. Without our inclusion, we risk being identified as both sex trafficking victims who are not able to access trafficking services, and also as actual traffickers.

Ms. Rhodes : PATC is a collaboration of organizations that have come together to work on the common goal of combatting human trafficking (which includes both labor trafficking and sex trafficking). Although most people who attend these meetings represent their respective employer agencies, some do attend in their individual capacity. The organizations that participate in the coalition all have their own specific missions and work under the leadership of those organizations. In effect, every member who is there representing their agency – has a “day job”. For instance, Covenant House, Dawn’s Place and the Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking Program provide direct services to victims of human trafficking. PATC comes together every other month in order to share what our respective agencies are working on with respect to Human Trafficking. We also work together on some projects. The CSE Institute at Villanova Law School provides policy education, training, legal research, technical assistance and data collection.

One of the things that member organizations of PATC work together on are on policy issues, but each agency has their own respective agency approval. Most of the time, we have the same messaging. The CSE Institute advocates that prostituted persons should be decriminalized and those that purchase sex (the Johns) should be arrested and prosecuted. We have recently published a paper called “Why Focusing on Demand for Commercial Sex is an Effective Means to Deter Commercial Sexual Exploitation”.

Although I respect that your position on this issue is probably the opposite of mine, we can agree to disagree. This does not mean that we disagree on all aspects of combatting sex trafficking as it relates to children, police investigations and legal remedies for those who have been trafficked.

PAATH stands for Pennsylvania Alliance Against Trafficking in Humans. PAATH is a collaboration of nonprofit and non-governmental anti-human trafficking organizations working together in order to ensure that Pennsylvania’s new comprehensive Anti-Human Trafficking legislation – Act 105 – is implemented throughout the Commonwealth.

M. Dante: After researching this a step further, I found out PAATH is based on what is called The Massachusetts Model, an interdisciplinary task force initiative passed in 2013 linked in the intro to this discussion.

Consensual Adult Sex Workers (CASW) may want to be aware of how prostitution is referenced in context of the Nordic Model in the sense that child trafficking, consensual adult prostitution and organ trafficking are all referenced as one category in the same paragraph: “… Specific to the crimes, the legislation established new state crimes of human trafficking for sexual servitude and forced labor, enticement of a child by means of electronic communication and organ trafficking. Each crime included penalties, along with heightened prison terms if the victim is under 18 years old. Additionally, the legislation increased penalties for solicitation of a prostitute and engaging in sex for a fee.”

Ms. Rhodes: Act 105 is already the law – and it has been in effect since September 2, 2014. Unfortunately, during the legislative process, the fiscal note was cut from the bill. All efforts to implement this legislation must be done without any one agency receiving funding specifically for this purpose. This legislation contains a number of important tools and resources for prosecutors, law enforcement, victims, victim service providers, and community coalitions.

[Though Act 105 is not currently funded] I have – in my capacity of Director of the CSE Institute – been working on a piece of pending legislation – Senate Bill 851.

M.Dante adds: SB 851 is a PA State (as opposed to federal) Title 18 Code, basically defined as: “… providing for special relief to restore victim’s dignity and autonomy; adding provisions relating to safe harbor for sexually exploited children by imposing duties on law enforcement officers and the Department of Human Services and establishing the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund;…”

Ms. Rhodes : [Anyone interested in policy and legislative discussion on trafficking] can sign up on the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s webpage for notifications pertaining to specific legislation.Also, [t]he CSE Institute also has a website that you can choose to look at anytime you want to.

M.Dante: Great. Will do. We’ve got it hyperlinked at the top of the article, and tagged in the keywords. Thanks very much for your time, Shea. I look forward to finding way to bridge the divides that prevent services from being directed to all those impacted by both actual trafficking, and also new trafficking laws and legislation that are still experimental in their implementation.

Note: After a recent church discussion in Levittown on survival sex, sex work and sex trafficking, SWOP-Philly was asked to compare and contrast Villa Nova’s Institute on Commercial Sexual Exploitation philosophy,  and that of another well known human rights legal advocacy organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center. I contacted SPLC, finding out their view is much more in line with sex workers rights as human rights than what is currently  available here in PA:

“It is SPLC’s position that consensual sex work and forced commercial sex (sex trafficking) should not be conflated. SPLC is a member of the Freedom Network, which has very informative position papers on the subject.”

Perhaps VN CSE can learn something from SPLC …?

M. DANTE is federally defined as former victim of U.S. domestic minor sex trafficking as a result of being homeless as a teenager. She spent twenty + years as a migrant sex worker, utilizing the sex industry as a vehicle off the streets. She now identifies in support of  consensual adult sex work, along with empowerment focused exit strategies. 

Shame on You Villa Nova: Ms. Rhodes and new Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation  only champions for the people they personally define as “victim / survivor” for their own professional interests.

SHEA M. RHODES, Esquire has significant experience working with survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, prostitution, and human trafficking. Ms. Rhodes currently serves on the Board of Directors for Dawn’s Place, the Greater Philadelphia region’s only residential treatment facility for women who are victims of sex trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation. She sits on the Oversight Committee for the First Judicial District Project Dawn Court and is an active member of Philadelphia’s Anti-Trafficking Coalition and the Pennsylvania Anti-Human Trafficking Advocacy Work Group (a statewide initiative of Pennsylvania’s community-based anti-trafficking coalitions and state and national partner organizations, dedicated to improving law and public policy regarding trafficking in the Commonwealth). Presently, Ms. Rhodes is working closely with and advising the First Judicial District Juvenile Court during the pilot program of a new court to help trafficked children.

Ms. Rhodes served as an Assistant District Attorney for the City of Philadelphia, from 2003-2012. While assigned to the Pretrial Division in the District Attorney’s Office during 2010-2012, she (along with partners in the criminal justice system including the court, public defender and probation department) developed and administered the First Judicial District’s Project Dawn Court – a diversion program for women who have been repeatedly charged and convicted of the crime of prostitution, the primary mode of sex trafficking. She also developed and led a Law Enforcement Working Group consisting of various local, state and federal law enforcement agencies working in collaboration to investigate and prosecute allegations of Human Trafficking in Philadelphia.

While working as an Assistant District Attorney, Ms. Rhodes was assigned to the Pretrial Division, Major Trials Division, Municipal Court, Juvenile Court, and Felony Waivers Divisions of the office. Prior to joining the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, Ms. Rhodes served as a staff attorney for the  leading the program’s workshop on human trafficking, teaching children to be aware of the predatory nature of traffickers for their own safety. Ms. Rhodes has also designed and delivered Continuing Legal Education seminars on human trafficking throughout eastern Pennsylvania; developed trainings on human trafficking for middle and high school students; trained the Philadelphia Judiciary; and given seminars to various police departments and officers, including the Philadelphia School Police and SEPTA.

Ms. Rhodes’ work related to human trafficking, sexual violence, and child protection has also been recognized. In 2003, she was honored with a Distinguished Advocate Award from the Support Center for Child Advocates. She was also awarded the Unsung Heroine Award in 2013 from WOMEN’S WAY for her work on human trafficking. Most recently, she was awarded the for her work in helping trafficking survivors in Juvenile Court.

Ms. Rhodes is a graduate of Villanova Law School and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas. She is the Owner and Principal Attorney of the Law Offices of Shea M. Rhodes, LLC, specializing in working with survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Prostitution, and Human Trafficking on criminal, adjudicatory and child dependency matters, with a practice area in the Greater Philadelphia region.