Taking a stand: Ann Richards students participate in CSEC discussion forum


Sammie Seamon, Our Voices Editor

Story Dornsife (10) and Bunmi Oni (10) speak as the MC’s at the CSEC discussion forum, hosted by Wendy Davis. Oni also wrote a spoken word piece performed later on in the program, uniquely showing both the victim and the perpetrator’s point of views.  

On November 30th, sophomores from  Ann Richards helped guide a forum discussion at the Alamo Drafthouse concerning the topic of CSEC, or the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

The goal of the forum was to discuss potential solutions to the problem of CSEC, such as lessening the demand of it, and ultimately stopping the enormous inflow of profit traffickers make off of selling children for sexual purposes. Every year, CSEC profits make up 60% of total profit from human trafficking, although it is only a small percentage of the different types of trafficking.

The sophomore class has been learning about CSEC in their STARS class, based on a curriculum designed by the organization NEST, and clips from the documentary Playground, directed by Libby Spears, the executive director of NEST. NEST’s goal is that through the lessons, the younger generation will feel better equipped to help end the problem and protect themselves and others.

“The idea is to empower youth to know more about the issue. I mean you guys are the ones who are going to be the next leaders, the next policy makers, you guys are the future and we are the past,” Spears said. “It’s a danger for it to become normalized, and so it’s important that we understand that this is an issue that we need to address, because it’s a growing problem.”

The forum allowed the girls to be part of the solution by speaking with experts on CSEC in the Austin area about potential ways to lessen and stop the problem. Now armed with information learned in class, the students were able to step out of the classroom to speak about it in a more formal environment.

“Well, if you stay in the classroom, learning it is pointless. Not using the information you now have to help people who are being hurt defeats the purpose of the education in itself,” sophomore forum speaker Allegra Green said.

As a more immediate issue, it was important for the students to be aware of the initial stages of CSEC and how to help someone else they have noticed might be a victim of CSEC. The students learned about the different stages of grooming, or when the victim is initially lured into the trafficking industry.

“A secondary but really important reason is that I don’t want you to fall victim to it, so the more you know about seeing the signs of someone trying to groom… you know, being as educated as you can, you’re not going to fall victim to it. So it’s about keeping yourself safe, advocating for others and keeping them safe,” 10th grade STARS teacher Jill DiCuffa said.

Through making the documentary, Spears hopes to “lift the taboo” of talking about CSEC, and educate younger generations on the topic while letting the victim’s stories be told.

“I felt honored that these girls trusted me to tell me their stories and to let me film… so I felt responsibility to tell their stories truthfully and to make sure that people heard their stories,” Spears said. “You know, a lot of times I feel like I couldn’t have survived what some of these girls survived, so they are really strong, and really smart and resilient. So there were times where it was hard but I felt inspired a lot, inspired by the girls who could get out of it and recover because you know it’s a lot of work and dedication.”

Solutions listed on the sophomore class’s discussion board include opening discussions, stopping “Johns,” or people who purchase the sex, where trafficking is prevalent, and volunteering at services that assist CSEC survivors. Such services include rehabilitation centers and nonprofit organizations like NEST, Rights4Girls and SafePlace.

“Services are important, because whether it’s sexual exploitation or trafficking they need various forms of rehabilitation. You can’t just take somebody out of a situation of repeated sexual abuse and expect them to function normally in the world,” Spears said.

As the next generation with the task of solving these problems, the students were very willing to help make the forum successful and used the opportunity they had to participate in front of both experts, teachers, and the general public.

“You are the future decision makers and policy makers and the ones who are going to make a difference in this world, and the more education you have the more information you have the more good you can do,” DiCuffa said.