New CEO aims to step up fight against sexual exploitation

Nov 25, 2021
Activists in Berlin take part in a "Walk for Freedom" to protest human trafficking in 2018. Caritas Internationalis issued a statement July 28, 2020, that said insufficient attention "was paid on the collateral damage of the ongoing pandemic, especially on migrants and informal workers, who are now more exposed to trafficking and exploitation." (CNS photo/Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Dawn Hawkins started 12 years ago as a volunteer at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, it was a fairly modest organization with just seven employees and operating under the name under which it was founded 68 years ago—Morality in Media.

Now, the center's staff has quintupled in size to 35, and Hawkins, following the past 10 years as the organization's executive director, has been named its CEO.

"We have been able to hold a lot of companies accountable for partnership with the exploitation industry," said the Denver-born Hawkins in a Nov. 19 phone interview with Catholic News Service, while she was enjoying a bit of light snow outside in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

"We've gotten hotel chains to stop carrying pornography, the military to stop selling pornography in their base exchange stores and, most recently in the past 18 months, we've been really successful to stop processing payments for Pornhub," she said. "And Mastercard and American Express extended their policies to all pornography."

One part of the center's success stems from "reframing pornography as a health hazard," Hawkins said. Another part: "We have rolled out a law center."

"No other organization has an embedded law firm within the organization, and we're filing lawsuits," she said.

"We've filed lawsuits against 18 kingpins," Pornhub among them, and Twitter "for sex trafficking two minor boys," she said. "And the state of Nevada for prostitution laws which has just exploded sex trafficking in the state."

Hawkins added, for good measure, "It's the first time a lawsuit has made it past a motion to dismiss against Twitter -- on anything."

Hawkins succeeds Patrick Trueman, who remains with the center as president. She gave him much credit for the look of the organization today. "In the beginning, he has been very adamant in putting out younger voices on issues. And I think that was brilliant. Scary for me, but I think it's made a big difference."

Trueman has been "incredible in his support to me, and he's helping me with strategic planning and development. We've tripled in size in the past two years," she said. "I can't let him go yet!"

Simply making women the face of anti-porn efforts is not some kind of magic elixir, she said. "Often times, when men step up in the exploitation industry and they say 'no more,' it really does something to other men to hear that message. ... And when parents speak up, that really makes a difference."

Hawkins told CNS, "We expanded in the past couple of years, after I joined NCOSE (pronounced n-cozy). This isn't just about pornography. The issues of abuse and exploitation are connected, and we have to all go after all of them if we want to stop them. I think a lot of people think of us as a porn group because of our 68-year history."

Known primarily for its annual "Dirty Dozen" list of companies that enable porn and sexual exploitation to flourish, NCOSE's recent successes have resulted in a unique challenge.

"The pro-porno, pro prostitution, pro-exploitation lobby has realized that we are a force that is winning against them, and they're organizing now in ways they never did before. They're hiring lobbyists and PR firms, and they're spreading lies, not only about us," Hawkins said, "but about what the research says."

She hopes it is too late for porn proponents to change minds.

"The online pornography industry is changed forever, largely because of NCOSE," Hawkins said.

"They're saying now it's going to hurt minority groups, LGBT or racial minorities," she said of industry critics of NCOSE's efforts. "The reality couldn't be further from the truth. The exploitation industry is disproportionately abusing minorities. We continue to see these lies spreading going forth," Hawkins said.

"In the last year, we've filed eight lawsuits and assisted with more than a dozen others against the big profiteers of sexual exploitation. It's been groundbreaking. It's a sign of where many things need to happen. The research is there, the lawsuits are there, the survivors are there. It's monumental that these lawsuits are moving in the courts."

NCOSE, Hawkins said, also is "the one reason full (prostitution) decriminalization by pimping and brothel keeping has not swept our nation. We have been able keep them from passing (these laws) everywhere.

"Instead, we've been able to pass some laws in the past year, with increased accountability for sex buyers. If there were no sex buyers, there'd be no trafficking."


By Mark Pattison | Catholic News Service


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