The Catholic University of America

CUA Law Professor Mary Leary was profiled by The Arlington Catholic Herald for her work to stop online sex trafficking in a January 31, 2018 article entitled "CUA professor works to stop online sex trafficking" 

CUA professor works to stop online sex trafficking

From: The Arlington Catholic Herald
By: Zoey Maraist
Date: January 31, 2018

In the fledgling days of the internet, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 of that law was intended to provide limited protection for internet companies when a third party posted content to their website. 

Since then, courts have interpreted Section 230 to provide absolute immunity for websites — even when they are engaged in illegal activity. Now, courts, local prosecutors and advocates for victims of human trafficking have come to view Section 230 as a law that allows internet companies to benefit financially from trafficking, and leaves no legal recourse for victims.

“We have a 1996 law being used to address a 21st century problem,” said Mary Graw Leary, a professor at The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law in Washington. “It was passed before we knew what the internet would be, and what sex trafficking would be, and before we knew what a harmful combination they would be together.”

Leary has spent much of her law career fighting against the abuse and exploitation of society’s most vulnerable. She and many victims groups are advocating for a bill that would amend the Communications Decency Act. But she fears lobbying from technology companies may result in an even worse law being passed.

Protecting women and children

Leary, who lives in Alexandria, grew up in Massachusetts and was raised in a Catholic family.

At her Catholic high school, she learned about the church's social justice teachings, which have inspired her throughout her life. “(We were) encouraged to develop a moral conscience (and) embrace our obligations as Christians,” she said.

After finishing her undergraduate degree at Georgetown University in Washington, Leary spent a year serving homeless children at Covenant House in New Orleans to better understand the people she would be working with as a lawyer. She realized that while both the offender and victim have dignity and deserve representation, she felt called to work for the latter. “The victims really have no one to speak for them,” she said.

Leary returned to Georgetown for law school and went on to work as a prosecutor in Cambridge, Mass., Philadelphia and Washington. The jobs, which focused on victims of sexual assault and family violence, were difficult and inspiring.

Acts such as those “tear at the American family. You can survive but they stay with you,” she said. “(But) then you see tremendous examples of strength and grace in the victims and in those who’ve helped them.”

As she had hoped, the work allowed her to make a difference in the lives of marginalized children. Oftentimes, “when you’re doing a child abuse case, all the adults in (the child’s) life — the people who are supposed to protect them — haven’t, and often are harming them,” she said. “It’s very gratifying (to see) justice is being done for that child, but you also see the child, for the first time in their life, has reason to trust adults. It can change the course of their life.”

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Click here to read the full article.


Mary G. Leary   

Professor Mary G. Leary's
Areas of Expertise

Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Technology

Exploitation of children and women

Human Trafficking

For additional information about our professors' areas of speciality, see the Catholic University Experts page.