New York Times: “For Runaways, Sex Buys Survival”

Those who speak about “choice” in prostitution should consider the choices faced by the young and homeless. The New York Times reports on 10/27/09:

For Runaways, Sex Buys Survival

…Most of the estimated 1.6 million children who run away each year return home within a week. But for those who do not, the desperate struggle to survive often means selling their bodies.

Nearly a third of the children who flee or are kicked out of their homes each year engage in sex for food, drugs or a place to stay, according to a variety of studies published in academic and public health journals. But this kind of dangerous barter system can quickly escalate into more formalized prostitution, when money changes hands. And then, child welfare workers and police officials say, it becomes extremely difficult to help runaways escape the streets. Many become more entangled in abusive relationships, and the law begins to view them more as teenage criminals than under-age victims…

“It’s definitely worsening,” said Sgt. Kelley O’Connell, a detective who until this year ran the Boston Police Department’s human-trafficking unit, echoing a sentiment conveyed in interviews with law enforcement officials from more than two dozen cities. “Gangs used to sell drugs,” she said. “Now many of them have shifted to selling girls because it’s just as lucrative but far less risky.”

…more than two dozen convicted and still incarcerated pimps described the complicated roles they played as father figure, landlord, boss and boyfriend to the girls who worked for them. They said they went after girls with low self-esteem, prior sexual experience and a lack of options…

Built of desperation and fear, the bonds [juveniles] form with their pimps are difficult to break. Some girls continue working for pimps even after the pimps are incarcerated…

When recruiting, some pimps said they prowled homeless shelters, bus stations and shopping malls or posed in newspaper advertisements as photographers and talent scouts. Others said they worked Internet chat rooms and phone-sex lines…

For those girls not already engaged in survival sex, the grooming process was gradual and calculated. At first, the sex is consensual. Before long, the girl is asked to turn occasional tricks to help pay bills…
The article goes on to describe a successful policing approach in Dallas that involves identifying high-risk teens (repeat runaways), building trust with them and sheltering them in a special city facility. This approach is ready to be tested in other parts of the country but is languishing for want of federal funds.

See also:

Escort Prostitution: A Response to Tom Vannah, Editor of the Valley Advocate
We have asked the Advocate to drop ads for escort services and other commercial sex enterprises. Unfortunately, Mr. Vannah believes this is a matter of freedom of speech. Any compassion he might feel for people in the sex industry or the community at large is not as important.

Mr. Vannah concedes that “there is some percentage of people who are not willing participants in the sex industry”, but believes that if the Advocate refuses to accept Massage/Escort ads, this will unacceptably crimp “artistic freedom”. He mentions Mapplethorpe pictures as an example. How dropping ads for commercial sex enterprises will compel the Advocate to turn away Mapplethorpe pictures is not clear to us…

While a few women may choose a life of prostitution in a truly voluntary fashion, the reality for most is a history of sexual and/or child abuse, separation from their family and/or country, and poverty. Addictions to drugs or alcohol are common. They are routinely lied to, coerced, abused, threatened, and blackmailed (e.g. ‘I’ll hurt your family back in the Ukraine if you don’t cooperate’).

News Roundup: Age of Entry into Prostitution Declining

Prostitution: Factsheet on Human Rights Violations
The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years (M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, “Victimization of street prostitutes, Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133) or 14 years (D.Kelly Weisberg, 1985, Children of the Night: A Study of Adolescent Prostitution, Lexington, Mass, Toronto). Most of these 13 or 14 year old girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution. Others were “traditional wives” without job skills who escaped from or were abandoned by abusive husbands and went into prostitution to support themselves and their children. (Denise Gamache and Evelina Giobbe, Prostitution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1990)…

Estimates of the prevalence of incest among prostitutes range from 65% to 90%. The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon Annual Report in 1991 stated that: 85% of prostitute/clients reported history of sexual abuse in childhood; 70% reported incest. The higher percentages (80%-90%) of reports of incest and childhood sexual assaults of prostitutes come from anecdotal reports and from clinicians working with prostitutes (interviews with Nevada psychologists cited by Patricia Murphy, Making the Connections: women, work, and abuse, 1993, Paul M. Deutsch Press, Orlando, Florida; see also Rita Belton, “Prostitution as Traumatic Reenactment,” 1992, International Society for Traumatic Stress Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, “Victimization of street prostitutes,” Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133; C. Bagley and L Young, 1987, “Juvenile Prostitution and child sexual abuse: a controlled study,” Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, Vol 6: 5-26…

Pimps target girls or women who seem naive, lonely, homeless, and rebellious. At first, the attention and feigned affection from the pimp convinces her to “be his woman.” Pimps ultimately keep prostituted women in virtual captivity by verbal abuse – making a woman feel that she is utterly worthless: a toilet, a piece of trash; and by physical coercion – beatings and the threat of torture. 80% to 95% of all prostitution is pimp-controlled. (Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, 1995, New York, New York University Press)…

Realities of Teen Prostitution Mock Notions of ‘Sex Work’, ‘Sex-Positive’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Empowerment’; Media Glamorizes Pimps
[ABC News:] “I think in the last couple years we’ve seen a real increase in the glorification of pimp culture,” Lloyd says. “Girls growing up now, and boys too, are beginning to see this as cute and sexy or glamorous and not really understanding the realities of the sex industry…”

“What you see in the movies, what you see on TV — it’s not like that,” Sara says. “They don’t tell you the part about the rapes. They don’t tell you about getting beat up. They don’t tell you that you might die every day.”

Salon: Atlanta’s underage sex trade
The problem isn’t restricted to so-called Hotlanta; Herbert notes, dispiritedly, that “the overall market for sex with kids is booming in many parts of the U.S.” But the city’s role as a convention and travel hub has given it a particular boost. And advocates say that the prevailing preference for ever-younger prostitutes — fueled by “the cultural emphasis on the sexual appeal of very young women and girls” and “the widely held belief among johns that there is less risk of contracting a disease from younger prostitutes” — has pimps and sex traffick
ers recruiting more at-risk kids than ever before.

The Village Voice Earns $80,000/Month from Prostitution, Sex Trafficking and other Adult Ads (explicit language)
[Manny, a former pimp,] says it’s not difficult for a pimp to recruit his harem.

“You don’t have to tie a girl up — you just keep her high.”