In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Consider the time.
Prostitution is claiming increased numbers of juveniles
by Richard Muhammad and
Eric Ture Muhammad
(FinalCall.com)--There are between 100,000 and 300,000 child prostitutes in the United States, and the number may be growing, activists, juvenile justice and law enforcement officials fear.
Reasons for the increase vary: from laws that donít do enough to punish pimps, to more children feeling alienated at home or suffering in dysfunctional families who run away and have increased problems with drug addiction.
There is also the challenge of bringing cases with no witnesses, except the victimized child, who either believes she loves, or knows she fears her pimp.
Speaking under condition of anonymity, caseworkers in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. expressed frustration. They worry cases fall through the cracks and sometimes feel ill-prepared to help. "These arenít children of 10 and 15 years ago. At 9-, 10-, 11-years-old, they are in love with these old men, who talk nice to them," said the L.A. social service worker.
The sweet talk is an introduction into what one report called the most overlooked form of child abuse in America. In addition, child prostitution is often seen as a nuisance crime by local police and there is a misconception that the children are willing accomplices, it said.
"Black women and young girls especially, find themselves in a unique and extremely difficult position in society," said Verdita Nelson, a researcher and author of "Prostitution: Where Racism and Sexism Intersect." Trapped in a culture dominated by white supremacy and male dominance, the Black female becomes especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation, argues Ms. Nelson.
The case of a 13-year-old Black girl in Atlanta captured some attention in recent months. The juvenile was a dancer in a strip club that has come under investigation by federal officials. Her alleged pimp, Allan Charles James, a 43-year-old man, pleaded guilty to statutory sexual seduction and second-degree kidnapping in May, according to the Clark County, Nev. district attorney. He faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for July 23 in the case.
The man allegedly took the girl to Las Vegas on a Greyhound bus in April and had sex with her. Atlanta officials are seeking Mr. James, a former strip club bouncer, and plan to draw up charges against him, according to news reports.
There has also been a request that an employee in the U.S. attorneyís office be investigated because of the girlís allegations that he coerced her into sex while in his custody. She had been brought back from Nevada, but ran away. Her mother allowed her to remain in the manís care over a weekend. No placement in a juvenile home was available. The man has two daughters and adamantly denied the charges. He resigned from his job, saying his integrity had been questioned. He had helped spearhead a major effort to focus on child prostitution, after Atlanta officials were alarmed by signs of its rise. In one instance, a state official said a group home was a recruiting ground for pimps preying on young girls. Many suspect the 13-year-old, who allegedly stole the manís car, made the accusation to get back at him.
Misplaced devotion to pimps is a constant in the child sex trade. Pimps rule using a combination of comfort, protection and terror to control victims, who are often troubled, far from home and may suffer drug problems.
"It is a complete moral breakdown," a Sex Crimes Unit investigator in Fulton County, Ga., told The Final Call, speaking under condition of anonymity. "Unless we have a corroborating witness, which is going to be rare, who is going to turn on a pimp? It is extremely difficult to make a case. These children do not operate as adults, they do this (prostitution) for cheap clothes, jewelry or to get their hair braided," the investigator lamented.
"Nobody is able to build a case against pimps," agreed the New York social worker. "These girls have a false love and false sense as to what they want out of life. They lie for them and protect them. Most of them though, operate out of fear, because they also believe that police and the courts canít protect them. They have seen what has happened to some of their friends," the social worker, who does street outreach, said.
In Washington, D.C., a social worker who deals with agencies in the District of Columbia and Maryland told The Final Call a great dilemma is identifying the crisis to warn the community. "Even as a social worker, this isnít something weíve discussed in any of our classes, nor has it been an issue. Even in the work Iíve done voluntarily in various womenís health organizations, we touch more on assault and rape. But we donít necessarily talk about young girls in prostitution," she said.
Advocates note child prostitution has only gotten major attention in recent decades. U.S. media often cites exploitation of children in foreign countries. While child sexual exploitation in Asia, Africa, Central and South America is a problem, western countries also suffer from the scourge. In fact, child sex tours are often arranged from the U.S. and Canada to poorer nations. Vancouver, Canada has an infamous "kiddie stroll," where an 11-year-old girl was found earlier this year. She had been abducted, beaten and drugged after four days on the street.
In the United States, child sex workers, 14- to 17-years-old, may make $500-$600 a night, but rarely receive more than $25 as an allowance, according to a U.S. Labor Department report. Some officials estimate 25-30 percent of child sex workers are younger than 18.
Minneapolis police busted four people May 22, saying they suspected they were part of a juvenile prostitution ring. Many of the johns were on breaks from work and visited the girls. Youngsters are often seen as safer than older women, less likely to suffer from sexually transmitted diseases. But experts say that perception is not true.
A national survey of juvenile court judges by the Atlanta Journal Constitution recently concluded child prostitution is up. In rural areas, judges reported the sharpest increase since 1995, saying their figures were up by 75 percent and, on average, three youths a month were involved with prostitution. The reasons for the increase varied: In Flint, Mich. it was linked to drug addiction, where parents used their children to make money. In Atlanta, most child prostitutes were from middle and upper class families, according to the Fulton County Sex Crimes Unit. These youth, mostly between the ages of 13-17, fill the cityís hot spots of Five-Points, the Atlanta Underground and Lenox shopping malls. They become the prey of smooth talkers and sex predators, police said.
Selling sex is often linked to runaways. "Kids usually turn to it as a kind of survival sex," said a hotline worker for a group that helps runaways. About three percent of callers the hotline takes each year are from youth who admit having to survive by selling themselves. It happens to straight and gay youth, the hotline worker said.
"They have to survive somehow, so it is always an issue," he added. There are roughly 1.3 million runaways in America, often fleeing abusive homes and ripe for exploitation, the hotline worker noted.
Child advocates say education and communication with children are needed to avoid runaways and forays into the sex trade. Teachers and professionals who work with children daily also need to be educated about the problem and community awareness needs to increase, they add. Some suggest teaching junior and senior high school students about the problem and the gritty realityóusually rape and other violenceóof street life.
Despite recent enactment of tougher laws in Georgia, pimps usually go free. According to stats from the state Department of Corrections, male pimps also control the sex-for-hire trade in the state. Yet, women are far more likely than men to be sentenced for prostitution-related crimes.
Each state and the federal government criminalizes some aspect of child prostitution. The federal governmentís primary law is the "Mann Act," which forbids transport of children under age 18 in interstate or foreign commerce for the child to engage in prostitution or any sexual activity. State laws are much broader and focus on individuals who "advance, promote, or induce prostitution." These laws however, rarely penalize patrons of child prostitutes.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justiceís Office of Victims of Crime released "Child Sexual Exploitation: Improving Investigation and Protecting Victims," as a kind of blueprint for action. However, even the manual noted child sexual exploitation raised issues not anticipated in existing child sexual abuse protocols.
"Furthermore, child pornography and prostitution cases are rare in the caseloads of most criminal justice agencies. As a result, when a child sexual exploitation case is identified, the responsible professionals may have little relevant experience to guide them at critical decision points," it said.
Ms. Nelson believes designing programs to help individual women is not a bad idea. But, she continued, more value must be placed on Black females.
"First, the predominately male leaders in the Black community must commit to ending violence against women with the same vigor that they apply to ending racism," she said.
"They must begin to realize that we, African American women, are just as vital to their survival as they are to the survival of the African American community. Second, white women must make a concerted effort to end racism, beginning with an examination of their own racism, and from there to work within their own communities, to correct the inordinate behavior exercised among themselves."
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