Monday, January 02, 2012

Sexually Exploited Youth


The average entry in the age of prostitution is between the ages of 12-14 years of age (

100,000–300,000 children are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation each year in the United States (Estes & Weiner, 2001).

70–90% of commercially sexually exploited children have a history of child sexual abuse (Murphy, 1993).

Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not For Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself  by Rachel Lloyd was the most eye opening book that I have read in recent memory. While Rachel weaves her own heart wrenching story of abuse and commercial sexual exploitation through the book, it is her work when she comes to the United States and establishes GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, that I found the most valuable. Not discounting Rachel's journey because hers is one that required incredible strength, it is the fact that she leads the fight on a topic that is far too often swept under the rug in most communities when it comes to the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

What is the commercial sexual exploitation of youth? Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) constitutes a form of coercion and violence against children and amounts to forced labour and a contemporary form of slavery. A declaration of the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm in 1996, defined CSEC as: ‘sexual abuse by the adult and remuneration in cash or kind to the child or a third person or persons. The child is treated as a sexual object and as a commercial object. CSEC includes the prostitution of children, child pornography, child sex tourism and other forms of transactional sex where a child engages in sexual activities to have key needs fulfilled, such as food, shelter or access to education. (Wikipedia) Sadly, the commercial sexual exploitation of youth has seen a sharp rise with the Internet. Using sites like Craigslist, and others, it is possible for pimps and johns to connect and continue this disturbing commerce.

One of the points in the book that Rachel makes is that a teenage prostitute and commercially sexually exploited youth are the same. The common misconception amongst the public and even more sadly within the law enforcement is that a teenage prostitute knows what they are doing. They do not!

Young girls who find themselves on the streets have done some more often than not because they have run away from home. The home which should have been providing key needs like food, shelter, and education, has instead been centered around abuse. That abuse could be in the form of verbal, physical, psychological or even sexual. They have taken to the streets for survival. Pimps prey on these girls by providing them with things that they have been looking for - food, clothes, attention, friendship, love, and a seemingly safe place to sleep. Once they gained some "trust" and compliance in the girls, that is when the pimps turn to violence, intimidation, or psychological manipulation to trap the them in a life of prostitution. Because the girls are taught to lie about their age and often have Fake ID's they are not seen as commercially sexually exploited youth when they are arrested or picked up. More often than not they are arrested and jailed. They have become some hardened to the life on the streets and taught to not trust anyone other than their pimp or even more disgustingly referred to as their "Daddy" that they do not outwardly present as a trauma victim.

The book goes into length about how trying to get out of this life style and the trauma that these girls have endured is very similar to the Stockholm Syndrome. It is not just that easy to get the girl off the street and poof! her life will be forever changed. These victims need specialized services that are not widely available. They often present with illnesses, drug additions, physical and sexual trauma, lack of viable family and community ties, and total dependence – physical and psychological – on their abusers, the pimps.

I struggle with the fact that many topics like the commercial sexual exploitation of children seem only to gain recognition when we view them as happening in other countries. It is easier to cast a glance at something from afar then to turn around and put a lens on what is in front of us, often in our own city. This book was written with a rawness and honesty not often seen when exploring topics like this. As an educator, and someone who routinely works with children who have been abused, it continues to reinforce the fact that there is a lot of work that need to be done to bring such issues like this to the mainstream. It is not something you can put a band aid on then shuffle it along. It is not something where you can have one person come in, give a self centered hoorah speech and leave hoping to inspire a traumatized girl. This is a problem like many social issues where you have to roll up your sleeves and commit to the work. It's not glamorous work, but when you are  talking about the life of a another human being, what more motivation do you need?



Documentary: Very Young Girls

Estes, J. & Weiner, N.A. (2001). The Commercial Sexual Exploitaion of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Executive Sumnary (Of the U.S. National Study). Philadelphia, PA

Westat. (2007). New York Prevalence Study of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children. New York: Gregg, Petta, Bernstein, Eisen & Quinn

National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotlin: 1-888-373-7888

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