By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank were amazed by what their research had revealed. But they were completely unprepared for the way law-enforcement officials and child-advocacy groups reacted to John Jay's groundbreaking study.
"I remember going to a meeting in Manhattan where they had a lot of prosecutors there whose job was to prosecute pimps," Curtis recalls. "They were sort of complaining about the fact that their offices were very well staffed but their workload was—not very daunting, let's say. They had a couple cases, and at every meeting you go to they'd pull out the cherry-picked case of this pimp they had busted, and they'd tell the same story at every meeting. They too were bothered by the fact that they couldn't find any pimps, any girls.
"So I come along and say, 'I found 300 kids'—they're all perky—but then I say, 'I'm sorry, but only 10 percent had pimps.'
VILLAGE VOICE MEDIA ASKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT OF SENATE BILL 596
If there is not a tsunami of underage prostitutes in America, that is not to say that there are no children trapped in this world. Of course there are.
Yet, as we have pointed out in numerous stories, few resources have been devoted to sheltering the victims.
If you want to help children trapped in underage prostitution, there is something you can do.
U. S. Senate Bill 596 deserves your attention and your support. This legislation would, for the first time, provide federal funding for beds and assistance to underage victims of prostitution.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced SB 596 on March 16, 2011. The key component is six one-year grants of $2,000,000 to $2,500,000 for shelter and counseling.
As you can imagine, a child engaged in prostitution brings a difficult mix of issues to the table including, but not limited to, drug addiction, sexual abuse, and homelessness. These are problems that need sustained attention.
In an article published last June ("Real Men Get Their Facts Straight"), we cited the Bridge program in Seattle, which is one of the few efforts in the entire country devoted to housing underage prostitutes. (The Bridge is financed locally.)
"These children, as victims, need more trauma-recovery services, "director Melinda Giovengo told us. "There is evidence that a dedicated residential recovery program, with wraparound mental-health, chemical dependence, and educational and vocational services, provided by well-trained specialists, both on-site and in the community, can help young victims of commercial sexual exploitation in breaking free of the track."
There are fewer than 100 beds scattered across the nation dedicated to these children.
The $15 million proposal from Senators Cornyn and Wyden is a cold, hard number. A fact.
Facts are important if you want to address underage prostitution.
Since 1997 the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for religious groups, prohibitionists, and reformers all over the world to end human trafficking. Yet the proposed funds in SB 596 are the first dollars earmarked to put a roof over the head of victims in America.
By painting the sex-trafficking problem in this country as overwhelming, advocates may actually be hurting the children who truly need help.
Instead of helping victims, states are now passing legislation aimed at suppressing cabaret dancers. Instead of helping victims, prohibitionists are attacking pornography.
Facts are important because facts, not emotion, keep you focused.
HOW TO REACH SENATORS CORNYN AND WYDEN:
Sen. John Cornyn:
The Honorable John Cornyn
United States Senate
517 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4303
Email: Senator Cornyn doesn't have a direct email address, but you can send him an email if you fill out a contact form with name, address, etc.:
Sen. Ron Wyden
The Honorable Ron Wyden
United States Senator
223 Dirksen State Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3703
"It was like a fart in church. Because basically I was saying their office was a waste of time and money."
JAY ALBANESE, A CRIMINOLOGIST at Virginia Commonwealth University who headed up the Justice Department's research arm for four years, says the findings of the John Jay study are among the most interesting he has seen.
"Whether you are a kid or an adult, the issue becomes: To what extent is this voluntary?" Albanese says. "Because you make more money in this than being a secretary? Or because you really have no choices—like, you're running from abuse or caught up in drugs? The question becomes: If Curtis is correct, what do we do with that 90 percent? Do we ignore it? How hard do we look at how they got into that circumstance? You could make the case that for the 90 percent for whom they couldn't find any pimping going on—well, how does it happen?
"It's a very valid question," Albanese continues. "A policy question: To what extent should the public and the public's money be devoted to these issues, whether it's child prostitution or child pimping?"
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the only agency that keeps track of how many children the legal system rescues from pimps nationwide. The count, which began in June 2003, now exceeds 1,600 as of April of this year, according to the FBI's Innocence Lost website (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/cac/innocencelost)—an average of about 200 each year.
Through interviews and analysis of public records, Village Voice Media has found that the federal government spends about $20 million a year on public awareness, victims' services, and police work related to domestic human trafficking, with a considerable focus on combating the pimping of children. An additional $50 million-plus is spent annually on youth homeless shelters, and since 1996 taxpayers have contributed a total of $186 million to fund a separate program that provides street outreach to kids who may be at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.
That's at least $80 million doled out annually for law enforcement and social services that combine to rescue approximately 200 child prostitutes every year.
These agencies might improve upon their $400,000-per-rescued-child average if they joined in the effort to develop a clearer picture of the population they aim to aid. But there's no incentive for them to do so when they stand to rake in even more public money simply by staying the course.
At the behest of advocates who work with pimped girls, along with a scattering of U.S. celebrities who help to publicize the cause, the bipartisan Senate tag team of Oregon's Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican, is pushing for federal legislation that would earmark another $12 million to $15 million a year to fund six shelters reserved exclusively for underage victims of sex trafficking. (In an editorial published this past July, Village Voice Media expressed its support for the initiative, now folded into the pending Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.)
Though the language of the bill is gender-neutral, some advocates point to the disproportionate influence wielded by groups who direct their efforts exclusively at pimped girls. They worry that anti-sex-trafficking funding might increasingly ignore boys and transgender youths, not to mention kids of any gender who aren't enslaved by a pimp but sell sex of their own volition.
Jennifer Dreher, who heads the anti-trafficking program at Safe Horizon, a New York nonprofit whose Streetwork project has targeted juvenile prostitutes and homeless youths since 1984, says if federal lawmakers took the time to read the John Jay report, they would better grasp the complexity of the issue.
"We have been seeing and talking about this population for so long, but that kind of tug-at-your-heartstrings narrative was the only one focused on," Dreher says, referring to the stereotype of the pimped little girl.
Certainly those girls are out there, Dreher says, and they're in need of help and compassion. But they're only a small segment of the underage population commercially exploited for sex. If you want to eradicate the scourge, argues Dreher, "Then you have to recognize the 90 percent of other types of people that this John Jay College study found."