By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Still, says Finkelhor, "I think [the study] highlights important components of the problem that don't get as much attention: that there are males involved, and that there are a considerable number of kids who are operating without pimps."
The John Jay study's authors say they were surprised from the start at the number of boys who came forward. In response Dank pursued new avenues of inquiry—visiting courthouses to interview girls who'd been arrested, and canvassing at night with a group whose specialty was street outreach to pimped girls. She and Curtis also pressed their male subjects for leads.
"It turns out that the boys were the more effective recruiter of pimped girls than anybody else," Curtis says. "It's interesting, because this myth that the pimps have such tight control over the girls, that no one can talk to them, is destroyed by the fact that these boys can talk to them and recruit them and bring them to us. Obviously the pimps couldn't have that much of a stranglehold on them."
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
The same, of course, might be true of the elusive foreign-born contingent Finkelhor mentions.
Curtis and Dank believe there is indeed a foreign sub-population RDS could not reach. But with no data to draw on, it's impossible to gauge whether it's statistically significant or yet another overblown stereotype.
And as the researchers point out, the John Jay study demolished virtually every other stereotype surrounding the underage sex trade.
For the national study, researchers are now hunting for underage hookers in Las Vegas, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and interviews for an Atlantic City survey are complete.
Curtis is reluctant to divulge any findings while so much work remains to be done, but he does say early returns suggest that the scarcity of pimps revealed by the New York study appears not to be an anomaly.
A final report on the current research is scheduled for completion in mid-2012.
"I think that the study has a chance to dispel some of the myths and a lot of the raw emotion that is out there," says Marcus Martin, the Ph.D. who's leading the Dallas research crew. "At the end of the day, I think the study is going to help the kids, as well as tell their story."
IF THE WORK RIC CURTIS and Meredith Dank began in New York is indeed going to help the kids, it will do so because it tells their story. And because it addresses the most difficult—and probably the most important—question of all: What drives young kids into the sex trade?
Dallas Police Department Sergeant Byron Fassett, whose police work with underage female prostitutes is hailed by child advocates and government officials including Senator Wyden, believes hooking is "a symptom of another problem that can take many forms. It can be poverty, sexual abuse, mental abuse—there's a whole range of things you can find in there.
"Generally we find physical and sexual abuse or drug abuse when the child was young," Fassett continues. "These children are traumatized. People who are involved in this are trauma-stricken. They've had something happen to them. The slang would be that they were 'broken.'"
Fassett has drawn attention because of his targeted approach to rescuing (rather than arresting) prostitutes and helping them gain access to social services. The sergeant says that because the root causes of youth prostitution can be so daunting to address from a social-policy standpoint, it's easy—and politically expedient—to sweep them under the proverbial rug.
And then there are the John Jay researchers' groundbreaking findings. Though the study could not possibly produce thorough psychological evaluations and case histories, subjects were asked the question: "How did you get into this?" Their candid answers revealed a range of motives and means:
• "I can't get a job that would pay better than this."
• "I like the freedom this lifestyle affords me."
• "My friend was making a lot of money doing it and introduced me to it."
• "I want money to buy a new cell phone."
Though the context is a different one, Dank and Curtis have, not unlike Byron Fassett, come to learn that their survey subjects' responses carry implications that are both daunting to address and tempting to deny or ignore.
For example, the John Jay study found that when asked what it would take to get them to give up prostitution, many kids expressed a desire for stable, long-term housing. But the widely accepted current social-service model—shelters that accommodate, at most, a 90-day stay—doesn't give youths enough time to get on their feet and instead pushes them back to the streets. The findings also point to a general need for more emphasis on targeted outreach, perhaps through peer-to-peer networks, as well as services of all kinds, from job training and placement to psychological therapy.
Regarding that last area of treatment, Curtis believes that kids who have made their own conscious decision to prostitute themselves might need more long-term help than those who are forced into the trade by someone else.