Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Ms. Norma Hotaling
Executive Director and Founder - Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE) Project


Protecting Our Children

Since the First World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1996, the world has become increasingly aware of the scope and horror of the buying, selling, trafficking and the use of children in prostitution and pornography..  At the Second World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama, Japan in December, 2001, one report after another stated that the number of children commercially sexually exploited has grown, and the age of those children has become younger and younger. [1]   It was at the First World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, after hearing representatives from almost every country throughout the world talk about the horror and terror and death that children were suffering through commercial sexual exploitation that I was sick to the point of being almost unable to walk.  Testimony after testimony described the long-term effects of commercial sexual exploitation, including mental heath disease, substance abuse, stigmatization, homelessness, and ill treatment by law enforcement and social service providers.  I was a witness to stories of the hundreds of thousands of children who were having their childhoods brutally ripped away.  They are left to fend for themselves as they grew into adults and become the thousands of women, girls and men we serve every year at the SAGE Project in SF, the “toss-aways,” the ‘throw-aways” who are blamed for their own victimization.   There are women and girls today in the United States, my sisters, my friends missing, buried in shallow graves, being raped, beaten, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, trafficked, killed and laying unidentified, unrecognized thus renamed as Jane Doe’s in city morgues and in burial plots.

I founded SAGE Project 16 years ago, as I was exiting the criminal justice system.  I had been going to juvenile halls, jails, psychiatric hospitals, emergency rooms and drug treatment programs since I was 12.  No one ever asked me about my life, about prostitution, being beaten, raped or kidnapped.  I was just a whore, a dope fiend, and a criminal.  How could I get out?  No one ever treated me like a person.  No one asked me if I hurt or why.   Today, under the TVPA,  I would be considered a trafficking victim:  I was trafficked into prostitution when I was a child.  


I work with the extraordinarily dedicated team who comprise SAGE.  SAGE is a survivor-run, human rights organization formed in 1992 to provide services to girls, women, men, and transgendered individuals who have been exploited through the sex industry. SAGE seeks to effect change on two levels: (1) in the lives of the individual victims and (2) in the local, national and international community, by challenging societal attitudes that fosters ignorance and acceptance of sexual exploitation, trafficking of women and girls, while condemning them as criminals or “toss-aways.” Additionally, SAGE provides training and technical assistance locally, nationally and internationally to build capacity in governmental and non-governmental organizations and enhance the implementation of effective, client-centered prevention, early intervention and treatment services in integrated, outcome-based trauma and sexual exploitation recovery programs.       


I founded SAGE because:

Like 90% of our clients, I experienced sexual abuse including rape as a child through prostitution

Like 82%, I had been brutally assaulted

Like 84%, I had been homeless

Like most of my clients, I suffered severe symptoms of PTSD and I desperately wanted to get out of prostitution and a life that made no sense to me.

Women and girls like myself, if left untreated, cycle endlessly, most often until they die, through medical, mental, social services, criminal justice systems as high users, costing cities billions.


Many of the problems facing women in prostitution are similar to those addressed in other marginalized populations: finding affordable housing; financial planning; creating safe environments and relationships; escaping and healing from the emotional and physical effects of violence; engaging in treatment for drug/alcohol addictions; resuming educational or vocational training.  These problems, however, may be exponentially compounded by longstanding, widespread myths and misunderstanding about prostitution.  On the one hand, prostitution has been glamorized and romanticized, while on the other, the women themselves have been viewed as criminal, sexually deviant, socially inept and/or mentally deficient.  Women trying to escape prostitution, many already traumatized by long term physical and sexual violence, routinely endure listening to jokes about “whores” and “hookers”— jokes that diminish, belittle, or even idealize the pain.  Would we consider jokes about prison rape funny?  Pimps and ho’s have become part of popular culture as we see from the “Pimps Ball” and popular singer Nelly’s “Pimp Juice.” Where is Nelly when his brothers are facing long prison terms and his sisters have burns and whip marks from head to toe or are dead in ditches?


Like Vietnam veterans, women in prostitution must overcome public denial about the truth of our experiences.  Unlike veterans, however,  individuals involved in the sex trade—even those who have been part of government-sponsored (military) commercial sex projects to benefit soldiers—are not considered courageous nor given benefits and honors.  Once the “R & R” is over, women in prostitution are arrested, discarded, routinely barred from social services (like shelters for battered women), frequently raped, murdered, and otherwise made invisible.  Despite growing interest among social service providers in marginalized populations and non-traditional interventions, women in prostitution have remained largely beyond the scope of humanitarian efforts and ethical considerations. (Boyer, 1995; Greenman, 1990) 


Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005


The TVPA Reauthorization Act continues the important work of the TVPA.   It calls for new international and domestic measures for combating trafficking in Persons.  It further strengthens aspects of prevention of trafficking, protection and services for victims, and prosecution of  traffickers.  It enhances U.S. efforts to combat trafficking in persons by adding additional criteria for monitoring and combating trafficking.  For example, it provides that  

·        Countries must take measures to address demand

·        Countries must punish peacekeepers who are involved in trafficking in persons

·        Countries must develop programs to combat sex tourism


On the other hand, the TVPA Reauthorization could be further strengthened.  Let me suggest two changes that would help:


1.  Add language that will allow the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons to include information about countries that have legalized prostitution in their criteria for assessing and rating countries


It is important for the TIP Office to have all the tools necessary to fight the legalization of the so-called sex industry in Belgium, Amsterdam, Germany and other countries. It has been proven in each of these countries trafficked individuals far outnumber those where it is not legal.  In countries with legalized prostitution, governments become the real pimps profiting from the industry and the misery of women and girls. Pimps  become legitimate “agents” and “businessmen.”   The extremely lucrative profits from this so-called industry are then used to lobby legislators and government officials to legalize in other countries, states, and cities world-wide. Little or no services are provided to those in the individuals trapped in the legalized systems. Demand increases and men from these countries, with appetites wet,  make up the greatest number of sex tourists that travel throughout the world and exploit children and women in countries other than their own.   Unless the TIP Office has the ability to consider whether or not a country has legalized prostitution, it will not have full success in its work to abolish trafficking.

  1. The two-tiered system of severe forms of trafficking and simple sex trafficking (or prostitution) should not be imported into the domestic portion of the TVPA Reauthorization Act of 2005 definition.


I know I speak for all those who are members of a survivor-centered approach to trafficking, as well as many others who oppose the creation of a two tiered system of deserving and undeserving victims in the United States.   We believe that services should be provided to all those who walk through a provider’s door – not just those who can prove force, fraud or coercion, or those who cooperate with authorities.  Making a distinction between victims of a severe form of trafficking and victims of trafficking would be disastrous and nothing less than the continuation of victim blaming and the withholding of life saving services. Remember, the woman or girl who is declared undeserving of our help is someone’s daughter.  Their rapes, beatings, arrests, and historical blame and neglect are what qualifies them for our help and our compassion not some narrow definition.  Are we saying that those who fall outside of this narrow definition are those who can still be terribly abused, terrorized, and even murdered through commercial sexual exploitation, and that this brutality is deserved? We know prostitution and trafficking are linked.  The current definition in the TVPA Reauthorization will de-link them.  We need to fix this.



A Survivor Centered Approach to Trafficking


Survivor Provided Services -- The True Experts:

Throughout the United States, there is a network of experts who have worked for decades designing, implementing and providing outreach, advocacy, prevention, early intervention programs and long-term supportive, highly effective and innovative trauma, mental health, substance abuse and housing services. They work on policy and to change ineffective laws and legislator’s ways of thinking. The individuals they help have been severely mis-treated, mis-diagnosed, and very often arrested and jailed over and over again.  These providers have created services that are survivor-centered. They work together with their clients to build heath, well-being, lives that are whole, independent and free from abuse and exploitation.  This network of providers are the true pioneers and heroes.  They have built this web of services piece by piece, inch by inch, penny by penny with very little or no local, state, federal or private support. To date, philanthropists run away from, not towards, these programs and the individuals building them.  This network is dedicated to the voiceless, and the disappeared and it is built by sheer will of its founding members and members. That “will” that exists in this group of providers is what kept them alive in the most desperate and life-threatening situations and is now present in their daily lives fighting for their sisters and brothers.  The Founding Members of the Survivor Services Education and Empowerment Network (SSEEN) are SAGE in San Francisco, CA; Breaking Free in St. Paul, Minnesota; Kathleen Mitchell, Dignity House in Phoenix, Arizona; and Veronica’s Voice in Kansas City, Kansas. This unprecedented collaboration of survivor-operated service providers and educators was formed to create a strong foundation for a national movement of commercial sexual exploitation survivors combating commercial sexual exploitation by using their experiences for good, having their experiences inform the work they do to help others like themselves.  We have services that offer variety of options to those with similar histories and backgrounds. SSEEN will continue build on the work of the individual organizations by contributing to the design and implementation of policies and procedures for effective treatment as well as legislation that will compassionately address the needs of victims of commercial sexual exploitation and target the real perpetrators of sexual exploitation-the demand side, violent pimps and traffickers.   We need the help of the federal government to make these services available across the United States.



SSEEN supports new legislation


SSEEN is a strong supporter of the End the Demand Act of 2005 that will require annual surveys of the so called sex industry on the streets, in strip clubs, in massage parlors, on the internet and other venues.  It will work to analyze what cultures are most at risk and danger here in the United States.  It will give innovative grants law enforcement authorities to target the real perpetrators; the pimps, traffickers and the demand as an alternative to arresting and prosecuting the victims.  It will provide real financial support to the groups like the members of SSEEN, survivor-centered providers who have proven track records, expertise, have struggled keep their doors open and keep others alive while offering support and safety.  It will help to provide technical assistance and coalition building among groups throughout the nation to build services, investigate the real criminals, and end the demand.


However, just as with the TVPA Reauthorization, the End Demand Act could be furthered strengthened. Let me suggest three changes:


1.           Technical assistance and training should be provided to create standards among groups receiving funding for services to victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.  This technical assistance should draw from and delivered by the network of survivor-centered providers who have a proven track record of designing and implementing services for decades.


2.           At present, the bill only makes mention of soliciting survivor views. It is essential that survivors be included in all aspects of the work to stop trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, including services, replication of model programs, policy development and implementation, creating standards of care and other protocols and trainings.


3.           Conferences, seminars, research and other aspects of policy and program development should be clearly survivor-centered.


In conclusion, both the TVPA Reauthorization of 2005 and the End Demand Act are important pieces of legislation.  They have different goals and are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, many of the supporters of the TVPA Reauthorization also support the End Demand Act, and vice versa.   With the changes I have suggested, both will be strengthened and both deserve to be passed.

Trafficking and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

The trafficking of children and adolescents into the sex industry is widespread around the world and the United States is no exception. An estimated 10 million children worldwide are already involved in the $20 billion-a-year sex industry.  This number is increasing by about one million each year. "The prostitution of children and related health consequences has been accepted for too long. The time has come to make them unacceptable," said Dr. Barry Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Lancet Medical Journal, May 2002.

The young boys and girls used for prostitution are deprived of their basic human rights. In keeping with the international figures, the prostituted children in the U.S. face an increased risk of sexual and physical assault, suicide, pregnancy, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder and death.  Seventy-five to ninety-five (75-95%) of all 13-18 year old girls in our justice systems have been victims of abuse.  Many of these girls have been exploited for pornography or have suffered or witnessed physical and sexual violence.  For these girls, the average of entry into prostitution is 13-14, an age at which these girls are entering an endless cycle of arrest, drug addiction, and violence.  The result is traumatic and profound lack of self-esteem causing disempowered behaviors: dropping out of school, prostitution, addiction, selling of drugs, and violence.  Their exploitation is perpetuated by continued reliance on the very people who have physically, emotionally, and sexually assaulted them.  These children come from all of the populations though preponderance come from the least advantaged, isolated and disorganized segments.  They are of all races and ethnic backgrounds. As a result of abuse and neglect, they have lost the valuable life-skills training that a healthy family and environment provide. As these children age, and chronologically become adults their situations remain unrecognized and untreated and they continue a downward cycle of drugs, re-victimization, jails and death.

SSEEN strongly supports trauma, mental health, substance abuse, life skills, educational, vocational and housing services for all who have the courage to ask for them or escape into our arms confused and hurt.  Each week, the members of SSEEN provide these services, working to restore the human rights to hundreds and thousands of women, children and men. 


What happens to women and girls who are recruited by pimps and sold to those who demand them?


  • Usually more recent statistics would be used to describe a problem.  These statistics are still relevant because we have ignored the data, and the problem of abuse, rape and trafficking of children and women and not created viable solutions based on these and other data.  Mimi Silbert, Ph.D., recently testified in San Francisco before the Board of Supervisors.  She said in 1982, when she published these data, no one cared and the problem has only gotten bigger and worse.  In San Francisco we used this data and other more recent data to support the need for a SAFE HOUSE for GIRLS exploited through prostitution.  With the help of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris, Supervisor Tom Amiano, Edgewood Services for Children and their Families, private foundations, and individual support, SAGE is due to open this house in July

  • The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years (Silbert and Pines 1982) or 14 years (Kelly and Weiseberg 1985).  

  • Most of the 13 to 14 year-old girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution by abusive pimps who initially act as boyfriends or lovers (Gamache and Giobbe 1990).  

  • The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon found that in a group of women studied, 63% were horribly beaten by pimps an average of 58 times per year.  Most women deny that the men they are with are pimps, when SAGE first begins to counsel and connect with them. 

  • Historically, procurers (pimps) and traffickers targeted runaways, girls that hang with the crowd breaking or bending the simplest of rules, kids that smoke, cut class, are adopting acting out behavior associated with trauma, and girls that come from abusive backgrounds who have low self-esteem and confidence. 

  • The procurers begin by befriending the girls and young women and then calculate a romantic connection. 

  • The strategy of befriending and love is designed to fit the vulnerabilities of its potential victim.

  • A procurer’s goal is to find naive, needy teenage girls or young women, con them into dependency, season them into fear and submission, and “turn them out” into the sex trade.

  • Today, because trafficking in women and girls is determined to be more profitable than trafficking in guns and drugs, all you have to be is a girl or young woman to be targeted. 

  • Guerilla Pimping: Pimps are looking more towards suburbia for “naïve girls” and “guerilla pimping” has emerged as a means of kidnapping girls and women.  These traffickers use severe and immediate violence to force the victim to participate in the sex industry.  A common theme found in “guerilla pimping” is that a woman or girl is physically picked up, thrown into a trunk and transported to cities throughout the US.  SAGE Project has rescued individuals who do not know what city they are in and what cities they have been trafficked through while being forced to work in the sex trade that including strip clubs, escort services, the streets, internet sites such as Craig’s list, or sites created by the pimps themselves.  They are sold on the back pages of alternative news papers, and sex trade magazines.  They had been kept and transported in trunks of cars and isolated in out of the way motels and single room occupancy hotels throughout the country while being brutalized, raped, tortured and are sold to all who demand them.

  • Smooth-Talking Players: Some US traffickers, choose the “smooth-talking player” role.  They systematically and methodically break down their “prey,” by socially isolating them, taking them away from family, friends and embroiling them in a social system that involves living in transient hotels close to the “whore strolls”, traveling from city to city, and socializing with transient persons usually also involved in the sex industry as prostitutes or pimps.  Harsher methods may involve beating, raping, sodomizing, drugging and starving a woman before turning her out on the streets or over to a brothel. All of these women and girls are losing precious days, months and years out of their lives, as well as, losing the normal development and life skills afforded to young women who are going to school, building valuable and dependable and non-abusive social support systems, having after school jobs, opening checking accounts, renting apartments and even buying their own clothes.

  • A critical step in seasoning a girl is changing her identity.  She is given a new name and any necessary papers, such as false driver’s license, social security card and birth certificate, so that the police will not be able to trace her real identity or determine her true age.  More importantly, the stripping of the girl’s identity removes her past and makes her the property of the pimp.  According to anthropologists Christina and Richard Milner, “A pimp wants a woman’s mind more than her body.  It’s love, loyalty, and obedience he requires, as well as, a capacity for self discipline.”  (Milder and Milder 1972)

  • More of the recruitment process involves attention and affection including pet names such as Foxy Lady, Star Lady, Sportin Lady, Hope to Die Woman.  There is usually glamour and flash--new clothes, jewelry and followed by the “turning out lines.’’ “Baby, if you really loved me...”  “You only need to do it for a little while, till I get on my feet.  For us.” “You just need to make some extra money until I get a settlement” or “until you get enough money  for me to buy some stash, then I’ll take care of us.”   Shortly after she turns her first date, the verbal, physical and sexual abuse begins.  She turns over all her money to the pimp.  He puts a quota on her, increases it over time, breaks her by calling her a “whore, nothing but a whore.”  Telling her that no one else would have her.  He begins to beat her into submission, raping her, making her work longer and longer hours, increasing her financial quota and only giving her “affection” after she has submitted to his almost insurmountable demands.  Many young women SAGE works with have often made between $500.000 to $1,000,000.  When asked how much they can access if they wanted to leave, it is never more than $20.00.  If a pimp suspects a girl is hiding money, she is digitally searched, beaten, burned, raped, and publicly humiliated. Pimps watch to see if the girl is chewing gum or having ice cream as an indication that she might be keeping money, even one to two dollars. 


Mimi Silbert, Executive Director, Delancy Street Foundation with Ayala Pines (1981) conducted a study in 1981 of 200 individuals involved in prostitution and described an emotional process they called psychological paralysis.  Psychological paralysis emerged as a major theme in the first phase of the study that was designed to explore the extent and nature of the problem of rape and juvenile sexual exploitation both prior to and since their involvement in the sex trade.  Psychological paralysis was experienced by the subjects in dealing with their lives as a result of their excessive and senseless victimization.

Sixty (60) percent of the sample were victims of incest and child sexual abuse and reported extremely negative emotional and physical impacts from the abuse.  Victimization continued to be very high as a result of their involvement in prostitution.  According to Silbert and Pines, three quarters of the prostitutes who participated were victims of rapes unrelated to prostitution. The study found that in addition to the physical and sexual abuse, in most cases the victims reported feeling there was absolutely nothing that they could do about the victimization.  It was suggested that when excessive victimization is coupled with the lack of understanding of the causes of the abuse, as well as a sense of impotence to do anything to change the situation, then a sense of psychological paralysis develops.  Silbert and Pines found that for the majority of the subjects, rape was the final awareness that there was no aspect of life over which they could exert control.  This final lesson served as one more advancement of their psychological paralysis characterized by immobility, acceptance of victimization, feeling trapped and hopeless, and the inability to take the opportunity to change.  One of the frustrations commonly cited by probation officers, police, and other field workers with individuals involved in the so-called sex industry or as I call it “the industry of destruction,” is the fact that they do not take advantage of opportunities for different lifestyles even though they claim to hate the life they are in.  Programs designed to deal with individuals escaping prostitution should be designed to help develop a sense of control over one’s life, promote the ability to change their problems, and to break out of traps.  According to Silbert and Pines, psychological paralysis occurs as an out growth of extended and repeated situations which lead to “learned helplessness” (Peterson and Seligman, 1983).  A growing body of literature, in social science has shown that when people undergo a series of negative events over which they have no control, the result is learned helplessness. At SAGE, we see this manifest in what we call, “Severe Traumatic Bonding with Perpetrators.”


Silbert and Pines contend that when as a sense of psychological paralysis pervades the individuals in the sex trade population, the person becomes completely unable to leave the prostitution lifestyle, even when other opportunities are offered.  They maintain a belief that bad consequences would occur no matter what new steps they take.  They have lost any sense of control over their lives and have accepted feeling trapped and victimized (Silbert and Pines, 1882).  This helps to explain why 88% of the prostitutes in the study by Farley and Hotaling (1995) reported that they wanted to get out of prostitution but were unable to leave even when offered the choice[2].


Recruitment:  Supply and Demand

Recruitment into prostitution flourishes in proportion to an increased demand. The demand for trafficked women and girls increases due to a variety and combination of factors including:

·        Normalizing the rape and sexual abuse of children and the exploitation of women by viewing the demand as normal men with normal sexual needs being met through prostitution.  In actuality, we are sanctioning training grounds for men to learn and practice pedophilia. The girls who are preyed upon become untreated abused and traumatized women.

·        learned and accepted exploitation and violence

·        collusion with and protection of exploiters, especially the demand

·        loosened social norms concerning the sex industry

·        profitability by individuals, organized groups, and governments

·        accessibility to and the promotion of the multi-billion dollar sex industry

·        educational systems which lack interventions that promote equality between girls and boys/men and women and decrease misogyny

·        non-existent, weak, or un-enforced legal interventions to combat the demand and the traffickers

·        Criminal justice systems that focus on arresting and prosecuting women and girls involved in prostitution, but not their male counterparts.  In 2002, police arrested 23,446 men out of the 67,287 prostitution cases they reported to the FBI.  Additionally, men being arrested for soliciting paid sex vary enormously by geography. In San Francisco and Detroit, men accounted for about 75 percent of all prostitution-related arrests reported in 2002. By contrast, men accounted for only 9 percent of the prostitution arrests reported in Phoenix and Toledo, Ohio, just 12 percent of the arrests in Boston and only 14 percent in Las Vegas.

·        Since it’s inception in 1995, over 7000 men have attended  “Johns School,”  which boast a 98% success rate and funds a wide array of services using the fines the men pay.



We don’t connect the sexual abuse of children through prostitution to adult prostitution: 


·        Studies show that prostituted children tend to be concentrated in the cheaper end of the prostitution market, where conditions are the worst, and the concentration of customers of adults in the sex industry the highest. 

·        Although some children are prostituted by and/or specifically for pedophiles and preferential abusers, the majority of the several million men who annually exploit prostitutes under the age of 18 are first and foremost adult prostitutes users (adult men buying adult women) who become child sexual abusers through their prostitute use, rather than the other way around.[3]

·        The world of prostitution, whether legal or illegal, provides an arena where laws and rules that constrain sex with minors can be evaded.  Laws and social conventions make it difficult and dangerous for individuals to buy children for a sexual purpose in non-commercial contexts, but prostitution potentially provides instant access to a selection of children.

·        When asked how a person justifies having sex with an underage prostituted child, men surveyed in the First Offenders Prostitution Program (John’s School) in San Francisco and Fresno responded they “don’t even think about it.” They know that law enforcement efforts are focused on the youth/child and not on them.  Broad-based media campaigns and prevention programs should offer the stern message: “age is not a defense, you will be prosecuted, jailed, and required to register as a sex offender after your release from prison.”  In short, the message should be “your life will be over and your next victim will be spared.”  After working with over 8000 men/johns, I have found that they know they have a lot to lose, such as jobs, marriages, children, and reputations and will change their behavior when given the correct message backed by severe consequences. 


Though existing laws indicate that they should be charged with sexual abuse and statutory rape, police rarely, if ever, investigate, arrest, or prosecute the so-called “johns.” At most, and very rarely, the police cite the men as users of adult prostitutes.  If a young woman admits her real age or if the police know it to be under the age of 18, she is taken to jail.   The men get off scot-free.  They are often told, “Go on home buddy, this is your lucky day,” never once thinking of the life of the child that is ruined and changed forever or of the young mind and body so brutally traumatized over and over.


Traditionally, our social response to child sexual abuse through prostitution has been either complete denial, or the blaming and criminalizing of the child. We have documented instances of U.S. judges describing five year-old children as “provocative” or “promiscuous,” and our legal system has a long history of shaming girls and boys who are the targets of adult sexual violence. For most of our social and legal history, being sexually assaulted or violated meant that the victim, whether child or adult, acquired the status of “whore”—someone who is, supposedly, without credibility, rights, or respect. We have begun to shift our relationship to children, to adult women, and to sexual violence. Policy makers, law enforcement officials, and the general public are beginning to come to the understanding that rape is truly a crime—not solely in legal terms—but a crime against the human rights of the victim, and against all human beings who want to live in a safe and healthy society.


Our shifting beliefs have been mirrored in practice: it is a crime for an adult to have sex with a child; it is a crime to have sex without consent. The perpetrators of these crimes can at least hypothetically be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. The victims of these crimes at least hypothetically are entitled to justice, victim’s compensation, and protection. We have begun to challenge the idea that a person’s appearance, dress, or social status defines whether or not she or he can truly be recognized as a victim, or the idea that some people are “deserving” victims.


When it comes to prostitution in the United States, however, in ideology and practice, it’s as if no changes have occurred. As long as someone is labeled a prostitute—whether child or adult, we still say that it is OK to dehumanize, to mistreat, and to endanger that person. The children we call “prostitutes” are in reality the children who we have designated as acceptable and blame-worthy targets for sexual abuse. There is no law that states a child can consent to sexual abuse and by doing so be arrested.  But still we arrest children and deny them services. 


Unfortunately, there are several ways in which we have created: 1) a group of kids who it’s okay to sexually abuse and rape and 2) an arena for men to function as pedophiles and have their behavior ignored and/or normalized:


·        We ignore the abuse. We are mis-defining sexually abused children as criminals perpetrating a crime, rather than as individuals experiencing victimization. When a child tells a court-mandated reporter or police officer that an adult has had sex with them and paid them money, that reporter or officer is, and should be, legally bound to report the incident as an instance of child sexual abuse.  Not only does this reporting not occur, the child is at risk of criminalization and punishment.


·        We encourage the perpetrators. By focusing on the behavior or supposed wrongs of children, we are ignoring the perpetrators. We rarely go after the pimps, and NEVER go after the “johns,” and thus, NEVER arrest and prosecute the men as sexual abusers.  Even calling them “johns”, rather than child sexual abusers continues the protection and misrepresentation of what’s happening and creates group of children it is acceptable to rape and abuse. As a society, we are encouraging and enabling the perpetrators of child sexual abuse; we are creating a group of men who are learning—through adult prostitution—how to be sex abusers of children, and often how to be torturers and batterers. Many of these men bring these behaviors home or into other social arenas, and most of them continue to prey on children within the sex industries. 


·        We don’t give kids a way out. Our approach to the sexual abuse of children within prostitution rarely involves the creation of resources that truly enable healing and recovery, rather than punishment and stigma. The Office of Victim Compensation and other resources intended to meet the needs of crime victims deny resources to children abused through child prostitution, based on the mis-definition of these children as criminals. This means that resources are rarely available in any venue that does not involve the humiliation and vulnerability of arrest and incarceration. If the child is arrested, she or he is cycled through the criminal justice system, sometimes repeatedly, intensifying the shame, pain, and vulnerability that make children easy prey to pimps and abusers, and decreasing the possibility of successful intervention.  


·        We are working in “crisis mode” rather than on prevention.  Arresting children, women, or even arresting traffickers, pimps and the demand is a very far cry from preventing the problem. Rather than responding to the urgent needs of children who are being abused, we are still asking them to prove to us that they are not one of the “bad kids.” We must communally reject the myth that if a girl is on the street with lipstick and a mini-skirt on she can somehow consent to sexual abuse and that by consenting, she has committed a crime. When a child sexual abuser says “but she said she was 18,” we must realize that this is not a defense against child sexual abuse or statutory rape. This message must be accompanied by a strong public education campaign and rehabilitation options, or these men will simply seek new victims or take the abusive behaviors home.   While it is important to address crises among abused youth, the long-term eradication of the problem will be achieved only by establishing prevention programs for boys, men and girls, and full criminal sanctions focused on the men/abusers/buyers and the pimps and traffickers. 


·        Health and Human Services Should be Taking the Lead Providing Child Protection. Coordination of substance abuse services and treatment for torture survivors should be coordinated when it comes to this population. The juvenile justice system and the adult criminal justice system as the first responder to  the human suffering and abuses of these women children, sometimes by offering services but mostly to arrest and jail the victim. The sexual abuse of children through prostitution is made possible by a society that has created, sanctioned and institutionalized numbers of children for whom routine abuse, torture, rape, kidnapping, and often death is considered acceptable.  In essence, what we the legislators and service providers, other professional and individuals are saying and enforcing through laws and inappropriate interventions is that children and youth are consenting to their own sexual abuse and that by consenting to this abuse, they are a danger to society. They are subject to arrest; they are viewed as perpetrators, not victims, and are denied any services for their victimization.  I believe that here and now, we can end child prostitution by renaming and redefining it as child abuse and statutory rape.


·        Childhood histories are ignored as the individual ages and more blame, criminalization and withholding of services is the norm not the exception.


The following are key components to the systemic change that must occur to successfully address trafficking, and the demand:


·        Define the issue. Court mandated reporters such as law enforcement personnel, probation officers, judges, and lawyers must be educated and required to correctly define and report child prostitution as child sexual abuse, to define the so-called prostitutes as abused children, and to define the so-called “johns” as child sexual abusers. Mandated reporters must have a clear understanding of what, when and how they are required to report sexual abuse and that to not report abuse is illegal. After receiving training, the mandated reporters must be held accountable. 


·        The public needs education in order to better recognize child sexual abuse in and out of prostitution. We must recognize the clear links between child and adult prostitution on a global scale, and not presume that anyone labeled a prostitute is responsible for a system in which we allow people to buy human bodies. Only by transforming our relationships to all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, whether child or adult, can we disempower a multi-billion dollar sex industry in which the average age of entry is 13-14, and a society in which many adult men are socialized, from boyhood, to feel entitled to sexual service.


·        Reform legislative, investigative and prosecutorial practice. We must utilize our existing child sexual abuse and statutory rape laws as well as child abuse prevention and treatment resources. There needs to be a mechanism to move a child from the juvenile system into the family courts.  It is time to re-define child prostitution within its correct legislative framework: child safety. We need dramatic legislative reform, requiring total decriminalization of children and increased prosecution of pimps, and especially the people actually creating the demand for child sexual abuse, and making it profitable: the customers, i.e., sexual abusers and rapists. Adults who sexually abuse children in prostitution must face prosecution and consequences already afforded by our child protection laws, including becoming registered sex offenders.


·        Build coalitions and provide training. U.S. federal laws, such as the Mann Act, the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act, and the TVPA are intended to address the issue children abused through prostitution and of interstate trafficking in children for the purposes of prostitution and pornography.  However, though laws exist, they are not being proactively enforced.  Existing state laws regarding the use of children for sexual purposes vary in content and in the penalties imposed on offenders. Enforcement and coordination among local, state and federal law enforcement officials is sporadic at best.  Furthermore, many child and youth-service public and private agencies do not have policies, procedures or resources in place to serve victims of commercial sexual exploitation, and are often unaware of federal laws or how to access the support of federal agencies.  The results are both that children and youth are apprehended and treated as offenders/perpetrators and entered into the justice system where services typically do not exist or are not available to them, or that they are redirected to service agencies who are not prepared to provide the comprehensive treatment necessary to address the trauma surrounding sexual exploitation.


·        Create a real escape for children and women through appropriate social services and recovery. Replicate programs that work such as SAGE and the First Offenders Prostitution Program (John’s School.) Support Survivor-Run Services A web of peer-counseling services, which responds to the torture, kidnap and extremes of violence that characterize pimping, pandering and trafficking, absolutely must accompany legislative change. Without a safety net and resource base, taking children out of the criminal justice system only means returning them to pimps and perpetrators. SAGE is the first State Certified drug, trauma, and mental health program in the US that is entirely survivor centered and peer run.


·        Do not make services for women and girls contingent on testifying against abuser/trafficker.   Withholding services from individuals who have suffered the worst of human rights abuses is inhumane and only continues the abuse by giving a person no place to escape or heal. 


·         Don’t use protection and safety as an excuse to build more and better services for these youth in detention or in the adult criminal justice system.  We need to be focused, vigilant, and logical in our approach.  The critical importance and effectiveness of community-based peer counseling programs has been documented for a number of marginalized populations, including immigrants, refugees, and survivors of state-sponsored violence, homeless persons, drug-addicted persons, HIV-infected individuals, and Vietnam veterans .[4]. Client-created and survivor-run programs in which providers address the social, political, and economic contexts of clients' lives are the most effective.


·        Victims of Violent Crimes resources need to be directed toward the rehabilitation efforts of these children and women.  When they are not, we are clearly saying that these children and youth are consenting to their own sexual and physical abuse and that is a crime for which they should be punished and denied services. Most adult women are untreated children and trauma survivors.  They have suffered decades of bad and often unethical treatment by professionals and the criminal justice system.  


·        Focus on prevention. We need a sustained attention to all the social causes of prostitution, including but not limited to: gaping problems in our social response to child abuse within families and communities; extremes of poverty; outdated legal doctrines and practices; gender inequality; racial stratification; and a horrifying societal tolerance for the definition of prostituted children as without value or rights. 


·        Provide all interventions in unison. Take bold steps to respond to the years of neglect.  SAFE HOUSES need to be created because now. our streets are not safe and there is not the safety needed to respond to the crisis created by years of neglect


·        Look to the “True Experts” for guidance and answers.  Survivors with proven track records have created the web of services and the network of support that serves thousands per year with little help.  Tap into this network and other survivor run groups.


We need to ask ourselves how we can begin the process of socializing men and boys to prevent them from believing that it is OK to purchase women and girls.


We need to ask ourselves how we can stop cities, counties, states and countries from benefiting from prostitution while funding the needed services for women and girls who are trafficked, or involved in the sex industry, including prostitution.


As a survivor-advocate turned service provider, I am often expected by my colleagues in government to endorse, or participate in finding new ways to criminalize or increase the incarceration time of children and adults, supposedly in the name of protection. My sense of ethics, my experiential understanding of the issues, and my respect for the lives of children and all human beings requires that I reject the idea that people who are abused are de facto criminals.


All people deserve dignity and respect, and deserve to free of commercial sexual exploitation. The crime we need to confront and immediately redress is the betrayal and scapegoating of the most vulnerable members of our society—by some of the most powerful.



[1] The Centre to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

[2] Hotaling, Norma; Women and Prostitution, 1995

[3] O’Connell, Julia, 1995, The Sex Exploiter, Available at

[4] Becker, Lira, Castillo, Gomez, & Kovalskys, 1990; Therapy with victims of political repression in Chile: The challenge of social reparation. Journal of Social Issues 46: 133-49;Breton, 1999; The relevance of the structural approach to group work with immigrant and refugee women. Social Work with Groups 22(2/3): 11-29; Egendorf, 1975; Vietnam veteran rap groups and themes of postwar life; Mantell & M. Pilisuk (eds.) Journal of Social Issues: Soldiers in and after Vietnam 31(4): 111-124;Martin-Baro, 1988; War and mental health. In Martin-Baro, A. Aron & Come, S. (Eds.) Writings for a Liberation Psychology. Cambridge: Harvard University. pp.108-121; Turner, F. (1996). Echoes of combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory. NewYork: Anchor/Doubleday;Figley, 1978; Stress Disorders Among Vietnam Veterans: Theory, Research and Treatment. New York: Brunner/Mazel;Lifton, 1978; Advocacy and corruption in the healing professions. In Figley, Charles R. (Ed.), Stress Disorders Among Vietnam Veterans: Theory, Research and Treatment. New York: Brunner/Mazel. pp. 209-230;Turner,1996; Lykes, 1993  Human rights and mental health among Latin American women in situations of state-sponsored violence. Psychology of Women Quarterly 17: 525-44.