The NY Times reports that child prostitution is on the rise in the U.S. Not surprisingly, it’s trouble at home, more often than not, that leads kids into life on the streets. Once they are there, they embrace desperate measures in order to survive. The numbers are disturbing.
From the Times:
Nearly a third of the children who flee or are kicked out of their homes each year engage in sex for food, drugs or a place to stay, according to a variety of studies published in academic and public health journals. But this kind of dangerous barter system can quickly escalate into more formalized prostitution, when money changes hands. And then, child welfare workers and police officials say, it becomes extremely difficult to help runaways escape the streets.
Watch a related Times video report here.
Pimps comb the streets in search of desperate runaways. In addition to providing them with food and a place to stay, the pimps control the girls through emotional manipulation – providing a taste of the care and affirmation these girls are so obviously lacking at home, while at the same time beating them, verbally abusing them and selling them out.
“My job is to make sure she has what she needs, personal hygiene, get her nails done, take her to buy an outfit, take her out to eat, make her feel wanted,” said another pimp, Antoin Thurman, who was sentenced in 2006 to three years for pandering and related charges in Buckeye, Ariz. “But I keep the money.”
The article describes how many law enforcement officials are now focused on finding and helping runaways before the pimps get to them. Providing shelter, counseling and general aid to high risk runaways may be the most effective way to curtail child prostitution in the U.S. In 2007 Congress proposed to spend $55 million building group homes for runaways, but ultimately never authorized the funding. Personally, I think it makes a lot more sense to pay to put these children in protective services BEFORE they get into prostitution than it does to pay to put them in prison after the fact.
But, like so many social problems, the root cause of child prostitution is found in broken families.