Archive for April 29th, 2011

Corruption is worse than prostitution.  The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.  –  Karl Kraus

As we’ve discussed many times before, Americans have the distressing tendency to pretend that all prostitutes are streetwalkers, even though any person who isn’t living in a fantasy world has at a minimum heard of escorts and massage parlor girls.  And in the past few years this already-distorted view has become even narrower as the rhetoric that the “vast majority” of streetwalkers (whom the fanatics represent as the “vast majority” of whores) are both underage and coerced.  And though people like Kristin Davis try to build their fortunes on these lies, the truth is that only about 3.5% of all prostitutes are underage.  This means there are only about 15,700 underage prostitutes in the United States, and as we shall see only a small percentage of those are coerced in any way, much less “trafficked sex slaves”.

When I wrote the above-linked column in January I had no way of estimating what percentage of underage girls are coerced, but I recently came across that information in an article from Feministing written in response to the media hullabaloo surrounding the publication of Rachel Lloyd’s book Girls Like Us.  Lloyd is a former underage prostitute who founded the Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), a New York City organization dedicated to offering a refuge to young girls involved in street prostitution.  And though Lloyd has done some important work, including advocating for the decriminalization of underage prostitution, I’m afraid that her message (she points out that criminalization hurts prostitutes of all ages) has been hijacked by creeps like Nicholas Kristof (a trafficking fetishist of the most transparent kind whom I have mentioned before) to promote persecution of adult prostitutes and clients.  The Feministing article appeared on April 25th and  includes this long excerpt from a comment written by one of the organizers of an organization called INCITE! in response to this article on Colorlines:

The Safe Harbor Act, along with initiatives like it that Lloyd and others are promoting across the country, are NOT simple or solutions for most of us.  First, they don’t stop arrests of young people for prostitution-related offenses, or the police abuses of young people in the sex trades, including police trading sex in exchange for promises of dropping charges.  They also don’t stop arrests of young people in the sex trades that involve “charging up,” i.e. charging young people with weapons or drug-related offenses which may be easier to prove.  Second, while they may stop criminal prosecutions of young people for prostitution-related offenses, these laws do not eliminate detention and punishment of young people involved in the sex trades, they just shift young people from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts to family court systems, where they can remain entangled until the age of 21.  And, in the end, only a very narrow group of people can benefit from these laws.

For example, in order for the Safe Harbor Act to benefit a young person, they must be under 16 and arrested for the first time and must never have been in family court before.  Young people between the ages of 16-18 continue to be charged in adult court.  Even those under 16 who can meet the Act’s criteria must still convince a judge that they are a “victim” of a “severe form of trafficking” – a hurdle that both Sen and Lloyd acknowledge is almost impossible for young girls of color.  This is also a problem because most young people’s stories do not fit into a neat box.  A National Institutes of Justice funded study by researchers at John Jay College in New York City found that only 8% of young people involved in the sex trades in New York City had been forced into prostitution by a “pimp,” and only 10% currently worked with one.  The same study found that 16% of girls and 6% of boys trading sex were coerced, but the vast majority of girls (84%) engaged in the sex trades in New York City had never come into contact with a “pimp.”  When young people can’t respond to police and prosecutors’ pressure to give up a “pimp” they never had they get punished by law enforcement and service providers alike, and find themselves back on the delinquency and detention track.  Even when the Safe Harbor Act (and other laws like it) is found to apply to a young person, they must still follow the rules a family court judge sees fit, which can involve attending a court-mandated program…, many of which enforce Christianity on participants.  Additionally, for young people for whom no such services are available, including LGBTQ young people and young men in the sex trades, such legislation offers little or no relief whatsoever.

The Feministing article includes a great deal more and is, I think, worth your time; it contains points such as “…it’s important to remember – there are people, including young people, who want to do sex work in a safe environment, without experiencing state violence at the hands of the police and social services – which is the greatest danger they face according to young people in the sex trade.”  But the thing which caught my attention the most was the John Jay study:  only 16% of underage female prostitutes are coerced, which is a direct repudiation of Estes and Weiner’s ridiculous claim that ALL underage female prostitutes, without exception, are coerced.  If we apply that 16% to my estimate of the total number of underage prostitutes, we arrive at a total of 2511 coerced underage female prostitutes in the United States…roughly 1% of what the trafficking fanatics would have us believe.  And that certainly explains why they, the cops and the FBI have so much trouble finding any.

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