Juvenile Prostitution, or child prostitution, is a type of sexual abuse involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children, in which a child provides the services of prostitution for the financial benefit. The term generally refers to prostitution by a minor, or a person below the local age of maturity. Many countries have employed strict laws against juvenile prostitution, which may include the people older than the age of maturity, for consent. Victims of juvenile prostitution are the most overlooked, misidentified, and underserved type of children.
The lines differentiating between the roles of the victims and offenders in prostitution have begun to blur, with the juvenile prostitution being the special center of attraction. The problem of prostitution among the children stereotypically stem from a troubled childhood, broken families, poverty, and lack of education. As per the National Juvenile Prostitution Study (Mitchell, Winkelhor, & Wolak, 2009), prostitution can be classified into three types: third party exploiters, solo juveniles, and child sexual abuse cases. Based on the noted testimonies in Cobbina and Oselin’s article published in 2011, some youths experience solicitation and abuse in their own homes at a young age, making solicitation a normal experience. Therefore, it is extremely important for the law enforcement officials to employ an open-minded attitude when dealing with the children involved in prostitution. They need to be seen as victims of various underlying troubles, rather than the offenders. Megan Annitto (2011) describes the children involved in the juvenile prostitution as survivors of exploitation (p. 5), which has also been suggested in the theories, later described in the paper.
In this paper, we will describe the different theories that lay beneath the juvenile prostitution, the statistics of the crime issue, and the policies that need to be defined and followed in order to help curb the social crime.
Attitude towards Juvenile Prostitution
The human degradation that lies in the foundation of the prostitution is always unacceptable, but the victimization of children that is the base of the juvenile prostitution is particularly disturbing. Important facts that have come to the surface regarding the juvenile prostitution recently are (Finkelhor, & Ormrod, 2006):
- Juvenile prostitution, which is encountered and reported by police, is more likely to involve multiple offenders and to take place indoors and in large urban areas than the adult prostitution.
- Police reports have more records of contacts with male juvenile prostitutes than with the female ones.
- Male juvenile prostitutes are generally older than the female prostitutes and have a higher tendency to operate outdoors.
- Police are less likely to arrest juvenile prostitutes than adult prostitutes, but are more inclined towards arresting the male prostitutes than the female prostitutes. More emphasis is given to refer female prostitutes to the social services agencies.
- The police tend to view the juveniles involved in the prostitution as offenders, rather than as crime victims. The population that is classified as victims is mostly female and young.
- The policy makers and various other law enforcement agencies need to engage in more analysis, coordination, and planning on how to respond to the episodes of juvenile prostitution in an appropriate manner.
Impacts of the juvenile prostitution on the society
The consequences of the juvenile prostitution and abuse towards the society are far more significant than are visible on the surface. Child abuse is often a vicious cycle, and being a victim of child abuse raises the chances of the child getting involved into other crimes in the future as well by 53 per cent (Kempe, & Kempe, 2010).
The children involved in the prostitution grow up to suffer in the later years of their life from mental and emotional problems, which include (but not limited to) depression, low self-confidence, anxiety, mental disorders and suicidal tendencies.
The children who become the victims of abuse and prostitution at a very small age may face delayed and disordered development, which requires special services during their childhood.
Once these kids are found, they are generally referred to the foster care, which is quite expensive. Moreover, children in foster care can develop further behavioral and emotional troubles, which can chain up to other costly social problems like teen pregnancy, dropping out of the schools, homelessness, criminal activity involvement, unemployment, and welfare dependency.
Furthermore, the children of teen mothers are less likely to have a healthy development, and grow up to have an increased tendency to engage in criminal behavior, being abused themselves, be placed in foster care, and are less likely to be socially and economically independent. Such children have a high rate of unemployment and continue to rely on the public assistance for their life to come.
Impacts of the juvenile prostitution on the victim
Juvenile protection, apart from having grave consequences on the society where it penetrates and grows is, has negative impacts of the mental health and the well-being of the child later on in life (Lloyd, 2005). Some of these impacts are:
- Little or no access to Services: A high percentage of children who are sexually exploited are uneducated. Having being rejected by their families and relatives and marginalized by the society, they have limited or no access to the health care facilities and survive and suffer in extremely unhygienic conditions.
- AIDS: Prostitution is one of the biggest gateways towards the spread of HIV. While dealing with children, people may refuse to have safe and protected sexual encounters. Children, therefore, are at a great risk of numerous sexually transmitted diseases.
- Physical and psychological illness: The physical damage to the children can be intense, like vaginal tearing, physical after-effects of pain, infection, torture, or unwanted pregnancy. At the psychological level, the children can also develop the symptoms of depression, confusion with sexual orientation, behavioral problems, struggle with self-confidence, sleep troubles, and mistrust and hatred towards adults.
According to Estes and Weiner (2009), about 90% of the juveniles who were detained or arrested were females, while the rest 10% were males. These children are believed to start at an age of 11 or younger. The ages of consent differ from different states, however most states start as early as the age of sixteen.
When it comes to race, the study revealed that 53% of the children arrested belonged to the white group, 36% to the black group, 9% were Hispanic, 4% to other minorities, and the remaining 2% are unsure.
More than half of the arrested children belonged to the urban neighborhood.
As per the National Juvenile Prostitution Study (2010), out of the juveniles arrested for prostitution, about 53% of the children came from the urban neighborhoods, 23% belonged to suburbs, 7% from the large towns, 5% from small towns, 4% from the rural areas, and the remaining 8% from the unknown areas.
The juveniles arrested from the urban areas are more commonly involved in solo acts of prostitution. The others are usually initiated by a third party.
Factors influencing the Juvenile Prostitution
While child abuse being the most common factor, there are various other factors that directly or indirectly promote juvenile prostitution and abuse in the society. The most common reasons stated by the children for entering the field of prostitution include homelessness, prior victimization and abuse, family breakdown, poverty, lack of education, and drug use, among many others. An Australian report on juvenile prostitution reported that most children engaged in commercial sexual activities to support their basic needs of life, such as food, accommodation, clothing, drugs, and money (International Save the Children Alliance, 2006).
The children, who do not have a family that they can trust in regards of mental, emotional, or physical abuse, tend to retreat in a number of ways. Regardless of the type of abuse, the individuals had more serious problems with self-image, sexual attitudes, and mastering their environment than their non-abused peers (Twill, Green, & Traylor, 2010, p. 189).
The children who are sexually abused are more likely to suffer the mental disorders. One of the most common disorders is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD). It is commonly caused by a traumatic experience, during which the child felt powerless, hopeless, and scared.
Victims of Juvenile Prostitution
Violence against children can have a devastating effect on them – threatening their survival, development and social interaction and participation. Some children are more easily targeted by the pimps than the others. The easiest targets for the field of child prostitution are (Mazerolle, 2006):
- Highly vulnerable children, like orphans, children tormented by conflicts, suffering from HIV/AIDS, the ones with disability, are an easy target for verbal, physical and sexual abuses.
- Abused girls: The women and girls, who have been subjected to abuse, are another easy target for the pimps to push in the prostitution. Gender-based violence can take up many forms, like sexual harassment, incest, genital cutting, rape, trafficking, and honor killing. It is one of the most atrocious symptoms of gender inequality.
Theories associated with Juvenile Prostitution
General Strain Theory
Current research on the juvenile prostitution and delinquency places a significant amount of emphasis on the external contributing factors, such as economic necessity, abuse, and normalization. General Strain Theory posits that stress can be produced as a result of an individual conforming to the cultural norms and attempting to achieve cultural and social goals. According to Cobbina and Oselin (2011), the necessity for economic survival and the achievement of monetary success may act as a primary driving factor for the juveniles, who do not have access to the means to survive or achieve the success, to enter the field of prostitution. The children often lack the education, job, skills, wisdom, and experience to become economically stable on their own and make wise and calculated decisions.
Joan Reid (2011) suggests that the child maltreatment is a typical strain that the juveniles in the prostitution experience. Their parents, in the past, were not able to feed or care for their children, or they were subject to abuse, including sexual abuse, when their parents were high and drunk (2011, p. 149). Children, who are deprived of general means to survive, and those who feel that they are not safe in their own homes, usually find security outside their homes.
General Theory of Crime
Hirschi and Gottfredson’s General theory of crime (1990) places self-control at the center of the factors that control a person’s involvement in the delinquent behavior. The key concept of the theory states that the lower self-control increases the likelihood of the occurrence of the delinquent behavior (Mazerolle, 2006).
Self-control affects the decision making process as people make judgments on consequences of the behavior. Self-control is believed to be established between the ages of 8 and 10. Effective parenting tends to develop higher levels of self-control in the child. It is believed that the opportunities to become engaged in analogous actions, such as gambling, or prostitution, present themselves at various points in time, however “it is the low self-control that provides the impetus to commit them” (LaGrange, & Silverman, 1999).
Social Learning or Socialization Theory
Social learning, or socialization theory (Albert Bandura, 1977), is well recognized as a possible explanation for the future misconduct and exploitation. It is theorized that the rebellious and delinquent behavior becomes possible due to the attitudes a victim may have acquired as a result of childhood sexual exploitation. The theory revolves around the process of observational learning. Bandura suggests that the humans are active information processors and think about the relationship between their behavior and its consequences.
Children observe everyone around them behaving in various ways. They are surrounded by many influential models around them, such as parents in the family, characters in TV shows, friends and peers, and teachers at school. These models provide a set of behaviors to the children to imitate (Lloyd, 2005).
This theory contradicts the General Theory of Crime in the sense that the cause behind delinquent behavior can be modified. Research into the relationship between the abused as a minor and participation in the juvenile prostitution is mixed.
Merton’s Strain Theory
Robert Merton argued that the society may be set up in a way which encourages too much deviance. He believed that when social norms, or socially accepted goals place the pressure on the individual to conform, they force him to either work in the framework that has been produced by the society, or instead, become a part of a deviant subculture in an attempt to achieve these goals (Boundless, 2014).
His primary concern was that the societies such as United States do not provide adequate methods and means to achieve the cultural goals. When a person is faced with a gap between the reality and the expectation, he will feel strained and will have to choose among the five modes of adaptation (Andersen, & Taylor, 2009):
- Conformity: implies pursuing cultural goals through the pre-approved means. A conformist has accepted the goals set by the society and the socially-defined ways of achieving them. The problem that Merton saw here was that not everyone who wants to achieve success has received the opportunity to achieve it.
- Innovation: As per Merton, the strain that exists between the society’s emphasis on wealth and the lack of opportunities for the success can go on to encourage people to engage in anti-social activities, such as selling drugs, stealing, among other forms of crime. This type of deviance is called innovation, in which an individual uses unconventional means to achieve a socially approved goal.
- Ritualism: is also a mode that is prompted by an inability to reach the social goals. In this mode, the ritualist rejects the goals set by the society and culture, but instead works towards the lesser lofty goals, although by socially-approved means. A person who is studying in college, but has no real desire or will to use his education to achieve financial stability is an example of ritualism. Ritualists are those people who are satisfied and happy with their scaled down ambitions and abide by the culturally accepted means of achieving these ambitions.
- Retreatism: Retreatists are those people who outright reject both the cultural goals as well as the socially accepted means of attaining these goals. Without any particular means or methods of mind, they casually avoid both the goals and the means, without replacing these norms with their own counter-social forces. Homeless people and alcoholics are examples of retreatists.
- Rebels: Rebels, as suggested from the name, not only reject the socially-conformed goals and culturally approved means of achieving them, but they substitute these goals with their own new goals, and the means of attaining by their own new means.
- Enforcing laws prohibiting the prostitution
The main strategy that the police can use to control the juvenile prostitution is to enforce the laws prohibiting the patronizing and loitering for the purpose of prostitution. These strategies are expensive, though; each arrest needs a minimum of thousands of dollars to process.
- Establishing a highly visible police presence
The police force, with a high visibility, can go a far way in discouraging the street prostitution. However, this strategy, being expensive, is effective only if the police officers follow it up and combine with more permanent strategies.
- Enhancing fines/penalties for prostitution
Some countries have increased the penalties for the offences related to prostitution. These increases and enhancements are more aimed at moving the street prostitution market to the other locations so that the target area can be redeveloped. However, it needs to be taken care that the problem population is not to be displaced to the areas, where the impact will worsen (Annitto, 2011).
- Using community justice panels
Instead of traditional criminal justice proceedings in a court of law, prostitutes and their clients can be made to appear before the community justice panels, which focus on restoring the harms the community suffers. This measure, if properly monitored and enforced, is believed to be more effective than the prison or fines, alone (Mitchell et. al., 2010).
The children, who are too young in age and are believed to have impressionable minds, are preferably sent back to the community for the rehabilitation. It is believed that these children are the victims of abuse of various types, because of which they took to prostitution. Therefore, many countries are adopting the approach of releasing such victims back to society and learn and improve on their own with the help of the community (Mitchell et. al., 2010). It is a common belief that these children, who took to prostitution at young ages, are not criminals, but just some misguided youths, who have lost their direction. Having being rejected by their family and cut-off from the society, they had a lack of proper adult guidance, and thus lack the knowledge of right and wrong (Reid, 2011). Hence, it is more effective to release them back to the community, where all the adults of the society are there to watch over them and correct them.
Over the past decade, the civil society has played a central role in the fight against child trafficking and child prostitution. It is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon and needs to be addressed at various levels. Members of the civil society have worked alone for the cause or have joined hands with the law enforcement groups, governments, legislators, and international organizations, while designing strategies for prevention, protection, prosecution, research, and advocacy (Cobbina, & Oselin, 2011).
The different steps taken for fighting the problem are (Annitto, 2011):
- Raise the awareness about the issue of child prostitution and other related issues, like child abuse and child trafficking.
- Empowering at-risk communities and individuals to make them less vulnerable to the lure of pimps.
- Assisting in identifying the victims and investigating the prostitution cases.
- Providing services to victims to guide them along their rehabilitation, improvement and reintegration path.
- Conducting research based on various aspects of the problem.
- Advocating for legislative or a policy change.
Despite treating juveniles as victims in most cases involving sexual harassment, there is no federal law in US that specifically regulates the prostitution. The primary federal law for the prosecution of sex trafficking and child prostitution is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 and its 2013 revision. This law considers all minors (who are under the age of eighteen), who engaged in commercial sex, as victims of trafficking; and individuals who use fraud or force to exploit the children for the purpose of prostitution can be sentenced to a life in prison. Victims of prostitution and trafficking are also granted access to medical and social services under this act.
Despite the broad language of the statute and the recent move to expand its protections to domestic juvenile prostitutes, the Act was not enacted with the group of juveniles in mind. It was originally intended solely for the protection of the foreign victims of international sex trafficking and prostitution (Lloyd, 2005).
In 2008, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act amended the TVPA, 2000 to include a subsection providing assistance for the citizens and lawful permanent residents. This reauthorization also brought in new programs. Despite this provision, however, there is still uncertainty as to whether US citizens are eligible for aid under all of the TVPA’s anti-trafficking grant programs.
While it is clear that there is a big gap in the provision of the services, federal law does successfully manages to shield the domestic juveniles involved in the prostitution from prosecution for the offences related to prostitution (Annitto, 2011). The TVPA treats all juveniles involved in prostitution as sexually exploited minors and thus victims, regardless of whether they were forced by a third-party exploiter or were operating on their own. This protection from the prosecution is a safe harbor provision automatically provided to all the victims of sex trafficking and juvenile prostitution, both domestic and foreign.
We also discussed the children who are the easy targets for the pimps, and had a look at various theories that lie in the foundation of the juvenile prostitution. Considering these factors, the main argument of the paper remains that the attitudes of the governments and the law enforcing officials need to change towards the child involved in prostitution, and they need to be seen as victims, rather than the criminals or offenders themselves.
Since prostitution is more prevalent in the lower socio-economic areas, establishing groups that specifically address the problems of the children and reach out to them may be the best bet for their recovery. Apart from this, we also saw various measures for fighting this social issue. Various law enforcement policies can be brought in. Another major and hopefully effective measure that can be taken is instead of punishing the children, it is better to release them to the community where the adults teach the children themselves and provide them with the much-needed guidance, which they missed while growing up.
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