Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Editorial: Child Prostitution: Stolen Youth, Stolen Dreams

SEATTLE TIMES EDITORIAL -- It's time to stop blaming the victim.

Currently, children younger than 18 are guilty of solicitation if successfully prosecuted for engaging in prostitution.

But let's call it what it really is — commercial sexual abuse of a minor — to put the onus on the perpetrator instead of the victim.

By conservative estimates, between 200,000 and 300,000 children are exploited through prostitution each year in this country. And the industry is exploding: An estimated 10 million children around the globe are involved in prostitution, with 1 million more each year joining the ranks of trafficking victims.

The health implications are staggering for minors engaging in prostitution: increased risks of physical and sexual assault; sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS; pregnancy; cervical cancer; abortion; suicide; and death.

Childhood prostitution takes other tolls, too, including homelessness and dropping out of school. A sobering 75 percent or more of the girls ages 13 to 18 in our criminal-justice system have been physically abused. Many have been prostituted, used to produce pornography, or suffered or witnessed physical and sexual violence. These children pay steep prices for being paid to engage in sex.

Physical health detriments aside, these youths suffer significant mental-health issues. The majority have been sexually abused — some as young as toddlers, and from multiple adults — and can't form trusting relationships. This devastation becomes more apparent when many teens, offered counseling and social services to leave behind life on the streets, cannot grasp the concepts of choice and independence...


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