Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sexual Commodities

Bob Herbert today comments on the deplorable situation of a 13-year-old girl who was actually purchased--an investment on $500--to be pimped out to johns at parties. More disturbing still, one of the pimps was actually a New York City police detective.

Sexual slavery is alive and well in America, in case you weren't aware. The "world's oldest profession" lurks everywhere, and while the methods of sex trafficking have evolved over time, the laws have not caught up. And much of the law bows to the "Virgin or Whore" dichotomy, instead of actually looking at the systems of exploitation that has sprung up in this country.

In Sin and the Second City, Karen Abbott explains much about the outcries against "white slavery" in America at the turn of the 20th Century. At the time, reforming crusaders pushed hard for laws to protect poor innocent girls who were lured to the big cities with promises of work and disappeared into brothels and dance halls, to be violated by paying johns. This led to the Mann Act, which prohibited "white slavery" and interstate transport of "females for immoral purposes." A law like this depended on the image of women as pure, delicate, virgins, and saw them as victims of sex crimes.

Flash forward to current times, and you'll find that the laws treat women engaging in prostitution as the criminals, and not the pimps and johns necessarily. As Herbert writes:

But law enforcement does not always respond in a positive or constructive way. It is common across the country for under-age girls engaged in prostitution to be arrested, which is bizarre when you consider that it is a serious crime — statutory rape — for an adult to have sex with a minor.

If no money is involved, the youngster is considered a victim. But if the man pays for the sex — even if the money is going to the pimp, which is so often the case — the child is considered a prostitute and thus subject in many venues to arrest and incarceration.

“We often see the girls arrested and the pimps and the johns go free,” said Carol Smolenski, the head of Ecpat-USA, a group that fights the sexual exploitation of children. “One of the big problems is that there is this whole set of child sex exploiters who are not targeted as exceptionally bad guys.”

Nowhere is this strange "blame the victim" prerogative of the law on display as in the case of Lucilia, kidnapped into the world of prostitution at the tender age of 13.

If Lucilia were a 13-year-old Chinese girl smuggled to New York and made to work in a Queens brothel, she would not be seen, in the eyes of the authorities, as a prostitute at all. She would be a sex slave, a victim of human trafficking, and if she had the good fortune to be discovered by the police, she would be given federal protection and shielded by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. But she’s not.

In this city, a U.S. citizen like Lucilia is seen by the law as a prostitute. The federal law technically applies, but local law- enforcement follows state law. And according to state law, she is a victim, yes—of statutory rape, since the legal age of consent in New York is 17. But since the rapist paid money for the privilege, she’s also a criminal, subject to arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, no matter how young she is. And the prostitutes are getting younger. The consensus among the police officers, juvenile-rights lawyers, and prosecutors on the front lines is that more and more are entering the life as young as 12 years old. So how do we as a society deal with a girl like Lucilia? The contradiction between the state and federal legislation has created a crisis in policy and law enforcement. Is she a “moneymaking ho,” as her pimp called her, who should be prosecuted as a criminal—or is she just like the girls brought here from China, Colombia, or Belarus, a trafficking victim who should be equally protected under the law?

Prostitution is not a career choice; it is a vortex that sucks in women, either out of desperation, or force from a pimp. And yet the prevailing theory allows that if a woman is caught engaging in prostitution, she and she alone is responsible to the law. This sort of blame-focused punishment derives from the ideas of neo-conservatives who view sex as a crime to be punished. For them, sex is a sin with its own wages: STDs, pregnancy, and the stain of immorality on the soul.

I hope that the next leader of our country will look at these issues. With Las Vegas' mayor fantasizing of legalizing prostitution within the city, building "magnificent brothels" as a "boon to the local economy," how can anyone have faith in the current legal system to protect women?

2 responses:

Anonymous said...

I have investigated hundreds of cases of juvenile prostitution. I understand there are different perspectives on the issue. Some are feminist, some are liberal, some are just ignorant. Here are some hard facts that must be accepted to save a juvenile from prostitution. The victim loves and/or has an expectation of affection from the pimp in nearly every case. If the juvenile is not taken into custody and held there while that bond is broken she will, in nearly every case, return to prostitution within days. I don't care if you like it. I have extensive experience with victims and I am proud to say I have helped some to save themselves. IT CANNOT BE DONE WITHOUT SECURE CUSTODY. Secure custody that lasts at least a week. Secure custody where the victim feels safe, and the pimp cannot influence a demonstrably easily manipulated youth.

For all the journalism majors out there that believe they have the solution, you do not know what you are talking about. You may mean well, but don't break things that you don't understand.

For everyone who believes that some juveniles choose this path for survival or to support a drug habit, and not necessarily
for a pimp, go back to your singing and hugging. Disconnection from reality is not a crime, however, knee jerk reactions, and belief in misinformation disseminated by the predators themselves is harmful. Prior victims will often be untruthful to "save face" or protect the pimp, so don't believe everything you read and hear. Corroboration is the key to the truth.

Customers and pimps are arrested and jailed. Without a cooperative juvenile victim they will be released. If the victim has any chance to run back to her pimp she usually will. Without a chance to connect with that victim in a secure environment there will be no cooperation hence no prosecution. The pimp will victimize others.

I am quite tired of the people who have never done the work, accusing the police, lawyers, social workers, therapists, and judges,of mistreating the victims.

Here are some good research materials. You can watch, read, listen, and learn, about the real subculture. Decide for yourself what motivates the people involved. The DVD's can be rented at most video stores. The books at a library.
1. American Pimp DVD
2. Pimps Up Ho's Down DVD
3. My Life as a Pimp by Iceberg Slim
4. Original Game: Interview with an Old School Player by Darryel A. Woodson
5. Look through the popular social networking sites and note the huge number of pimps that brazenly post that title. They don't force victims with violence over the internet. They charm and lure them away.

If you have a common sense solution that has a chance of success, have it reviewed by real people who handle the cases through trial. If it will save the victim and put the offender away, by all means institute it. If all you can do is berate the only system that has proven effective in these cases please move on to your next cause du jour.

KEHutchinson said...


I agree with the notion of secure custody very much. My view is that any prostitute who is arrested should be brought to a secure place and given counseling and provided with guidance to make a break from her pimp. When I said prostitution was a vortex, I was referring to the way in which it warps a person into continuing to engage in such dangerous and harmful behavior.

I appreciate your taking the time to respond, and list resources for more information.

(C) 2007 - 2009 Kate Hutchinson. All rights reserved.

All opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the author.