Getting serious about helping young victims of prostitution

Pimps, beware: Society is sending you a pink slip.

So start looking for a real job or move back in with Mom, because we’ve got your number. Victim advocacy groups, families who have lost their kids to the streets and cops who’ve had enough of you finally have the attention of Congress, state legislatures, police, school counselors, teachers, parents and maybe even some of your customers. What happens in Vegas — and in U.S. cities everywhere, including Portland — doesn’t stay in Vegas. We’re making your sex-trafficking business our business. And we won’t rest.

More and more people understand that prostitution is not a victimless crime.

Just because sex has been sold for centuries does not make it OK nor does it mean that the women involved wouldn’t rather have a different life.

And we’re onto your strategy of using girls too young to drive a car to fuel the commercial sex industry. Even though these girls don’t make the perfect poster children once they’ve been duped, then hardened, beaten and made completely dependent on you for their livelihood, they are still worthy of finding, saving and restoring. You try to distort their image. You try to remake them. But we see them for what they are: someone’s missing child, sister or granddaughter. We know that no little girl wants to grow up and become a stranger’s sex toy or a pimp’s punching bag.

The age of entry into prostitution is getting younger and younger, as evidenced by the young girl found prostituting in Beaverton in November. (She says she was forced into prostitution at 13.) And when such girls recruited into commercial sex become adults, we still consider them victims: They are women robbed of their childhood; women turned into modern-day slaves.

So listen up. Here’s the exciting work being done to shut you down and make “johns” think twice about using people as commodities:

After working with Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel’s office, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has partnered with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to offer up legislation that would finance the No. 1 obstacle to freeing young girls from your abuse: safe shelter.

We’re tired of seeing young girls arrested and jailed for prostitution when just months before they were listed as missing children. And we don’t view jail as viable lodging for juveniles, even if it is sometimes the safest option. The Wyden bill, if passed, would establish funding for six shelters nationwide, accompanied by treatment, counseling and the legal tools victims need to escape “the life.”

The legislation also would demand better use of the nation’s missing children database so abducted and runaway minors can be recovered more often. We know runaways are more likely to be lured into prostitution. But you pimps should know that just because a family has rejected a child — or a child has rejected his or her home — these kids are not yours for the taking.

Shared Hope International, headed by former Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., is training area law enforcement professionals, educators and others who can reach children in crises how to find your “product” and hopefully put you out of business.

Oregonians Against Human Trafficking is another nonprofit doing an excellent job raising awareness that sex trafficking of minors doesn’t just happen overseas. It is happening here, with vulnerable girls pulled from high school campuses and shopping malls by pimps posing as caring boyfriends.

Victim advocacy groups and local governments are lobbying for legal changes that will put your customers on notice that when caught paying for sex, they will be prosecuted. And when the sex they buy is with a minor, knowingly or not, they will be treated like what they are: child rapists.

Shared Hope will be in Olympia on Monday, on the opening day of Washington state’s legislative session, to help along a bipartisan effort to find more safe housing options, to change the way the state classifies minors caught prostituting so they are cared for rather than criminalized and to create stricter penalties for people buying sex.

Lawmakers in many places are considering Nevada’s new asset-forfeiture law, which could financially ruin many “johns.” Here in Oregon, Commissioner McKeel’s office is dedicated to working with state lawmakers to find safe housing options for child prostitutes, paid for in part by increased fines on “johns,” and is planning a public service campaign to help victims find services.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that more than 100,000 children in the United States are victims of sex trafficking. And as Shared Hope says, “Men who buy sex with children in the United States escape the label of sex offender through the exchange of money. The child is seen as the criminal — labeled as a prostitute — not the victim.”

It won’t continue this way, pimps. Consider yourself warned: Good people are determined to decrease demand, eradicate supply and leave you unemployed.



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