According to a November 2009 study out of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC), some law enforcement agencies have gotten the memo re: underage prostitution, and others have filed it in the trash right alongside their TPS reports. The latter group continues to classify juvenile prostitutes as delinquents, rather than victims, and would sooner arrest and prosecute these “criminals” than help them escape a life of coercion, threats, and countless forms of abuse. Needless to say, Bill Lumbergh would not be proud.
In fact, I recently contacted Bill, who had the following to say: “Yeah, police officers … So, if you could go ahead and, uh, actually protect and serve the citizens your community? That would be terrific … Okay? Thanks.”
No one really wants to please Mr. Lumbergh, but seriously, it would be oh-so-helpful all around if law enforcement could begin to see underage prostitution for what it is: Forced. Damaging. Rape.
Regardless of how a minor lands into a life of prostitution, it is practically a given that emotional and physical manipulation keeps her there. “Glamorous” as the job is, complicated as the feelings are (see: Stockholm syndrome), it is also pretty much a given that she wants –- needs -– to get out. Logically, reasonably, law enforcement, child protection, and mental health agencies should then step in with their training and services to recognize the exploitative situation for what it is and assist that individual.
Instead, many juvenile prostitutes are hauled in and punished for their “crimes.”
The CCRC study also found that police officers were more likely to treat an underage prostitute as a victim if she acted the part. Was she scared, dirty? Under 16? Then maybe she deserved help instead of handcuffs.
But what about 17- and 18-year-olds? If they act tough, I guess they are delinquent. Because 17- and 18-year-old girls who think they know it all clearly do. They have been on the planet long enough to wrap their minds and emotions around the manipulative situation they are in and have a handle on it. They don’t need protecting.
Whether or not you agree that juvenile prostitution is synonymous with enslavement, rather than an “extension of adult prostitution,” consider this: If a law enforcement agency chooses to view underage prostitutes as criminals, who are they really helping? Human trafficking is dependent on isolation of its victims, making sure they have nowhere to turn. By subscribing to the old paradigm that equates juvenile prostitution with delinquency, police effectively check themselves off the list of a victim’s potential allies. Score one for the pimps.
So, yeah … Law enforcement nationwide should probably go ahead and, uh, work on changing their mindset when it comes to teenage prostitution. Okay? That would be great.