Los Angeles County lawmakers and law enforcers joined child trafficking survivors and advocates in seeking to end the use of the misleading term “child prostitute” by launching a national campaign called No Such Thing.
“Children and teenagers who are commercially sexually exploited are not prostitutes,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during a press conference at the Hall of Justice. “They are victims of child rape and they are deserving of our attention, our care, and our commitment to ending this violent and repugnant crime.”
He added, “I cannot emphasize this enough: our children are not for sale.”
Each year in the United States, more than 1,000 victims of child sex trafficking are arrested and charged with prostitution. Many of them experience torture and abuse at the hands of traffickers called pimps, and buyers called johns.
Despite the fact that these children are too young to consent to any sexual activity, and the fact that federal law defines them as victims of a severe form of human trafficking, they are not contemplated as victims, or even children.
Instead, these victims, many of them girls between the ages of 12 and 14, are arrested, detained, and prosecuted for prostitution.
“Children who are forced to sell their bodies night after night on a street corner, or are tormented sexually, physically and mentally by grown men, aren’t prostitutes — they are victims — and they deserve to be treated with human decency and not be further stigmatized for their trauma,” said Supervisor Don Knabe. “As the ultimate safety net for our most vulnerable children, we cannot allow these victims to suffer unconscionable brutality at the hands of exploiters and child rapists.”
“This is a public health issue,” added Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment. “We need to prioritize the mental, physical, and emotional safety of trafficked girls.”
Human Rights Project for Girls executive director Malika Saada Saar said doing away with the misnomer that is “child prostitute” is essential to helping the children transition from victim to survivor.
“The term ‘child prostitute’ disregards the egregious abuse experienced by the most vulnerable members of our communities — our marginalized girls,”she said.
“Girls are made into property, sold to the highest bidder, repeatedly raped, and often branded — on their faces, necks, or chests — with the names of their traffickers,” she added. “There is no such thing as a child prostitute — only victims and survivors of child rape.”
The No Such Thing campaign is also working to end the arrest, detention, and prosecution of victims of domestic child sex trafficking. Instead, it seeks to crack down on both pimps and johns.
“All of us must work together to identify, arrest and prosecute the child rapists and traffickers who prey on the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “The Sheriff’s Department is deeply committed to not simply enhanced crime fighting strategies, but also to new victim-centered approaches that will enable us to rescue and heal young trafficking survivors and thereby offer them a brighter future.”
“It is time to help survivors of sex trafficking realize their full potential and dignity,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “The national launch of the No Such Thing campaign here in Los Angeles is an important step toward realizing that goal.”