Every year tens of thousands of young people, especially young girls, become trapped into prostitution. Mothers, grandmothers, and others close to the young women, are usually the first to suspect the girl is in trouble. They're also the most likely to care deeply, and the most willing to fight long and hard to help the young woman. The purpose of this guide is to provide you with tips, information, and resources to help you fight as effectively as possible to help a girl involved in prostitution.
Helping your child is not going to be easy. As you're probably well aware, there are still very powerful prejudices and forces working against any young person in prostitution. There are the pimps and johns who treat her as merchandise, and control her with degradation, threats, and violence. There are police agencies that often treat her as a criminal. And there is much of our society that still believes it's the girls who are the root cause of the prostitution problem.
The good news is there is also a new and growing understanding that these young women are really the victims in an extremely powerful and harmful criminal system of exploitation. New laws are being passed to protect the prostituted child and to punish the pimps, johns and others who profit from or participate in the child's prostitution. And there is a growing array of services to help the young women recover from the many traumas of being prostituted.
It's nowhere near perfect yet. In fact, it's really only just beginning. There's no guarantee your efforts will meet with success, no matter how much you pour your heart into it. Along the way you'll probably encounter many professionals and officials who still believe that it is the prostituted young woman who should be blamed, scorned, discarded, ignored, arrested, or punished. But don't give up! There is new hope. Keep looking and keep fighting. Often you can find people ready and willing to help you right in the same program or agency where others have ignored you.
Your fight will be worth it. Prostitution is violent, and it does severe damage to a young person's body, mind, and soul. Melissa Farley, a respected prostitution researcher, has found that prostitutes often suffer more severe post-traumatic stress disorder that veterans of war. The best way to help is to get the girl out of prostitution as soon as possible. Your fight to help a loved one will also help all women and girls.
NOTE 1: Why just girls? Though much of the information in this guide can be applied to helping a young boy, or helping an adult female or male, there are enough differences for each group, in the dynamics of male and female prostitution, in legal status, or parental rights, that in order to avoid confusion, we focus here very specifically on helping females under 18 years of age. There's another reason, too. The overwhelming number of prostitutes are female, and the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12 and 14-years-old. Helping a girl gets at the heart of stopping prostitution.
NOTE 2: Why mothers and grandmothers? We address this guide to mothers, grandmothers, and others close to the girl because we believe they have been seriously overlooked as a key resource in efforts to end child prostitution. The reason mothers, in particular, have been overlooked is partly due to the fact that many child prostitutes have been previous victims of child sexual abuse. And though the perpetrators of this earlier abuse are almost always male family members, many in society blame the mothers. They believe the mothers should have, and didn't, protect the child from the abuse.
Having worked for many years on cases of child sexual abuse, we recognize that many times mothers are not aware of the abuse their daughters are suffering. Other times, the mothers are being so severely abused themselves they've been unable to control or escape the abuser. We also recognize that there are mothers who did have the opportunity to protect the child and, in fact, did not. These mothers sometimes finally come to see the damage that's been done when the child is trapped in prostitution, and they realize it's never too late to wake up and fight. We also recognize that there are many girls who had perfectly healthy, happy childhoods who also end up getting trapped in prostitution.
We write this guide to support all the mothers who see that no matter what happened in the past, the moment is now to fight for your child's life. Our conviction that mothers and grandmothers are key in the fight to help child prostitutes is supported by the fact that almost all the calls we receive looking to help a prostituted child come from a mother or grandmother. We also want to support the many fathers, teachers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, clergy, aunts, uncles, police, social workers, advocates, etc., who are also ready to fight hard for the safety, freedom, and justice for prostituted girls.
As you read the following list, remember that these warning signs may or may not indicate a girl is involved in prostitution. Any one of these, or even all of them together, are not proof that a girl is involved in prostitution. But they are warning signs that should alert you to the possibility.
The Warning Signs:
Your Own Intuition! If the thought crosses your mind that your daughter may be involved in prostitution, don't ignore your intuition. Look into it further!
Friends and acquaintances of the girl are saying she is involved in prostitution. Adolescents can stir up a lot of elaborate mean rumors. At the same time, teens can often be the first to know when there really are abusive things going on. If your daughter's friends and acquaintances are saying she's involved in prostitution, it's definitely time to have some serious talks with the kids, their parents, and their teachers to find out exactly what's going on. And even if it is just a mean rumor, you need to involve the teachers and parents anyway to get it stopped, and to arm the kids with good information about the realities of prostitution.
Your girl is talking about other girls being involved in prostitution. Again, this is certainly not proof that your daughter is involved in prostitution. But it is a warning. Girls are often first introduced to pimps and johns by other girls who are already involved. Remember, the number one risk factor for children getting into prostitution is the presence of pimps and johns in the neighborhood. If your girl is is talking about other girls being involved in prostitution, it's time to talk with and inform your daughter well about the realities of prostitution (See tips for talking with your daughter in Part 2.) It's also time to get together with the other girls' mothers to work with them and the schools to find out what's going on, and to get the pimps and johns out of your neighborhood and hopefully arrested.
She has unexplained money, clothes or other gifts. One common way that pimps recruit a girl is to shower her with gifts. He will also very likely be pretending that he is her boyfriend or suitor. At this point, your daughter probably won't have any idea she's being recruited. But you should be suspicious. It's not appropriate for any man (or woman), young or old, to be giving teenagers money, clothes, jewelry, and gifts beyond simple mutual exchanges normal between teenagers. You need to know who this person is, whether or not he's a pimp, and redirect him out of your daughter's life. And probably report him to police, too. Also, be aware that older pimps often use younger male (or female) cohorts to lure a child in.
Pimps often continue doling out the money, clothes, and gifts as they increasingly alternate this with violence, threats, and insults.
She has a drug habit she couldn't possibly afford on her own. Plying youngsters with drugs is another first step pimps often use to reel a child in.
Absence from home, friends, and school. The second thing a pimp usually does when recruiting a young person into prostitution is to begin to isolate them from their family, friends, and school. Before getting heavy handed with a girl a pimp wants to get the girl as far removed (physically and emotionally) from help as he or she can. It's not that hard to do. Once having showered a girl with gifts and feigned romance, all he has to do now is to exploit any of the usual or unusual antagonisms that exist between the teen and her social environment. The pimp, of course, paints himself (or herself) as the only one who really understands and cares.
Abrupt and uncharacteristic changes in dress, schedule, and associates. One noticeable mistake pimps often make is to push these changes on the girl much faster than the usual flow. After all, for the pimp, time is money. So abrupt, uncharacteristic, and unexplainable changes in your teen should alert you to the possibility she's being recruited.
She has relationships with older men (or older women). This should always be a warning sign to parents that something is wrong. You probably already know that you should pay close attention to your child's relationships with all older people, even if they are the child's teacher, clergy, neighbor, or coach. But when unexplained older people form a relationship with your child, you should be especially wary.
Unwillingness to answer everyday questions. Giving evasive answers to your questions is a phase many teens pass through. You need to try to figure out if she's just being rebellious, or if she's trying to hide something substantial. You also have to decide when enough is enough. It's just not safe or acceptable when a child won't tell you in detail about a job offer they've gotten, for example, or about why they missed a half day of school, or where they're getting money and gifts.
She has a suspicious job or job offer. Always check up on any job offered to a juvenile. A telephone call to the supposed 'employer' is not a sufficient check. Many pimps know exactly how to fool a parent. Always go in to meet the boss at the place of work. And from time to time check up unexpectedly.
She has repeated brushes with the law. Even if police know a minor is involved with prostitution, they will often arrest the child on other charges, such as 'drug possession', 'disturbing the peace', 'shoplifting', or 'using false documents', etc. Police often do this because those offenses can be much easier for the officer to prove than a child prostitution arrest. Unfortunately, because of such charges, many teen victims of prostitution remain hidden, unidentified, incarcerated, and unhelped in juvenile halls. The tragic consequence is that the child is further stigmatized, and is now more vulnerable than ever to being turned back out onto the streets. The key point here is that you should be aware that entrapment in prostitution is often the underlying condition behind seemingly minor brushes with the law.
There is prostitution in your neighborhood. Wherever there is prostitution there are pimps and johns collecting in the area and there is danger for all the girls and young women in the neighborhood. Other neighborhood features that can make girls more vulnerable in your area are the presence of bus terminals, sex shops and massage shops, malls, and street gangs. Naturally, the presence of these features doesn't indicate your daughter is involved. But if you already have suspicions, the presence of these neighborhood factors should heighten your alert to the real possibility. At the same time, just because your neighborhood seems completely safe, it doesn't mean your daughter is safe. It's still possible there are pimps working the streets and schools looking for girls to recruit.
Go to Part 2 ~ Starting Tips