Debra J. Saunders
1/29/2003 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
As Norma Hotaling puts it, children engaged in prostitution are
"the only sanctioned group of kids that it's absolutely OK to sexually
Hotaling should know. She was lured into prostitution as a very
As an adult, she worked as a hooker until she kicked her drug
addiction. Hotaling later formed the group SAGE, Standing Against Global
Exploitation, a San Francisco group that helps prostitutes leave the life.
Hotaling recalled a visit seven years ago with a woman
representing the United Nations, who told her, "I can't believe that the
United States arrests children for being sexually abused."
Hotaling told her, "We arrest them so that they can get (social)
services." The worst of it is, the girls are arrested, while the men often
are not. (Last year, SFPD arrested 183 juveniles for prostitution. But if
the johns were arrested, it was for loitering.)
Hotaling is working to change that. The San Francisco Police
Department has responded, and Washington is listening.
It's Saturday. Sgt. Inspector Lynne Atkinson of the San
Francisco Police Department's vice squad and Hotaling are talking to a
roomful of men arrested for soliciting adult prostitutes. The johns are
participating in San Francisco's First Offender Prostitution Program, which
began in 1995. They pay a fine of up to $1,000 and attend "john school"; if
they don't re-offend for a year, their records are expunged. The john school
has a recidivism rate of less than 2 percent, Hotaling boasts.
In past years, Atkinson tells Saturday's class of 24 johns,
police often went easy on men caught with underage prostitutes -- maybe even
let the men go so they wouldn't have to face serious charges. But those days
Atkinson likens law enforcement's new attitude toward men who
have sex with child prostitutes to the change in attitude toward wife
beating. There was a time when police treated spousal battery as a family
matter. No longer.
Today, savvy cops understand that child prostitution is not a
victimless crime. Child prostitutes are victims, and their "clients" are
perps. Juries are wising up, too. In 2001, a San Francisco jury sentenced a
pimp for girls as young as 14 to 10 years in prison.
Hotaling is pushing authorities to get tough with the girls'
johns as well.
"Who in here thinks of yourself as a criminal?" Hotaling asks at
the beginning of her talk. No one raises a hand.
"Who in here thinks of yourself as a sexual abuser?" No hands.
Hotaling knows that some of these men have paid for sex with
minors, and she says so. A man with a teenage daughter is appalled. Having
sex with a child prostitute, he says, is "the sickest thing in the world."
Most of the attendees seem to agree with him.
One man said he supports tougher penalties for men who have sex
with child prostitutes, because, "There is such a thing as deterrence."
But a 26-year-old john says he doesn't like the responsibility
of knowing whether or not a woman is of legal age. "How do you honestly,
honestly know?" he asks.
A man may not know by looking, but once a 13-year-old starts
talking, he can tell she's a kid, Atkinson says.
In a speech to the U.S. Department of Justice in December,
Hotaling cited a study that found that the average age of entry into child
prostitution is 13 to 14 years old.
"All my girls, all my victims, have (sexual) abuse in their
history. Whether it was an uncle, or a dad, they had this abuse," Atkinson
explains. "In fact, they think (that by leaving home to work as a
prostitute), they've left it."
Not all the johns were oozing sympathy. One mutters about girls
"stupid" enough to fall for a pimp.
Then there was the john who argues that "going after the man"
makes no sense. "Get rid of the supply," he says. "You're not going to get
rid of the demand."
Hotaling is happy to go after the demand side. She's telling
johns that if they're not careful in their choices, they could spend time
behind bars for child molestation or statutory rape.
I ask afterward how many of these johns have had sex with
minors. Ninety percent, Hotaling guesstimates. With girls under 16? Forty
percent, she answers.
"You didn't distinguish between adults and kids," Hotaling told
the johns as she began Saturday's class. "You haven't had to."
Now they know they have to.