By Stella Dawson
WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children sold for sex are crime victims and should not be branded as prostitutes, anti-slavery advocates said on Thursday in launching a U.S. campaign to raise awareness of child sex trafficking and to change how its victims are treated.
The term “child prostitute” implies that consent was involved when in fact there was no such thing, they said. Underage girls and boys who are forced to sell their bodies have very little choice when traffickers fully control them through violence, manipulation and coercion.
“Girls repeatedly raped and exploited are not prostitutes. They are victims and survivors of child rape and they deserve all the support and services we provide other abused children,” Malika Saada Saar, director of Rights4Girls, a human rights group focused on gender-based violence against girls and young women, said at a seminar here.
Rights4Girls, with support from Google and the McCain Institute, is leading the No Such Thing campaign, which calls upon policymakers, law enforcement and others to eradicate the term child prostitute.
How people are named affects how they are treated, and youngsters not old enough to consent to legal sex, let alone commercial sex, cannot be considered prostitutes, they said.
“Real men don’t buy little girls for sex,” said Cindy McCain, chair of the McCain Institute Human Trafficking Advisory Council and the wife of Sen. John McCain of Arizona,the 2007 Republican candidate for U.S. president.
Each year at least 100,000 children are victims of sex trafficking in the United States, most of them girls who are recruited between the ages of 12 and 14, according to Rights4Girls.
The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines any person younger than 18 who is induced to perform commercial sex as the victim of sex trafficking. Federal law also recognizes that children who sell their bodies for basic necessities such as food and shelter are victims of sexual exploitation.
Yet not every state has the same law on their books and they send children to jail as prostitutes, while buyers face no prosecution for rape, sexual abuse or child endangerment.
A series of bills before the U.S. Congress seeks to toughen human trafficking laws and they have bipartisan support. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, said she is optimistic for passage within the next six months of the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, which creates incentives for states to provide help and support for sex-trafficked children rather than throwing them in jail.
“To criminally prosecute a child not old enough to go to the school prom makes no sense,” Klobuchar said.
"You get much more cooperation from a victim if you give them a safe harbor, a place to live, job training, an education,” she added.
(Reporting by Stella Dawson; Editing by Lisa Anderson)