By Rebekah Hayward
News articles, blogs, media outlets and even some service providers or professionals unknowingly have pushed the false term “under age prostitute” for years. Criminalizing victims and allowing criminals to slip under the radar. According to our New Jersey State Law and Federal Law any person under the age of 18 involved in the commercial sex industry is considered a victim of child sex trafficking (1). This legislation eliminates the term “under age prostitute” all together, although it is still used at times in New Jersey and across our country.
Why does the changing of this terminology make such a huge impact? In our country we think of prostitution as an option, the term implies choice, fault and blame. Prostitution is illegal. The term “underage prostitution insinuates that regardless if the individual is of consensual age or not, they are choosing to sell themselves. While attaching the term child prostitute to young victims it diminishes the fact that child enslavement happens, it causes the individual to be seen by the public as a criminal rather than a victim of a horrific crime. When many victims of sex trafficking are younger than the age of consent how can we hold them accountable, in our words, to a crime that requires consent.
In reality this fact changes the course of a youth’s life, as a child prostitute they would be seen as a criminal of a sex act, facing jail time, massive court fees, a lifelong criminal record, societal shame and so many other lifelong perpetuating penalties for an act they never could legally consent to. This is why the proper use of the term allows us to see victims of domestic sex trafficking even when they themselves may not self-identify as a victim of child sex trafficking. The proper term being used is essential in helping human trafficking victims not only be seen but identified and cared for. If our mindsets change regardless of the terminology presented, then more youth would begin to access the care they need. Possibly the changing of our mindset or assumptions could save a young boy or girl's life.
To be a victim of this crime is unimaginable, the manipulation, exploitation, abuse, threats and torture that have a lifelong impact cannot begin to be described. Unfortunately, often these children are told not only by their exploiters (pimps and traffickers) but by the media and public that it was their choice or fault. To quote Sharon Marcus-Kurn assistant US Attorney General for the District of Columbia “I have never met a juvenile involved in prostitution who doesn’t have a pimp”. (2) We must advocate and stand up for these youth. One impactful way is to eradicate the term child prostitute and begin to recognize children in the commercial sex industry as victims of domestic sex trafficking.
If you or someone you know is being forced to do things against their will or is a victim of domestic sex trafficking, please call the Human Trafficking Hotline Number (888) 373-7888 or call the New Jersey Human Trafficking Hotline number 855.END.NJ.HT (855-363-6548)
Change begins one person at a time, together we can end sex trafficking and bring freedom to all.
Written by Rebekah Hayward, Executive Director, Love True
2 Invisible Chains by Benjamin Perrin