Child prostitution: creating victims without a voice

Who will hear them when they cry out?

The lives of teenage prostitutes revolve around two types of people — those who see them only as objects to satisfy their own urges, like urinals in a time of urgency, and those who make money off of them every time one of the men with urges comes along.

I wrote today’s Deseret News editorial reacting to a joint FBI and local law enforcement operation over the weekend that nabbed 104 alleged pimps and “rescued” 79 teenage prostitutes nationwide. I put quote marks around “rescued” because even the FBI admits some of them may be lured right back into prostitution.

Some have been in the sex trade since age 11. Many of them were troubled to begin with, living in abusive situations at home. The pimps lured them through social media or other places young people frequent. They befriended them, gave them drugs and shelter, then locked them into lives of abuse, false love and dependency.

If you’re a child, boy or girl (two of those “rescued” were boys), pimps aren’t your only worry. I’ve interviewed police who routinely pretend to be young teenagers online in chat rooms. They generally don’t have to wait long before someone much older comes along and wants to make friends and arrange a meeting. To cops, finding these guys is as easy as picking garbage from the gutter.

And then there are the relatives, baby sitters and other people in positions of authority. I’ve seen studies that show 80 percent to 90 percent of assaults on minors happen at the hands of someone the victim knows, or a family member.

These problems aren’t new. If they were, children wouldn’t grow up hearing fairy tales of boys and girls being chased by wolves, eaten by mean old witches or pursued by giants who hide in the leafy heights of a beanstalk.

But today the problems come with a new twist. Children and teenagers must be ready to run from ravenous wolves who can change their appearance and demeanor at will, who can turn from friendly cyber-chatters into wicked witches in an instant and who chase them with a desire to grind their bones for their own gratification.

“Little Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel” and “Jack in the Bean Stalk,” all have happy endings. The children run away. They chop down the giant stalks. But in real life this isn’t always true. Even if they run away, they never will approach life the same way. And unlike in fairy tales, the homes they return to may be filled with the kinds of demons who made them vulnerable in the first place.

Who will hear them when they cry out? That’s the trouble. Given enough abuse, they may not know they need to cry out.

As FBI Acting Executive Assistant Director Kevin Perkins told CNN, “rescuing” them is just the beginning. “This is a very difficult task. These children are very damaged — very harmed, and they need a great deal of help…”

This is one law-enforcement roundup without any quick happy endings.

Categories: Crime

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

Leave a comment encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.