But let's call it what it really is - commercial sexual abuse of a minor - to
put the onus on the perpetrator instead of the victim.
By conservative estimates, between 200,000 and 300,000 children are exploited
through prostitution each year in this country. And the industry is exploding:
An estimated 10 million children around the globe are involved in prostitution,
with 1 million more each year joining the ranks of trafficking victims.
The health implications are staggering for minors engaging in prostitution:
increased risks of physical and sexual assault; sexually transmitted diseases,
including HIV and AIDS; pregnancy; cervical cancer; abortion; suicide; and
Childhood prostitution takes other tolls, too, including homelessness and
dropping out of school. A sobering 75 percent or more of the girls ages 13 to
18 in our criminal-justice system have been physically abused. Many have been
prostituted, used to produce pornography, or suffered or witnessed physical and
sexual violence. These children pay steep prices for being paid to engage in
Physical health detriments aside, these youths suffer significant mental-health
issues. The majority have been sexually abused - some as young as toddlers, and
from multiple adults - and can't form trusting relationships. This devastation
becomes more apparent when many teens, offered counseling and social services
to leave behind life on the streets, cannot grasp the concepts of choice and
On the state level, it has been hard to quantify the numbers of youth who are
trafficked or engaging in commercial sex, which is a well-hidden economy. We
can confirm that since 2002, there have been 84 convictions of juveniles for
prostitution - but only two for adults convicted of patronizing them. We
suspect that hundreds of juveniles are working as prostitutes. A US Justice
Department report placed Seattle among 12 hub cities where traffickers recruit
teen sex workers.
It's disturbing not to have the numbers, but we have stories. Vice unit
officers report seeing teenage prostitutes soliciting on Aurora Avenue North
and are aware that many pimps have these girls working a West Coast circuit.
To stem this tide, we support a two-pronged approach: Encourage children and
teens to seek prevention and intervention services, and hold accountable those
who victimize them.
Senate Bill 5718 would direct funds deposited into the prostitution
intervention and prevention account, now managed by the state Department of
Community, Trade and Economic Development, to help these victimized children
and teens reclaim their lives. These funds would be targeted for residential
treatment; counseling services, including mental-health and substance-abuse
services; and health care. Money would be used, too, to connect children to
school or vocational training.
In all practicality, a person who pays for sex with someone younger than 18
should be guilty of commercial sexual abuse of a minor, not of patronizing a
juvenile prostitute. Refocusing the law on the adult who commits the crime
sends the message that these youths' lives have value and meaning. If we are
serious about reducing commercial sexual abuse of minors, we must make it less
attractive to johns and pimps.
The number of establishments and settings that permit commercial sexual abuse
of minors would drop by requiring property owners to abate the abuse and take
affirmative steps to notify law enforcement that abuse is occurring. We would
make it a Class C felony to promote travel for the purpose of commercial sexual
abuse of a minor.
Here's the kicker: An additional one-year penalty would be tacked on to the
sentence of someone convicted of the most serious crimes of sexual abuse
against children, such as rape of a child, if the offender paid to engage in
Good public policy reflects our values as a society. With so little of our
lives spent in childhood, we owe it to our youth to keep them safe. For many,
this means keeping them off the streets. But for those already there, we are
going to make it easier to get help and harder to be victimized.