Stop Using the Term "Child Prostitute"
There is no such thing as a child prostitute.
This picture was taken around the time of my 17th birthday. What it does not tell you is that from the ages of 10 to 17 I was sexually exploited throughout the western United States, charged with solicitation and prostitution, and jailed as if I was a criminal.
I was not a child prostitute or child sex worker. I was a victim and survivor of child rape. And so are the other kids out there now who are being bought and sold for sex. They are victims and survivors of child rape.
But, too often, when the media reports on child sex trafficking, or attempts to tell our stories, the way we are described mislead the public about what is happening to trafficked children.
According to research by the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls), The California Endowment, and The Raben Group, there have been more than 5,000 instances in the past five years when reporters for print, wire, and online outlets have used the phrase “child prostitute,” “child prostitution,” “underage prostitution” or other variations on the phrase to describe these exploited children.
I, with the Human Rights Project for Girls, understand it is the media’s job to convey a situation or an issue with precision and clarity. “Child prostitute” may seem clear because it conveys the fact that money is exchanged for sex, but it is also misleading because it suggests consent and criminality when none exists. Many of us are not even of legal age to consent to sex. I was ten. And girls like me are beaten, kidnapped, gang raped, and tortured into selling our bodies to adults, every night. This not about choice. This is about abuse and rape.
Together with Rights4Girls, other survivors, and advocates, I implore the Associated Press to stop using the term child prostitute—or any other variation, like juvenile prostitute or child sex worker, because there is no such thing.
I have dedicated my life to ending child sexual exploitation, ensuring that victims and survivors are treated with honor and respect. It is important that the Associated Press take leadership in ending the use of these terms, because how we are named is how we are treated. If respectable media outlets continue to use these terms, children who are bought and sold will continue to be treated as criminals, instead of as victims and survivors of child rape. They deserve to be named and treated as such. They deserve to be treated the way I wish I had been treated.
Join me in asking the Associated Press to take a stand.
Withelma "T" Ortiz Walker Pettigrew
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