Oakland, California police are starting to realize that prostituted children are victims, mostly with a history of abuse before they entered prostitution, who are being exploited by Johns and pimps and that it is both wrong and ineffective to view these children as criminals dealing sex.
Officers are now trained to understand the dynamics of physical and sexual abuse and to use that reasoning in dealing with prostitution cases.
And police plan to soon keep tabs on those cases by using a new database they hope will make it easier to help the girls and identify and build a case against the men who are victimizing them.
The database allows police to track and aggressively investigate sexual exploitation, child abuse and human trafficking. The goal is to conduct weekly operations, take down the big-time pimps and rescue children off the street. It will be linked with federal agencies where information can be uploaded and shared across the country to provide a comprehensive record of the children — and pimps — involved in exploitation.
This is a good start, but if this change in attitude and action is limited to the police response very little will change even if more traffickers are successfully prosecuted.
Prostituted children who are returned to unsafe homes where they will be subjected to physical, sexual or verbal abuse may believe that being prostituted is the safer option. Returning prostituted children to a parent or guardian who was never abusive but who doesn't have the skill to understand the issues a previously prostituted child now faces may treat the child in a way that triggers that child in a way that pushes the child into running away or falling back into dangerous coping mechanisms.
Foster care or transitional housing which doesn't help these children cope and recover either through lack of action or abuse from adults or other children may be less tolerable than being prostituted.
If these solutions take away old coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs then they must provide better coping mechanisms and safety from further abuse. If they don't then children who break the rules or run away are doing so not because they are inherently bad but because they have been failed by adults.
For many adults its easier to blame the children or to simply label them immoral than it is to see these issues clearly. Those who use these children for sexual gratification will be especially resistant to view these children as being victims in any way for if they do then they will have to view themselves as child abusers. The victim blaming attitude isn't limited to sexual exploiters, I've heard too many women refuse to view the men around them who use the prostituted as being in the wrong.
To view men who use prostituted children as good people, the prostituted must be viewed as being the ones to blame. "If she weren't standing at that street corner, he wouldn't have stopped."
In the UK the Guardian has a story about 400 missing children originally trafficked to Britain from other countries who are believed to be back in the control of human traffickers.
When these children disappeared, there was no immediate search for them. Many of these children were controlled through threats to hurt their families and if the official care doesn't remove that fear many children will sacrifice themselves.
If no police call is made when a child disappears I suspect that there were other problems with the services provided to these children. Being housed without addressing all of the child's emotional needs may feel like being locked inside just another prison.We have to do better in demanding and supporting effective prevention, law enforcement and social services. If we don't, we are partly to blame for what happens to those we don't personally victimize.