Teenage sexual exploitation is a topic which is very difficult to read about but also one which is very important to understand and of which to be aware. I have done extensive research on this topic and have been amazed at how many teenagers (mostly girls) are exploited through prostitution. Learning a bit about this subject can be useful for parents since girls recruited into prostitution can come from anywhere and from any type of family.
Although exact numbers are not clear, it is estimated that there are more than 300,000 teenagers in the United States who are being exploited through prostitution. Many believe these numbers are much higher. The average age at which a girl enters prostitution is 14 years old – this age appears to be dropping and there have been reports of girls as young as age 6 being exploited through prostitution. There is not one single factor which makes a teenage girl vulnerable to be recruited into the life of prostitution, however, there are certain factors which are believed to increase one’s risk. These include: coming from a broken home, a history of abuse, having a mother who is promiscuous, poor relationship with parents, truancy and a history of running away which is the biggest factor which can lead to one becoming involved in the life of prostitution. Two thirds of girls who run away are exploited by prostitution and girls who run away are likely to be approached by a pimp within forty-eight hours of being on the run. That is just plain scary to think about.
In short, low self-esteem combined with a lack of guidance and support from adults makes girls vulnerable to being recruited into the life of prostitution. Many people ask, “How does this happen? Why would a girl do this?” Through my research, I have come to understand how it happens and why it so easily happens for many teenage girls. Pimps are well-trained at the process and can easily detect a teenage girl who may be vulnerable. Some things they look for are girls alone at bus stations, at malls, at skating rinks or girls living in group home settings and of course – girls who have run away from home. Pimps today are often young, hip and appear to have a lot of money which is appealing to young girls. Initially pimps show an interest in a young girl, making her feel special. Often times the girls approached have low self-esteem and are flattered that a “cool male” is paying attention to them and wants to take care of them. Girls quickly become enamored and dependent on the pimp who may buy them food, gifts and provide them with a place to live along with promises of a loving and wonderful future. Once the teenage girl falls in love with the pimp he may tell her he is having money trouble because of how much money he has been spending on her and that he needs her to do something for money – just one time – and then they will be able to live the happy life they want to live. Reluctantly, teenage girls will do what the pimp says because they so desperately want to have the fairy tale life that has been promised to them and want to please him. After “turning their first trick”, the pimp will tell the girl she is dirty, unwanted and that nobody will ever want to be with her because of what she did. This causes the girl to become desperate and willing to do anything the pimp wants to regain his affection again which only brings her deeper into the life of sexual exploitation. At this point, a pimp may introduce drugs to the teenage girl which makes her even further dependent on him and willing to do whatever he wants. Many young girls hang onto the idea that they can get rich if they just sell themselves for a little while, however, the reality is that the pimps take ALL the money which makes the girls completely dependant on them for everything. The other reality is that they are being sexually exploited as children by these pimps who often get away with this crime over and over because the girls they exploit are so ashamed and scared that they don’t want to speak up or don’t think they have a right to speak up.
What is so sad about this form of child abuse / exploitation is that there is so much shame attached that the teenage girls find it very difficult to leave the life of prostitution because they don’t want others to know what they have been doing. Pimps brainwash girls into thinking they are not valuable to anyone outside the life of prostitution which further isolates them. They don’t see themselves as victims but rather has worthless and dirty individuals who nobody will ever truly love. They reality is that they are being exploited – it is child abuse, however, it is often not seen as such.
The best way to help young girls at risk is through education and prevention. Parents should talk to their girls about what to do if someone approaches them and tries to befriend them through gifts and excessive compliments. Parents should also notice if their daughter seems to be bringing home a lot of new clothes, gifts or jewelry. Don’t ignore this – be persistent in finding out where the items are coming from. Finally, if you have a daughter who is running away, she is at the most risk. It is important to talk to her if you are able and if not, to find someone who can. Girls who understand the grooming process are much more likely to avoid being sexually exploited because they will see the warning signs and will be less likely to believe that a pimp is truly interested in having a loving relationship with them.
I have worked with some of the most at risk girls – many who have been approached by pimps and many who have engaged in prostitution because they did not understand what was happening until it was too late. It is scary how good pimpsare at what they do and how trapped young girls feel once recruited into prostitution. The damage is unimaginable as you may guess and nothing any young girl should have to endure. As stated above, education is the best way of preventing this form of exploitation.
If you have a child who is running away and placing themselves at risk, it is important that you, as the parent, get support. You may seek support through a coach, through a mental health professional or perhaps through a school support. What is important is that you don’t have to deal with these difficult issues on your own and you deserve your own support so that you can be most helpful to your child.
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