“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.” —Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, sex trafficking victim, survivor and advocate.
It is estimated that there are as many as 30 million slaves in the world today who are victims of sexual exploitation. Eighty percent of which are women, and half are children.
“Every day, children all across the United States are bought and sold for sex. More than half of these children are girls and many of them come from the foster care system. Despite not even being old enough to consent to sex—and despite the existence of federal law that defines them as victims of human trafficking, each year more than 1,000 American children are arrested for prostitution in the U.S.” —Yasmin Vafa, Executive Director of Rights4Girls.
Last year, a group called Rights4Girls launched a campaign in California called “No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute.” Their goal was to eliminate the notion of “child prostitution” in both language and law. By partnering with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and County Board of Supervisors, the group was able to help shift policy when it comes to young women and girls who are being sex trafficked.
Rather than being placed in handcuffs when slaves are found, trafficked girls are instead treated as victims of crime rather than criminals for their forced exploitation. Survivors are given the same services and support as other victims of child sexual abuse and violence.
Real Results From Policy Change
After a year of changed policy in Los Angeles County, the policy has been enacted state-wide in California under state bill—SB 1322, otherwise known as the “No Such Thing” bill.
Since the initial policy change, other victories have happened for trafficking victims across the nation. In April, the Associated Press made updates to their Authoritative Style Guide, which now discourages the use of “child prostitute” and related terms when referring to victims of child sex trafficking. This happened largely in part to the campaign’s petition which received more than 150,000 signatures.
The “No Such Thing” campaign is a huge step for victims of sex trafficking both in the state of California and beyond. Children will no longer be arrested for prostitution in The Golden State. But it doesn’t stop there. Children across America and across the world are being trafficked, and only the bad guys are seeing it. These child victims are being arrested for being exploited and forced into heinous acts that turn them into criminals.
New Victories, and Continued Hope
“We are thrilled that media and lawmakers alike are finally beginning to understand that there is no such thing as a child prostitute,” Vafa explains. “And as we have seen with many other important issues, California often leads the way for the rest of the nation in creating significant cultural change. Our hope is that other states will now follow suit to provide necessary protections to our most vulnerable girls.”