On the front page of the New York Times on October 27, 2009 was a story about how runaways turn to sex to survive on the streets. It was a full-length article talking about the actions of pimps and the misfortunes of runaways. I wrote a blog Prostitution and Child Abuse Survivors, only I talked about the root causes of this problem: the despicable actions of abusive parents in the home.
In this almost 2,300 word article, they had one sentence: “Home was where the problem had started.” It went on to say, “She had been raped by a relative when she was 12-years-old. At 14, she left home because her mother’s boyfriend had become abusive.”
That’s it in a nutshell. Don’t get me wrong. It was an excellent article about what happens on the street. But we need to start talking about the abuse in the home that forces children (yes, 12 and 14-year-olds are children) onto the streets in the first place.
Here are more statistics:
- 73% of female runaways and 38% of male runaways are either sexually abused before leaving home or after they run away.1
- The average age when people start out as a prostitute is 13 to 14-years-old.2
- 5.8% of abused and neglected children become runaways, and sexually abused children are more likely than other victims to be arrested for prostitution as adults.3
- 66% of all prostitutes are victims of child sexual abuse; 2/3 of these were sexually abused by fathers, stepfathers, or foster fathers.4
I wrote to Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the Chairman and Publisher of the New York Times, in 2007 which was two years before the article above was published. I wrote:
“Enclosed is a copy of a letter I wrote to you over eight months ago. Out of 15 letters that I wrote to media corporations, you were the only one who at least had the courtesy to respond. Your letter stated you would turn it over to someone, and if they felt it was newsworthy, someone would contact me. I have received no response. Perhaps child abuse is not important to The New York Times. I am sure there are a whole host of reasons for not responding to me, but I just wanted to give you some feedback.”
I never got a response from Mr. Sulzberger.
I don’t understand why the standard method of dealing with this horrendous behavior by the media is to not talk about it and/or not support survivors, such as myself, in bringing the issues out into the open. As I wrote to Don Graham of The Washington Post, “It is “newsworthy” to write about a child molester who cuts his penis off with a razor blade but not to actually use journalistic methods to uncover the real story of abuse. It seems that the media is only interested in sensationalizing the issue, not getting informed or engaged. Your newspaper probably still won’t be interested in contacting me to understand the real issues. I just wanted you to know I haven’t gone away, and I will make my message known as I speak out publicly.”
Maybe someday the media will get the message.
1 Roads to Recovery, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, 2003
2 Trauma and Drug Recovery for Abuse and Prostitute Survivors in the Criminal Justice System, Norma Hotaling, Executive Director, SAGE Project, Inc., April 14, 2000, Tenth United States Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders
3 Criminal Consequences of Childhood Sexual Victimization, Widom, C.S., Ames, M.A., Child Abuse and Neglect, 18 (1994): 303-318
4 Treatment of Prostitute Victims of Sexual Assault, Silbert, Mimi H., In Victims of Sexual Aggression, Stuart Irving and Joanne Greer (Eds), Von Nostrand Reinhold