Why do children run away from home? Why do many of them turn to prostitution? Why are children who run away from home and turn to prostitution victimized as adults when they can’t break out of their circumstances and get off the streets?
- 73% of female runaways and 38% of male runaways are either sexually abused before leaving home or after they run away.1
- Very large proportions of homeless youth report family conflict as a reason for being homeless. They frequently have physical/mental health and/or substance abuse problems.2
A large majority of children who run away from home are trying to escape parents who physically, emotionally and/or sexually abuse them. Life becomes intolerable because the home is so unstable. When parents are alcoholics, substance abusers, and violent with each other, children just want to “run away.”
- Half of all children (35.6 million) live in a household where a parent or other adult uses tobacco, drinks heavily or uses illicit drugs.3
- Teenagers with alcohol and drug problems are 6 to 12 times more likely to have a history of being physically abused and 18 to 21 times more likely to have been sexually abused than those without alcohol and drug problems.4
Once on the street, in order to survive, children (both boys and girls) learn to trade sex for food, shelter, drugs, and protection. Pimp-predators initially provide “loving” comfort by showering them with feigned attention and affection they didn’t receive at home. Within a short time, however, the pimp exploits the child to get his needs met just like their parents did. But it is too late. The child is trapped.
The pimp has provided money and creature comforts such as clothes, jewelry and a place to live. He initiates sex implying that theirs is a love relationship then gradually insists that the child has to prostitute him/herself to keep his “love.” He begins by physically and verbally abusing the child continuing the dehumanizing behavior s/he knew all too well at home.
The situation becomes even worse when s/he is forced into performing pornographic films. He blackmails the child/teenager by threatening to send pictures of his/her activities to their friends and family, so the control is airtight. And with the insatiable hunger for porn, the pimp has a ready market. The pornography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and EarthLink totaling $13.3 billion in 2005.5
Many prostitutes learn to dissociate when growing up to cope with the grueling, painful feelings associated with their abuse. Without a safe environment or effective therapy, prostitutes many times “distance themselves from the prostitution act in the same way many incest victims report dissociating from their abuse.”6
The problem is society would rather focus on the “shameful” prostitute’s behavior instead of the despicable, abusive parents’ actions in the home. Looking at parents hits too close to home for many Americans. So, we as abuse survivors need to speak up and start making child abuse and neglect a national issue. Our voices must be heard to stop this horrendous behavior.
1 Roads to Recovery, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, 2003
2 Understanding Homeless Youth: Numbers, Characteristics, Multisystem Involvement, and Intervention Options, Testimony submitted by Martha R. Burt, Ph.D., Principal Research Associate and Director, Social Services Research Program, Urban Institute, Before the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, June 19, 2007
3 Family Matters: Substance Abuse and The American Family, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, March 2005
4 Models for Developing Trauma-Informed Behavioral Health Systems and Trauma-Specific Services, Ann Jennings, Ph.D., 2004, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and the National Technical Assistance Center for State Mental Health Planning
5 Family Safe Media, http://familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html
6 Prostitution of Children and Child-Sex Tourism: An Analysis of Domestic and International Responses, Eva J. Klain, JD, American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, April 1999