“We’d get free alcohol, cigarettes, food and free taxis and things…at first I thought it was great because nothing had happened, like nothing sexual. Towards the end it was like, it could be up to five different men in a day, sometimes every day, at least four or five times a week.”
“The men used various defenses, including claiming that the girls were prostitutes.”
The Huffington Post published this article recently about the arrest of 9 London-area men who trafficked more than 40 young girls. The experiences of the girls in the UK echo those of many girls in the U.S. Even though the Crown Prosecution Service (the UK’s counterpart to our Department of Justice) knew the girls were being sold for sex, they did nothing to stop their traffickers. In their view, this wasn’t a winnable case because a jury may not find the girls credible. Why not? Because the prosecutors, just like the traffickers, viewed them as prostitutes.
Under U.S. law, a child prostitute is a victim of a severe form of human trafficking. I don’t know why, but some people—including some in law enforcement—have a hard time wrapping their minds around this reality. Maybe it’s because prostitution is infamously known as the world’s oldest “profession”, which implies it is simply one of many legitimate occupations. I guess people assume girls who opt for that lifestyle do so willingly—as if any healthy 13 year old would wake up one morning and decide she no longer wants to be a veterinarian or a teacher but finds her life’s fulfillment in walking the streets every night, giving over her body to complete strangers for cash.
Maybe those people also think chattel slavery is just another career choice.
Thankfully, our legal system recognizes that such a decision made by a child is not a willful choice in any meaningful sense of the word. I’m a lawyer and am grateful for the law and especially for the rule of law. Still, I find that most statutes (with some notable exceptions) codify an existing moral or social norm. Legislation, as politics, is downstream from culture.
In the case of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, however, the law is a forerunner. The TVPA established a new paradigm through which we view human trafficking. No longer is a minor complicit in his or her victimization. The law recognizes the vulnerability inherent in childhood and the extra protections that a decent society affords children.
Even though today’s article is about a case in the UK, young girls around the world who are victims of crime under the law are still viewed (even by those sworn to uphold the law) as miscreants. Using this logic, I suppose their perpetrators could be considered market-savvy entrepreneurs and their clients merely innocent consumers.
All that to say…we have a long way to go.