I came across this article and although I’m not ignorant of the fact that prostitution exists I was astounded when I read this. Even after watching Dateline’s “To catch a predator” and knowing that there are men out there seeking to have sex with young girls as if that isn’t sick enough but to read this and how they are out there preying on young victims for sexual exploitation. How important it is to get the “Safe Harbor Act” passed.
By CASSI FELDMAN
Published: April 24, 2007
At first it seemed like an innocent flirtation. Shaneiqua was 12 years old and walking around Brownsville, Brooklyn, when a man pulled up alongside her in a car and called to her from his window.
“He was just, like, ‘You’re cute. I really see myself being with you.’ Stuff like that,” she said.
Shaneiqua had just run away from home and had nowhere to go, so she got into his car. It was a decision that changed her life.
Eventually, she would learn that the man, known as Handsome, was a pimp. In exchange for room and board, she said, he asked her to dance at a strip club and give him her earnings. When that wasn’t enough money, she said, he told her to start taking men into the “VIP room,” trading sex for cash.
Shaneiqua reluctantly agreed. In her mind, she said, it was just part of being in a relationship. “The only thing that really mattered to me was whether he was still going to love me after I slept with other men,” she said. “As long as he said yes, I didn’t really have any problem with it.”
A report released Friday by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services estimates that New York City is home to more than 2,000 sexually exploited children under 18.
The report was based on interviews, focus groups and surveys sent to 159 law enforcement and social service agencies statewide. Westat, a research firm, asked each agency to report its contacts with children identified as “commercially sexually exploited” during a two-month period last year. Then it weighted the data to get an annual estimate. The study excluded victims of child abuse that did not involve a commercial purpose.
The findings suggest that a vast majority of the state’s sexually exploited children are in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx: an estimated 2,253 in the city versus 399 spread over seven upstate counties.
The report found other differences as well. In New York City, sexually exploited youth tended to be female and black, having sex with strangers in hotel rooms or outside. Upstate, the youth were younger, more likely to be white, and were often exploited at home by adult friends or acquaintances.
At least 85 percent of these youths statewide have had some contact with the child welfare system, mostly through abuse or neglect proceedings. In New York City, 75 percent had been in foster care at some point.
The report was mandated by the State Legislature last year as a way to determine how many children are being sexually exploited and whether they are getting the services they need.
The results could bolster a bill before the Legislature. Sponsored by Assemblyman William Scarborough, a Queens Democrat, the Safe Harbor Act would change the way young people arrested for prostitution are treated under the law. Rather than being charged as juvenile delinquents in Family Court and subject to detention, they would be considered victims of sexual exploitation and provided with counseling, emergency shelter and other services.
“By changing the law, we can begin to change the perception of these children and the perception of their situation,” Mr. Scarborough said. The legislation has widespread support in the Assembly and Senate, where it was sponsored by Dale M. Volker, a Republican from western New York. A companion bill introduced by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat from the Bronx, would stiffen penalties against pimps and others involved in human trafficking.
At a news conference Friday, supporters of the measures hailed the study as an important step toward quantifying the problem, but they also expressed concerns about how it was conducted.
“It’s not a full picture,” said Mishi Faruqee, director of the Juvenile Justice Project at the Correctional Association of New York and a member of an advisory group that contributed ideas for the study. She said that several agencies failed to turn in their surveys and that the report missed the young people who had yet to be arrested or to seek help. “Many sexually exploited youth aren’t coming into contact with any of these agencies, and those youth weren’t counted,” she said.
Mr. Scarborough credits advocates like Ms. Faruqee and Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, or GEMS, with bringing the issue to his attention. Lloyd, a former prostitute herself, started the group in 1999 to help young women who have experienced sexual exploitation and violence.
Shaneiqua, now 19, was one of her clients. When Shaneiqua left her pimp, she went to Family Court and was ordered to attend a treatment program at GEMS, where she now works as a program associate.
GEMS serves about 200 girls a year and provides transitional beds to nine at a time. If the Safe Harbor Act passes, Ms. Lloyd said, she will be able to reach far more.
“We’re no longer talking about teen prostitutes, bad girls,” Ms. Lloyd said last month in Albany at a meeting with legislators. “We’re talking about kids who are being bought and sold by adults.”