Today I would like to address one of the great misconceptions: blaming children for their own exploitation.
I have been asked several times during my study of CSET (commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking) how many of the women and children actually want to be in the pornographic or prostitution industry. How many of them actually choose this for themselves? This is a great misconception when looking at and trying to understand CSET. I am not naive enough to believe this never happens, that no women ever choose this for themselves, but this is most often not the case – especially with children.
I read a great article by Amalee McCoy titled “Blaming Children for Their Own Exploitation: The Situation in East Asia” from the ECPAT 7th Report on the Implementation of the Agenda for Action Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children which covered this topic well.
She talks about how “a failure on the part of societies at large to understand that all children who engage in commercial sexual transactions are victims of exploitation, whatever their circumstances, has led to the widespread view that some children ‘choose’ to endure exploitation and its physical and psychosocial repercussions, and thus surrender their rights as children to protection.” This is simply not the case. As we will see McCoy explain further and as I will hopefully cover in future discussion on this blog.
“A survey conducted by the Asian Women and Children’s Network in Yokohama in 2001 determined that many girls involved in enjo kosai [compensated dating] had not received adequate sex education that taught self-respect, and were negatively affected by a conformist education lacking in human rights consciousness. The pull factors behind children’s involvement in enjo kosai vary somewhat: curiosity, a search for affection in the absence of attention at home, loneliness, an effort to join what may be a fashionable school trend, and a way of earning gifts and extra spending money to supplement living expenses, buy consumer goods, cover nights out with friends or pay for hobbies and trips.” While some of these pull factors seem like decisions made by the children – many of them dig deep psychologically and are often times not even recognized by the child. Without the proper understanding about what they are doing and what it is truly costing them – in regard to the emotional, physical and psychological damage – they are not making an informed “decision”.
“Media reports often lump enjo kosai cases together with issues of promiscuity and loose morals, depicting the children involved as spoiled, greedy and motivated by a desire for the latest mobile phone or BMW Series 5 sedan. Such reports rarely shed light on the perpetrators, the likely psychological damage to the child, the vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, or the grave and sometimes fatal physical danger that accompanies liaisons with strangers.” In many countries, unfortunately, it is still illegal to be a prostitute and that is a fairly easy case to try, but it is not as illegal or easy to try someone for purchasing sex or being the owner of a brothel who sells women and children to others as an organ for rent. And that is just prostitution – if we begin a discussion on pornography and the difficulties in even bringing a lawsuit up against that industry we could talk for a while (and we will – in a future post).
“The issue of consent is at the crux of the perception that children involved in enjo kosai have ‘asked for it’ and are therefore accountable, while children who are impoverished or more obviously coerced into prostitution are deserving of protection and sympathy. The perception that children ‘voluntarily’ sell their bodies to supplement consumerist desires encourages the misguided belief that such children consent to engage in an illegal activity and thus to their own exploitation, and that they therefore deserve legal punishment or sanction. This view fails to recognize that people under 18 are considered, under the terms of the CRC, to have need for special protection while they developmentally acquire the experience and knowledge required to appreciate fully the physical and psychological ramifications of adult roles and responsibilities. Thus, children cannot consent to their own sexual exploitation.”
Now we can begin another discussion about women over 18 – but I think I know where I still stand on that conversation. The point on this post is to break down the misconception that children are somehow to blame or making the conscious decision to be in prostitution because they want to be there. This is not the case. And each one of you has a responsibility to do something about it.
God, be with those children who are placed in the difficult position of CSET everyday with a lack of opportunity or options available to them. And even those who may have other opportunities available to them but stay here because of a lack of education, or the threat of others or the coercion they don’t understand – give us the eyes to see how we can be your agents of advocacy and change.