Conservative estimates are that about 293,000 teenage prostitutes in the United States are being repeatedly raped by perverted predators who pay to have sex. Up to 17,500 children start working as child prostitutes each year in the United States. These kids, some as young as 5 or 6 years old, are forced into prostitution by ruthless men and women out to cash in on the lucrative pedophile market.
Many drug runners are discovering a new way of life in prison. In the prison libraries they read about pimping. Instead of selling drugs, which are always in short supply, and often lead to stiff jail times if the dealer is caught, they learn the life of a pimp, selling underage children with the knowledge that they will rarely go to jail if caught. Prostituting underage girls, generally between the ages of 12-14, is a very high demand business.
Until the United States government started prosecuting human trafficking about 5 years ago, is was a virtual cake walk for these monsters.
On April 9, 2013 I attended a training conducted by F.B.I. agents, a victim’s advocate, a former victim of human trafficking, and a therapist experienced in counseling children who have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation. I knew that sex tourism was present in the greater Memphis area. I just didn’t realize how pervasive child prostitution in our region was and how pervasive it is throughout the United States.
Probably the best way to communicate the depth of the problem is to tell a story. There are a thousand variations of this story occurring in every metropolitan area of the United States every day.
Kayla was about 9 years old when, Tyrone, one of her mother’s boyfriends, started molesting her. Her father had walked out of their lives when she was a toddler. Since then her mother had a string of live-in boyfriends who came and went. She has three younger siblings fathered by three different men. Tyrone started messing around with Kayla when her mother was pregnant with Tyrone’s child.
The sexual abuse was rare but the emotional abuse at the hands of her mother wasn’t. Her mother was always full of rage. She went from man to man trying to find a stable home and blamed the inevitable tension on her children. The men she was with would start out nice to the kids but almost always ended up either totally neglecting them or taking out his own rage and anger on them.
After Tyrone left the house, Kayla developed a relationship with her 17 year old boyfriend Walter. She was 11 at the time. It didn’t take too long for Kayla to realize that Walter was just using her for sex. He had no real interest in having a relationship with her. Her life was already on a course to paralleling her mother’s.
The schools had just passed Kayla along. Her grades were just high enough to get passed on from grade to grade. But academically she was where most middle class kids are at in the third grade despite being in the sixth grade. When she started middle school the demands were increasingly beyond her academic ability. She started displaying a lot of behavioral and emotional struggles.
The school counselor in her school had seen it a hundred times. Kayla had been in five different school districts since kindergarten. Her hygiene was poor and she didn’t have many clothes. She was underperforming academically. She also showed signs of living in an abusive home. The counselor’s duty was to refer Kayla to an already over-worked department of children’s services.
The social worker saw the signs of abuse almost immediately. In fact, her office had hundreds of cases like Kayla’s. The danger wasn’t immediate so she didn’t pull Kayla just then. But Kayla knew what was coming – foster care or a group home. So she ran away.
Kayla was now 12 years old. She was a runaway making her way through the streets of Memphis. At first she didn’t know where to go so she made her way to the mall.
While at the mall she met a man in his late 20’s. He was wearing nice clothes and was very friendly. He started telling Kayla how pretty she was. She felt relaxed around him and she started telling him about her horrible family life. He seemed so sympathetic and bought her some McDonald’s and a new outfit from the clearance rack at a clothing store.
He told her he had an extra bedroom in his apartment and offered to let her stay with him. Kayla didn’t have anywhere to go so she went with Smiley. Over the next several weeks she fell in love with Smiley. Like the other men she knew he was very interested in having sex with her. But in exchange for the sex Kayla was given food, shelter and life necessities. She was also subjected to beatings when she got out of line. But Kayla soon learned that as long as she did what Smiley wanted there wouldn’t be any beatings.
About six weeks after moving in with Smiley he announced to Kayla that she needed to do more to help the family financially. She wasn’t pulling her weight. Smiley told her that he knew of other men who would love to pay to have sex with her. He would set her up on “dates” so she could earn some money to help the “family.” Smiley told her that he was her “daddy” and that he would take very good care of her unless she betrayed him. If she did betray him he would hunt down her younger brothers and sister and would kill them. He knew exactly where they lived too.
Kayla was 12 years old when she started prostituting herself. Jasmine, another member of the family who was 19, took Kayla out on the street to show her the ropes. Soon Kayla was expected to have sex at least 3 times a night and bring home at least $500. She would take multiple showers a day and become obsessed with personal hygiene in order to make herself as attractive as possible to “customers”. If she ever hid any money from Smiley or failed to meet her quota she would be severely beaten. For Kayla every night was like being repeatedly raped. She learned to fly to a distant place in her mind.
Smiley provided Kayla with drugs. The drugs seemed to make what she endured bearable. But he controlled her life, including her drug supply. She was totally dependent upon him for everything.
Kayla was now 13 years old and a veteran of the streets. The thought of leaving “the Life” didn’t even cross her mind. It was just what it was. If she made enough money to make Smiley happy he would provide her with drugs and gifts that made her life bearable, at least in her mind. She had developed a strange attachment to her “daddy” and his “family” (his “family” being other prostitutes who work for him).
Most professionals would see this as an example of Stockholm syndrome, where, in the midst of severe trauma, the victims form a strong emotional attachment to their abusers as a means of coping with their emotional distress.
When Kayla is finally arrested she is charged with prostitution. Smiley bails her out of jail. She is brutally beaten for getting caught and starts having her work in a new precinct so the same police officers don’t see her continuing to work the streets.
Smiley has a good business going for himself. The three underage girls who work for him and his “bottom bitch”, Jasmine, the 19 year old girl who keeps the other girls in line, gross about $500,000 a year for him. After expenses he can afford a very nice lifestyle. It is a minimal risk lifestyle.
There is no public outrage over prostituting kids like Kayla as there is over dealing drugs. Dealing kids just isn’t at the top of anyone’s outrage list except for a few noisy child advocates here and there.
What would take a bite out of Smiley’s “business”? Instead of arresting Kayla for prostitution and putting her in jail, get her treatment for all the abuse she has endured. Arrest the guy she was with and charge him with statutory rape. Most men caught with underage prostitutes receive a slap on the wrist, if anything. Arrest Smiley and charge him with human trafficking. Put him in prison for a long time. Make the men who have exploited Kayla pay dearly for what they have done to her.
For some of you reading this, it’s a outrageous story that rarely happens here in the United States. What I learned from the F.B.I. agents is that this kind of story is very, very common. This is happening right under our middle class noses.
In fact, it is a lot of middle class men who provide business for Smiley while they are away from home on business. In fact, Smiley and his crowd love it when major conventions come to town. It provides a spike in business. Sadly, I discovered that a few men attending evangelical religious conventions have a taste for underage girls.
The seminar would have been totally depressing had I not heard the other part of the story. Treating girls rescued from this lifestyle. There was a common element to the healing of these girls that even the secular presenters had to acknowledge. The powerful transformational and healing power of Jesus Christ. That’s right, coming to Jesus is a predictor of successfully exiting the prostitution lifestyle for these girls.
Should we be surprised? Jesus had a soft spot in his heart for prostitutes and seemed to always be bringing healing into their lives and giving them hope when he walked the earth. Are we surprised that he is doing the same thing now through His Spirit as He reigns from heaven?