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Bridges4Kids LogoNationwide Increase in Teen Prostitution
Nationwide Increase in Teen Prostitution; Trends Show Kids Getting Younger, More from Middle-Class Homes Over the last year, local and federal law-enforcement officials say they have noted a marked increase in teen prostitution in cities across the country, reports Assistant Editor Suzanne Smalley in the August 18 issue of Newsweek.
Newsweek, August 18, 2003

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"Everyone Thinks They Are Runaways with Drug Problems from the Inner City...It's Not True, This Could Be Your Kid," Says Detective

Over the last year, local and federal law-enforcement officials say they have noted a marked increase in teen prostitution in cities across the country, reports Assistant Editor Suzanne Smalley in the August 18 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, August 11). Law-enforcement agencies and advocacy groups that work with teen prostitutes say they are increasingly alarmed by the trend lines: the kids are getting younger; according to the FBI, the average age of a new recruit is just 13; some are as young as 9. And, while the vast majority of teen prostitutes today are runaways, illegal immigrants and children of poor urban areas, experts say a growing number now come from middle-class homes.


"Compared to three years ago, we've seen a 70 percent increase in kids are from middle- to upper-middle- lass backgrounds, many of whom have not suffered mental, sexual or physical abuse," says Frank Barnaba of the Paul & Lisa Program, which works with the Justice Department and the FBI in tracking exploited kids.


Child advocates are especially concerned that pimps are increasingly targeting girls at the local mall, a place many parents consider a haven for their kids to gather after school and on weekends. "Ten years ago you didn't see this happening," says Bob Flores, who heads the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. "We've got kids in every major city and in suburbia all over the place being prostituted." "Potentially good sex is a small price to pay for the freedom to spend money on what I want," says 17-year-old Stacey [not her real name], who liked to hang out after school at the Mall of America, Minnesota's vast shopping megaplex, Newsweek reports. After being approached last summer by a man who told her how pretty she was, and asked if he could buy her some clothes, Stacey agreed and went home that night with a $250 outfit.


Stacey, who lives with her parents in an upscale neighborhood, began stripping for men in hotel rooms -- then went on to more intimate activities. She placed ads on a local telephone personals service, offering "wealthy, generous" men "an evening of fun" for $400. (The Mall of America, whose spokesman declined to comment, has an extensive security operation, and rules requiring juveniles to have chaperones on weekend evenings. Law-enforcement officials, who praise the mall's efforts to combat the problem, nonetheless concede pimps are active there. "The Mall of America is a huge recruiting center," says FBI Special Agent Eileen Jacob.)


Child advocates are just as worried about, and puzzled by, girls like Stacey, who aren't forced into prostitution but instead appear to sell themselves for thrills, or money, or both. Richard Estes, a University of Pennsylvania researcher, says so-called designer sex is becoming more common in cities across the country. "Everyone thinks they are runaways with drug problems from the inner city," says Andy Schmidt, a Minneapolis detective who helped bust a major Twin Cities prostitution ring. "It's not true. This could be your kid." In response, local, state and federal officials are starting to clamp down on the crime, which is still treated as a minor offense in many cities. The FBI, working with the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, recently identified 13 cities-including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, Miami, Minneapolis and Dallas-that have juvenile-prostitution problems.


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