Opinion

Underage Prostitutes Aren't the Only Ones Being Exploited

By Josh Feit August 31, 2011

If I may: A "C is for Crank" of my own (Erica's not the only one around here who has an opinion on women's rights.)

Three cheers for AG Rob McKenna, who joined Mayor Mike McGinn this morning, announcing he's going after Backpage.com, the Village Voice Media and Seattle Weekly's classified site, which has been linked to child prostitution.

But something has always nagged at me about this awesome crusade. While it's easy for politicians to get righteous about the exploitation of underage girls, prostitutes (men and women) in their 20s and older are also at risk of being exploited and enslaved. Why is no one taking this opportunity to speak up about that?

It's not as much of a clean hit for McGinn and McKenna to fight on behalf of "older" women because society has an effed-up psychology about prostitution that casts prostitutes as willing participants and actors, not victims. In fact, some people see sex-for-money as a legit business.  Ultimately, I too think, in the abstract, that sex-for-money between two consenting adults is legit—and that legalizing prostitution will turn out to be the best antidote. Who am I to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body?

However, that's in the abstract. In reality, 23-year old prostitutes were more likely than not once 17-year-old prostitutes. (As Erica has noted: According to the US Department of Justice, the average age at which girls enter prostitution is between 12 and 13). And even if they got caught up in the trade after their 18th birthday, it's still likely they're being exploited by criminals and aren't actually consenting to give blow jobs to every man who pays.

I don't know if Backpage.com has been linked, legally speaking, to "of-age" prostitution (as if that makes it better), but I'm convinced McGinn and McKenna could look into that aspect as well and help protect older girls and women too.

UPDATE:

The Seattle Times has a report from McKenna's press conference, and I'm happy to see McKenna acknowledges that he's dealing with a larger problem.
"People look at prostitution and think it's a choice, but there are very few, if any, volunteers," he said. "The more we learn about sex trafficking, the more we believe it is dominated by individuals exploiting both children and adults."

To those who claim prostitution is a victimless crime, McKenna said, "They're the ones buying into the mythology that most prostitutes are consenting adults. We're seeing clear evidence that most are not." As for legalizing prostitution, McKenna said that would only "provide a shield for the pimps to hide behind" and make prosecuting them even more difficult.
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