Thursday, January 21, 2016

Children are never "sex workers" -- They are victims of rape and child abuse

In a neo-liberal society driven by right wing extremist narratives that ultimately infiltrate even the left, it is not at all surprising to see ongoing attempts to normalize the most horrific forms of exploitation -- especially if this exploitation involves primarily those who come from families or communities that are marginalized by poverty, racism, colonialism and violence against girls and women.

One of the worst of these is the persistent -- and revolting -- use of the term "sex worker" to describe girls and boys who are underage or children.

Whatever one may think of the broader debate around the terminology and language related to prostitution, it is simply impossible to understand the widespread use in the Canadian media and beyond of the term "sex worker" in relation to children who are victims of rape and sexual exploitation.

A recent example stems from the police sting operation that caught 22 men in the Greater Toronto Area allegedly willing to purchase sex from what the media called "an underage sex worker". 

There are countless other instances of this sickening misuse of a term already arguably designed to make prostitution seem a far less oppressive institution of male sexual violence than it really is.

This reached a new low with an astonishing piece of what amounts to denial of the realities of child sexual exploitation written by a predictably male writer, Noah Berlatsky,-- and which of course uses the term 'child sex worker' in the title -- that astoundingly seeks to claim that it is the police who pose the greatest danger to sexually exploited minors, as opposed to the men who are raping them or profiting from their rape. It does so by using some very selective sources and in a very selective way and by ignoring many initiatives by outreach organizations in conjunction with police both continent and worldwide.

While there can be little doubt that police sexual assault is an issue, and that police abuse is always an issue, and while prostituted children should never face criminal sanction anymore than any other prostituted women or men should, this article's narrative is so glaringly at odds with the actual reality of child prostitution  both in North America and globally it is a simply stunning and depressing comment that a major publication would publish this at all.

In order to accept its conclusions one has to somehow accept that the sexual violation and exploitation of minors is not intrinsically violent and is not intrinsically rape, both of which it is. That is the real threat to these children. The fact that they are being sold and raped by adult men on a regular basis.

Yet, even those seeking to end child sexual exploitation, like The Borgen Project, title a blog Thailand: Child Sex Workers but then go on to state:
It is estimated that perhaps as many as 800,000 children under the legal age of consent for sexual intercourse (16 years old) are victims of enslavement for the purpose of coerced prostitution. Often procured to much older men against their will, these victims of pedophilia often consist of young girls trafficked from the uplands of Thailand as well as from neighboring and countries. Forced to work in the touristic cities of the coasts, the most infamous among them being Pattaya, a large number of them have been lured by the promise of other occupations involving tasks of non-venereal descriptions.
The gargantuan pedophiliac sex industry also includes many young boys between the age of 10 to 13-years old. Like their female counterparts, they are forced to engage in coital relations with mainly Western men. UNICEF puts the number of children affected by HIV/AIDS, both having been born with and contracted in Thailand at 300,000.
Not only are children who are forced into prostitution exposed to diseases and violence of unspeakable luridness, they are also deprived of their opportunity to be children and to go to school. The result of this lack of opportunity and qualification is a vicious cycle from which victims of child prostitution find difficult to disentangle themselves. Some become procurers and some continue working in the industry.
Which begs the question, given that "sex worker" is a term created by and being enforced as some type of litmus test by those who want to see prostitution laws liberalized and brothels institutionalized, why is this term being used to describe what are child rape and abuse victims?

Especially as this is what all underage and child victims of this horrific form of sexual violence are.

In  2014 the United Nations noted:

Children are more at risk of being sexually exploited or sold than ever, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M’jid, has warned, urging a global response to crimes that are increasing in an interconnected world.
“Millions of girls and boys worldwide are victims of sexual exploitation, even though this issue in recent years has gained increased visibility,” the expert said during the presentation of her final report to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The availability of child pornography online is growing. Child victims of online sexual exploitation are younger and younger, and the images are more and more horrific,” said Ms Maalla M’jid, whose report reflects on her six-year tenure as UN Special Rapporteur and provides an overview of the main issues and trends relating to her mandate.
The UN independent expert warned that certain forms of sexual exploitation are increasing: sale and trafficking of children for sexual purposes and economic exploitation, child sex tourism and online child sexual exploitation. But she noted that the true scope of the problem is not clear due to inadequate legislation, lack of reliable data, and under-reporting.
“The clandestine nature of such exploitation, the fear of reprisals and stigmatisation, as well as the lack of child-sensitive complaints mechanisms, also hamper our understanding of these crimes,” she said.
Various factors increase children’s vulnerability, the Special Rapporteur said, including social tolerance and impunity, persistent demand and global criminal networks profiting from the increasingly lucrative trade in exploiting children.  
UNICEF states "Sexual violence against children is a gross violation of children’s rights. Yet it is a global reality across all countries and social groups. It can take the form of sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual exploitation in prostitution or pornography".

It goes on to note that:

The 2014 UNICEF study, Hidden in Plain Sight, estimates that around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point of their lives. Boys also report experiences of sexual violence, but they do so to a lesser extent than girls. While more recent global estimates on sexual violence among boys are unavailable due to the lack of comparable data in most countries, girls typically report lifetime rates three times higher than boys in High Income Countries. Millions of more children are likely exploited in prostitution or pornography each year around the world, most of the times lured or forced into these situations through false promises and limited knowledge about the risks. Yet the true magnitude of sexual violence is hidden because of its sensitive and illegal nature. Most children and families do not report cases of abuse and exploitation because of stigma, fear, and lack of trust in the authorities. Social tolerance and lack of awareness also contribute to under-reporting.
According to Equality Now:

Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. This, despite the fact international law and the laws of 134 countries criminalize sex trafficking.
At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor.
About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade.
Almost 6 in 10 identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
They go on to state:
Survivors of sex trafficking tell stories of daily degradation of mind and body. They are often isolated, intimidated, sold into debt bondage and subject to physical and sexual assault by their traffickers.  Most live under constant mental and physical threat. Many suffer severe emotional trauma, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and disassociation. They are at greater risk of contracting sexually transmissible infections, including HIV/AIDS. Many become pregnant and are forced to undergo often unsafe abortions.
According to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights in Canada:

The sexual exploitation of children is a deeply–rooted reality in too many Canadian homes, families and communities.
It is not at the margins of our society, it is at the centre.
It happens to children we know – by men and women we know.
It deserves greater public attention and action.
Most of these child victims have been sexually abused by those close to them: relatives,
friends, and other familiar faces. Sexual exploitation happens to children we know. It happens to children on the streets of our communities who have been trafficked and sold for sex. It happens to children in front of home video cameras. The committee heard that in one year there were almost 9,000 reported sexual assaults against children in Canada. The overwhelming majority of sexual abuse goes unreported. Eighty per cent of child victims of sexual abuse are girls.
The committee was told that nowhere is the devastation of sexual exploitation more
pervasive than among Aboriginal children and youth, who represent over 90% of those being exploited in certain cities. Programming and services for urban and off-reserve First Nations, Métis and Inuit are often much less robust than for those on-reserves. Poverty, drug usage,homelessness, family violence, and racism are all contributing factors and compound the urgency of finding real solutions.
We are failing these children. It is time to take action.
Note just how significant issues of poverty, racism, colonialism and systemic misogyny are through all these narratives as that is what the "commercial" rape and violation of children and underage youth is. It is a manifestation of all of these horrific oppressions and forms of violence, committed overwhelmingly by men, in their most base and atrocious form.

No child can engage in "sex work" as no child can ever give consent in any meaningful sense.

To call 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14 year old girls or boys "sex workers" is not just grotesque and sick but implies that they are engaged in "work", an allegedly consensual activity, when "consent" on the part of children is simply impossible.

Children at this age cannot give consent. In every case -- every single case -- where an underage girl or boy is being sexually exploited commercially they are victims of rape  and of child sexual abuse and the "johns", pimps and traffickers responsible for their brutalization should be held to account as the pedophiles or perpetrators of child rape they are.

Not just the media, but everyone needs to stop using fundamentally vile and reactionary terms like "child sex worker".

Instead we need to acknowledge this male violence against children for what it really is and demand that our government and society take steps to end the appalling, racist, colonialist , misogynist and incomparably violent and viscous sexual abuse of and violence against children and youth that is intrinsic to the sexual exploitation of young girls and boys and that has nothing whatsoever to do with "work".

See also: Statutory rape is rape -- In every single case

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