Child Pornography and Prostitution in the U.S.

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Child Pornography and Prostitution in the U.S.

The Abused, the Abusers, and Recommendations to Counteract It

United Nations document

By: UN Economic and Social Council

Date: February 7, 1997

Source: "Rights of the Child." UN Economic and Social Council: Commission on Human Rights (53rd Session), 1997.

About the Author: The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is an intergovernmental body composed of fifty-four member nations. The ECOSOC reports to the General Assembly, making recommendations on human rights matters and otherwise assisting the Assembly in promoting international economic and social development. To assist it in its work, the Council established the subsidiary Commission on Human Rights in 1946.


In 2005, the US Department of Justice estimated that around 293,000 American minors were at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of these victims tended to be children who had run away from home or who had been turned out by their parents, and generally came from homes where they had been abused. The Justice Department put the average age at which girls become victims of prostitution at 12-14; for boys and transgender youths (largely made up of boys dressed as girls), it was younger at an average age of 11-13. The prevalence of street children engaged in prostitution had reached, the department conceded, "epidemic levels." For example, one Department of Justice study reported that fifty-five percent of homeless girls engage in street prostitution.

Commercial sexual exploitation nevertheless constitutes only a minor part of child sex abuse in the United States. The overwhelming majority of child molestation—up to ninety-six percent—was carried out by persons known to the victim and in the majority of those cases from members of the same family.



B. Characteristics

Once children and adolescents have decided to run away from their homes they frequently become caught in a vicious circle of dependence. With no or minimal financial means and no job, and cut off from family contacts, runaways can easily become dependent on older men or protectors who "rescue" them from the streets. This dependence is often exacerbated by dependence on drugs and alcohol, which in turn may lead to their resorting to prostitution and sex for survival. Therefore, the Special Rapporteur is able to detect a direct correlation between runaway and "throwaway" children who end up homeless in the streets and child prostitution. With regard to involvement in child pornography, the correlation is not necessarily so strong since many children lured into pornography are simply recruited from their neighborhoods, nearby schools or acquainted families with children.

The Special Rapporteur also attempted to determine whether children and adolescents are lured away from home into commercial sexual exploitation by professional recruiters or organized rings of pimps/procurers and criminals engaging in trafficking or sale of children for purposes of child prostitution and child pornography. While it seems that small groups of loosely connected individuals sometimes attempt to recruit children into prostitution or to become involved in child pornography, especially in the Mid-West, organized criminal rings involved in trafficking per se are not known to exist in the United States. The "selling" of a prostitute from one pimp to another, however, does occur and the current rate has been estimated at US$ 3,000 per girl; whereas the rate for services by girl prostitutes was estimated at US$ 75 an hour in New York City.

One shocking aspect of child prostitution brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur relates to "second generation child prostitutes". According to this infor-mation, there exist cases where pimps have made their teenage prostitutes pregnant, with a view either to increasing dependency or to being able to put a very young child on the prostitution market in view of the increasing demand for younger, virgin prostitutes.

With regard to child pornography, it seems that in the United States pornographic materials, such as videos and photos, featuring children, are mainly produced by amateurs for the use of paedophiles and only in limited numbers, in view of the severe penalties applicable to the production, dissemination and possession of child pornography in the country.

In connection with substance abuse, it was noted that frequently pimps and procurers try to discourage the use of drugs and alcohol since the prostitute does not "perform" as well when under their influence and consequently does not bring in enough money. On the other hand, the Special Rapporteur was informed that there are an increasing number of "crack prostitutes", predominantly female, who operate without a pimp and sell their body only in exchange for drugs.

In connection with children who have either run away from home or have been lured into the streets, it was pointed out to the Special Rapporteur that, if hospitals and medical centers possessed an electronic recording system for children who seek their help, the chances of identifying and recovering missing children or children controlled by pimps might be increased. It was further emphasized that social workers and hospital staff are not informed enough to link up cases that are treated within their purview with organizations dealing with missing and abducted children. For example, in cases of teenage pregnancies, medical staff are much more likely to inquire into incest and/or abuse within the family than into possibilities of child prostitution.

The Special Rapporteur would like to emphasize that the above analysis applies to both girls and boys, but that the phenomenon of boy prostitution differs from girl prostitution in a number of ways. It was noted several times that young boys prostitute themselves much less openly on the street, partly owing to the social stigma attached to homosexual prostitution, and are more likely to operate independently of pimps. This could result from the fact that often boy prostitutes are not, nor do they consider themselves as, homosexuals and are, therefore, much more in control over their bodies and over the sexual acts they perform or let their clients perform. Consequently, boy prostitutes are, relatively speaking, in a much better bargaining position than their female counterparts and are able to charge a much higher price for their services. The ration of boys to girls in child prostitution in the United States varies by region but, for example, in New York City, 51 per cent of child prostitutes are estimated to be boys and boy prostitutes are largely to be found concentrated in specific places such as San Francisco and New Orleans.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned at reports that the type of prostitution in which girls in particular are involved is becoming increasingly violent, including bondage, sado-macochism and spanking. The sexual act is most likely performed in cars and not, as in the past, in motels or brothels.

Profile of the perpetrator

There exists no doubt that the compulsive behavior of a paedophile is much more difficult to deter or to cure than the behavior of a sporadic "curious" abuser, whether in relation to child pornography or to child prostitution. It is believed that whilst a regular sex offender is known to abuse up to a maximum of 100 children in his lifetime, the rate for paedophiles is suspected to be 400 children. The Special Rapporteur is particularly concerned about the high rate of recidivism to be found among paedophiles. The recidivist rate for a sex offender who only occasionally abuses children is much lower.

The publicizing of successful federal investigations leading to the arrest of offenders in child sex cases should be considered an effective deterrent. The question of rehabilitation of the perpetrators is a very complex one, especially in view of the high coast of treatment of sex offenders. On the other hand, imprisonment for life also poses a considerable financial burden on the community. In connection with the efficacy of chemical sterilization as a punishment, it was held that this would not necessarily result in change of behavior because compulsiveness cannot be physically deterred. Despite sterilization, the ability to have an erection can still exist and/or the abuser might resort to digital and other forms of abuse.

It is interesting to note that the profile of perpetrators and/or clients may vary notable. Whereas the majority of clients looking for prostitutes in New York City are reported to be white, male college students in their early twenties, the average child sex abuser/paedophile is reported to be a successful white businessman, between 30 and 60 years old, often with a family often described as an "outstanding member of the community".

A. International

The convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as a person under 18 years old, is the most important international human rights instrument regulating the protection of children's rights. Of particular relevance to the aspects of commercial sexual exploitation of children discussed in this report, are the provisions referred to below.

Article 32 of the Convention recognizes the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Under the Convention, States parties also undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and are required to take measures to prevent the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices and the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials. Article 35 provides that State parties shall take all appropriate measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.

The Special Rapporteur notes with regret, however, that the Government of the United States of America is one of only five countries that have not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of the child. The President of the United States, Mr. Bill Clinton, in his address on Human Rights Day, on 10 December 1996, stated that it was "shameful" that the United States had not yet ratified either the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women or the convention on the Rights of the Child. In this connection, the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights reassured the Special Rapporteur of the strong commitment of the current Administration to make every effort to overcome the existing strong opposition within the United States Senate, with a view to the ratification of both instruments.

In this connection, the American Bar Association was of the opinion that a concentrated effort to educate and inform the public is needed. To this end and in order to address uninformed fears by state legislators, the Center for Children and Law is currently carrying out research on the legal implications for all states if the United States were to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example in the areas of age majority or the right to education

B. National

In view of the highly decentralized state government structure in the United States, this section will mainly address relevant provisions in federal legislation, bearing in mind that state legislation across the country may differ significantly from state to state. Federal law in the United States is applied in all cases that have an interstate character or that are determined to be of particular federal concern. The Special Rapporteur was able to observe, for example, that cases involving child prostitution are investigated by three federal agencies, namely the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US Customs Service and the US Postal Service. Child prostitution cases which would, for example, involve the transportation of minors across state borders would also involve federal jurisdiction.

In some cases, both federal and state charges may be brought against the same defendant, but consecutive or concurrent prosecutions for the same conduct would violate federal policy. Some comments on common elements of state legislation in relation to commercial sexual exploitation of children may be of use. The United States Congress and most state legislatures have enacted criminal laws designed to protect children and youth from sexual exploitation by adults through prostitution or pornography. Under certain circumstances, other laws proscribing child sexual abuse or statutory rape can also be used to prosecute adults who sexually exploit children and youth. The mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse and exploitation to law enforcement and child protection agencies by teachers, health-care professionals and others who are in a position to identify potential victims is also required by most state law.

Federal law, and most state law, prohibits the production, distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography. Conspiracy and attempts to violate the federal child pornography laws are also chargeable federal offences. Most statutory laws define child pornography as visual depictions of a minor engaged in "sexual conduct" or in "sexually explicit conduct". Child pornography is considered a criminal offence in the United States because it represents the permanent record of the sexual abuse or exploitation of the actual child.

Some jurisdictions specifically prohibit the use of computers in connection with child pornography. Federal law specifies that persons who knowingly transport visual depictions or advertisement of child pornography "by any means, including by computer" are criminally liable.

In this connection, under the United States Code, Tiltle 18 on Crimes and Criminal Procedure (18 USC.), chapter 110 "Sexual exploitation and other abuse of children", paragraph 2251, states that any person who employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices or coerces a minor to engage in … any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct shall be punished if such person knows or has reason to know that such visual depiction will be transported in interstate or foreign commerce or mailed, or if such visual depiction has actually been transported. Paragraph 22252 prohibits the transportation, importation, shipment and receipt of child pornography by an interstate means, including by mail and computer. There is no requirement to show commercial purpose nor any minimum number of visual depictions. Paragraph 2251A prohibits the selling and buying of minors and makes the transfer of custody for purposes of visual depiction or engaging in sexually explicit conduct a criminal offences.

With regard to child prostitution, the Federal Government's primary law criminalizing child prostitution is the Mann Act, part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act 1994. The United States Code, Title 18 on Crimes and Criminal Procedure, chapter 117 "Transportation for illegal sexual activity and related crimes", paragraph 2422 prohibits enticing, persuading and inducing any person to travel across a state boundary for prostitution or for any sexual activity for which any person may be charged with a crime. Paragraph 2423, provides that "a person who knowingly transports any individual under the age of 18 years in inter-state or foreign commerce … with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both".


The 53rd Session of the United Nations Report on the "Rights of The Child" was a not-so-veiled criticism of the United States failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since its creation in 1989 it has been ratified by 192 nations and is the most widely ratified UN Convention in history. Only Somalia and the United States had not signed up to it. Somalia, beset by civil war and under the dominance of local warlords, lacked a recognized government to do so, but the United States had no such mitigating circumstances. Even President Clinton, in 1996, described his country's refusal to ratify the convention as "shameful."

Although the United States signed the Convention on February 16, 1995, the treaty has never been submitted to the U.S. Senate. The United States government has, since the 53rd Session of the United Nations, stated that it has no plans to ratify the convention. Although signing up to it would most likely have a negligible effect on U.S. statutes, campaigners against child sexual exploitation say that it would be a massive symbolic step for the American government and would also raise awareness about a problem that has reached "epidemic" proportions amongst homeless children.

By the very nature of the United States' federal system of governance, measures to limit child prostitution at a national level have largely been limited to cover inter-state trade in minors for purposes of sexual exploitation. This has been a federal offence since 1910. A concerted effort has been made since 2003 to enforce federal statutes prohibiting the transport of minors across state borders for the purpose of committing illegal sexual acts. Operation Innocence Lost is a nationwide initiative to stem the tide of interstate sex trafficking in the United States. As part of this the PROTECT Act was passed in April 2003 to tighten existing legislation and stiffen sentences. Although it has enjoyed some success, its critics state that it doesn't go far enough, nor does it tackle the root problems of child prostitution, which tend to exist at a localized level. Only around a fifth of child prostitution involves interstate trafficking. Federal statutes also cover children brought from outside the United States for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. These account for a tiny minority of those involved in the U.S. sex trade.

The success of state statutes, the principal legislation to tackle child prostitution on a local level, has been patchy. Measures are generally preventative—such as the provision of social services to help keep vulnerable children off the street or drug rehabilitation programs to remove dependency away from a pimp or dealer—rather than counteractive. Colorado has received praise from criminologists for differentiating between "prostitution by a child" and "prostitution of a child." The former means the child performing (or offering or agreeing to perform) sexual acts (or any person performing or offering or agreeing to perform such acts with a child) in exchange for money. Prostitution of a child means inducing a child to perform sexual acts by coercion, threat, or intimidation. The distinction removes the burden of criminality away from the child and gives law enforcers an additional piece of legislation with which to attack both abusers and exploiters. Most states, however, do not make such distinctions.

The limitations of counteractive statewide legislation have meant U.S. law enforcement agencies have been unable to keep pace with the rise in the sexual exploitation of children. Since the 1997 publication of the UN Report on the "Rights of The Child," incidents of traditional child prostitution have largely remained static, but different methods of child sexual exploitation have seen overall figures rise. For instance, the advent of the Internet and the emergence of high-speed broadband connections have seen an exponential growth in access to child pornography. Lewd acts and images can now be broadcast over an easily accessible medium and not just from within United States borders, but from anywhere on the planet. Research to indicate whether this has led to an actual increase in child victims is nevertheless still patchy, although anti-pornography campaigners insist that child pornography helps feed—and therefore increase—the demand for child prostitution.

Nevertheless, the Internet's biggest role in increasing child victims of sexual exploitation is in the number of children who have been sexually solicited via the Web. This stood at 1.5 million in 2000, the most recent year for when figures were available, and of these 920,000 were at high risk of actual sexual abuse.

This fits in with highly publicized research which has shown that not only is the problem of child sexual exploitation in the United States on the rise, but that the social class and backgrounds from which child prostitutes are emerging is widening. Research published in 2003 by Richard Estes of the University of Pennsylvania showed a huge rise in children from affluent backgrounds voluntarily engaging in prostitution to help fund their lifestyles. A Newsweek investigation published in the wake of these findings focused on the example of "Stacey," a seventeen-year-old from Minneapolis who sold sex to pay for the latest fashions at her local mall. She told Newsweek: "Potentially good sex is a small price to pay for the freedom to spend money on what I want." Such incidents nevertheless constitute a minor part of America's child prostitution problem.


Web sites "Prostitution of Children and Child Sex Tourism." 〈〉 (accessed February 28, 2006).

Newsweek. "Nationwide Increase in Teen Prostitution." 〈〉 (accessed February 28, 2006).

Time. "Running Scared." 〈,10987,981850,00.html〉 (accessed February 28, 2006).

University of Pennsylvania. "The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children In the U.S., Canada and Mexico." 〈∼restes/CSEC_Files/Exec_Sum_020220.pdf〉 (accessed February 28, 2006).

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Child Pornography and Prostitution in the U.S.

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