Justice Prepares Focus on Child Prostitutes
The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is poised to launch a push to get tougher on child prostitution.
OJJDP Director J. Robert Flores announced plans at a December conference to team with agencies in Atlanta and New York to establish pilot programs, and to assess the usefulness and accessibility of existing resources.
Attendees at the “Protecting Our Children” conference – 150 researchers, advocates and law enforcement officials – said they were cautiously optimistic that the Bush administration means business.
“Past conferences have been more P.R. events,” said Susan Breault of the Paul & Lisa Program in Essex, Conn., a group helping juvenile prostitutes in New York City and Connecticut. “This was a soldiers’ meeting.”
Flores said he is not yet certain what projects will be tested in Atlanta and New York, but one will probably be a long-term or transitional housing program. “Budgets are tight, so whatever we do needs to work,” he said in an interview.
As for his own office, whose discretionary grants were heavily tied up in congressional earmarks last fiscal year, Flores thinks OJJDP, part of the Department of Justice, is well suited to be the key link to resources elsewhere in the federal government.
“My sense is that we will try and build a technical assistance and training program. We want to make it possible for communities to say, ‘We have a problem here. Will you give us the [direction] we need?’”
OJJDP should be able to issue requests for proposals on an assistance program to combat juvenile prostitution within 18 months, he said. With OJJDP leading a White House-backed policy, money and resources to help child prostitutes obtain health care, housing and job services could be drawn from existing funding streams at the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Labor, and Health and Human Services.
HUD recently announced record funding of $1.12 billion (about $340 million of which is used for transitional housing) for homeless assistance programs for fiscal 2003.
Ron Laney, director of OJJDP’s Child Protection Division, will lead the effort. Laney has handled missing children’s issues for the past two decades.
Estimates on the number of children exploited sexually in the United States are murky. Breault said she thinks there are more than 900,000. Deborah Daniels, assistant attorney general for Justice Programs, cited a more conservative estimate (100,000 to 300,000) at the conference.
Flores offered no estimate. “How big is this problem? It’s hard to say,” he said at the conference. “What we do know is that it is underreported and under recognized.”
Flores worked for eight years in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Justice Department and was senior counsel for the anti-pornography National Law Center for Children and Families from 1997 until his Senate confirmation last spring.
Ideas vary on what should be the primary tactic in fighting child prostitution. Paul & Lisa President Frank Barnaba stressed the need for separate small shelters for young prostitutes, who he said need more personal attention and health services than do other runaways.
Bob Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, lauded Atlanta Judge Nina Hickson as a leader in the movement to get tough on pimps. Woodson said Georgia is the first state with a felony charge for pimps.
Norma Hotaling, executive director of Standing Against Global Exploitation in San Francisco, has led the charge toward focusing on prostitution solicitors as the most effective tactic to reduce child prostitution.
“We are conditioned not to talk about the demand side” of child prostitution, she said. Hotaling operates one of the first “john schools” in the country, educating first-time offenders on the future consequences of their actions and the damage being done to adolescent prostitutes.
Contact: OJJDP, (202) 307-0703, www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org.
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