News Briefs: Archives 2011 & Earlier

News Briefs for February 2003

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,

Briefly …

Animal Cruelty and Child Abuse:
Because of research correlating animal abuse and child abuse, the Ohio state legislature recently passed a law making penalties for animal abuse more severe. For the past 125 years, animal abuse carried a small fine. Now, first-time abusers face a first-degree misdemeanor charge and a subsequent offense would be a felony punishable by one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Missing Sex Offenders: Despite a law mandating convicted rapists and child molesters to register annually with the Megan’s Law database, California says it cannot locate 44 percent of the 76,350 sex offenders registered in the state. “It’s not only in California,” Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law, told The Associated Press. “We’re expecting sex offenders to be reporting their addresses, and that’s the problem.”

Kids on Psychiatric Drugs: A study of Medicaid programs in two states, appearing in the January edition of The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, revealed that 6.2 percent of all enrolled people under 20 were prescribed mood and behavior medications, a 60 percent increase since 1987. Some experts worry that prescribing behavioral drugs to children before puberty might have long-term effects on the brain.

Truants, Pay Up: The British government proposed a law in December that would give principals, welfare caseworkers and police officers the right to fine youths who are continually absent from school. Proponents of the fines argue that the students who miss school, and who often behave badly when they are there, detract from the educational benefit to the majority of students who attend school regularly.

Gay Youth Harassment: According to a study by the National Mental Health Association, 78 percent of youth who are gay or considered to be gay are teased and bullied in schools and communities. While 93 percent of teens hear other kids use slurs associated with homosexuality “at least once in awhile,” four out of five kids also say they disapprove of such taunting.

Adoption Surge: In another sign of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act’s impact, Milwaukee County, Wis., reports that 504 children were adopted there last year, 92 percent more than the 263 adopted in 2001, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Officials cite increased public awareness about the need for adoption, as well as the federal law.

Prostitution Ring Busted: Detroit police announced last month that they had broken up a Midwestern sex ring that kidnapped teenage girls and forced them to sell themselves on the streets. Police moved in on the ring, allegedly operated by Henry Charles Davis, when one girl told police at a mall she had been abducted a week earlier.


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