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Saturday, February 26, 2000

Group sounds
child-prostitution alarm

Sisters Offering Support
warns that area pimps are
recruiting young girls

By Treena Shapiro


Kelly Hill has to choke back tears when she describes talking to a group of 6- to 10-year-old girls from Waianae about prostitution.

One of the younger ones came up to her and asked, "If a man gives me money to have sex, does that mean I'm a prostitute?"

Hill, a former prostitute and founder of Sisters Offering Support, told the story at a conference on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth in Hawaii yesterday at the Nuuanu YMCA

Her purpose: to illustrate that it's never too early to talk to girls about prostitution.

The conference was geared toward workers in social service agencies, high school education and the criminal justice system.

Nationally, the average age for entry into prostitution is 14. SOS, a nonprofit group working to prevent and intervene in prostitution, estimates there are 1,500 to 5,000 people engaged in prostitution in Honolulu, with several hundred of them minors.

Children need to be made aware of the tactics used to bring them into prostitution, Hill said.

"The number of local youth being recruited has been increasing," she said. "The pimps have been busy."

According to an SOS survey of 2,200 participants in youth-prevention presentations, 19 percent of the girls reported that someone tried to recruit them at an average age of 15. Fifty-one percent said they know a victim of sexual exploitation, also at an average age of 15.

Girls at risk of being exploited include those with absentee fathers, substance abuse problems, a history of child abuse, promiscuous behavior and financial problems.

Recruiters often target girls who exhibit low self-esteem, befriend them and earn their trust while grooming them to be prostitutes, Hill said. Pimps have multiple roles: parent, friend, lover, caregiver and entertainer. They provide young girls with the physical, emotional and monetary needs they may be missing at home.

"All the things that parents miss out on doing with your kids, he's going to do," Hill said. But the security a pimp offers is only temporary: "If she has any self-esteem going in, she will not have any when she gets out."

Parents can help prevent this by talking to their children.

Catching the warning signs early could help preserve family relationships. Jolene Setterquist -- a former prostitute and an SOS volunteer who yesterday became part of its staff -- described her experiences in the sex industry to those at the conference.

"I believe we need in Hawaii a place for people who want to get out of prostitution," she said. As for her own experiences, Setterquist said, "I felt so ashamed, the last people I would call would be my family."

SOS provides services to prostitutes, youth groups, parents, community organizations and social service agencies. For more information, call 941-5554.

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