1 in 100 childrenAs many as one in 100 children in the United States ages 10 to 17 may be involved in the sex trade, through prostitution, stripping, lap dancing or pornography, according to a study released today that includes research done in Honolulu.
in sex trade,
A new study confirms what
many say about Hawaii children
who are treated like chattel
2 girls found sparkling allure of
Hawaii sex trade to be fool's gold
By Diana Leone
These youngsters may get clothes, drugs, food, a place to stay, video games or the approval of their pimp. But while their "customers" pay in cash, little of that gets to the children, many of whom turn to the sex trade to survive on the streets after running away from physical or sexual abuse at home, concludes the report, a three-year study partly funded by the U.S. Justice Department.
Side effects of the sex trade may include beatings or torture by pimps or "customers," drug and alcohol abuse and use as "mules" to deliver drugs for organized crime. Even children living at home may engage in prostitution to get clothes, jewelry and other goods beyond the means of their allowance, the report says.
Honolulu's children are just as susceptible, if not more so, to exploitation as children across the country, said Richard J. Estes, co-author of the report, "The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico."
Recently filed federal charges against a 30-year-old Honolulu library worker, Lando Millare, accuse him of luring a 14-year-old Oregon girl to Hawaii for sex by posing as a 17-year-old virgin. Millare allegedly paid for the girl's plane ticket to Hawaii.
"We call those the traveling cases," Estes said. Though the child may have not been handed money, it is considered commercial sexual exploitation, because the predator provides for the travel, he said.
Estes' study includes statistics on how often children are accosted on the Internet by pornography (which they are not seeking out), as well as being sexually harassed or solicited.
Kelly Hill, founder of Sisters Offering Support, the Oahu nonprofit that helps people leave the sex trade, said the study also confirms that when a community supports adult men dating young girls, it leads to commercial sexual exploitation. She contends Hawaii did just that with its long-standing law that allowed consensual sex at age 14. In July, the state Legislature raised the age of consent to 16 from 14, which was the lowest in the United States. Legislators had to override Gov. Ben Cayetano's veto to get the bill into law. Cayetano contended the bill was poorly written.
There are several other reasons Hawaii may have proportionately more than its share of children in the sex trade, according to Estes and others involved in helping exploited children in Honolulu:
>> Some tourists are looking for a sexual vacation and may be willing to make youth or children their choice.
>> Military men are traditionally good customers for prostitutes, including young ones.
>> The high visibility and apparent community acceptance of "hostess" bars, pornography sales and adult prostitution.
Recent attempts to "clean up" prostitutes on Honolulu's streets of the city has only driven the trade indoors, to massage parlors, escort services and Internet "dating services," said Jayne Bopp of the nonprofit Life Foundation, one of a number of local social workers who met with Estes during the research of his study.
The most urgent need is to raise people's awareness of the problem, Estes said during a recent Honolulu interview.
"It's not unlike where we were 20 years ago with child abuse or 15 years ago with abuse of a woman by her husband, including rape," Estes said. "People don't want to look, out of disgust and disbelief."
The $400,000 study was funded by the National Institute of Justice, the W.T. Grant Foundation, the Fund for Nonviolence and the universities of Pennsylvania and Montreal.
AFTER THREE YEARS of research that spanned 14 U.S., four Canadian and seven Mexican cities, the study confirmed that:
>> Between 300,000 and 400,000 American children and youth are victimized by sexual exploitation each year.
>> Almost 99 percent of "customers" of child sex workers are grown men, often with children of their own at home.
>> Most children being commercially sexually exploited are ages 14 to 17, but there are instances involving children as young as 9 and 10.
>> Major groups of sexual exploiters include family members and acquaintances, strangers, pedophiles, transient males (such as military personnel, truck drivers, seasonal workers, conventioneers and sex tourists), "opportunistic" exploiters (who will sexually abuse whoever is available, including children), pimps, traffickers and other juveniles.
>> Criminal networks are involved in sexual exploitation of children and profit significantly from it.
>> Substantial numbers of foreign children are trafficked into the United States for sexual purposes.
>> Substantial numbers of American youth are trafficked for sexual purposes across the country and to other economically advanced countries.
ALL THE MAJOR findings apply to Honolulu, Estes said.
Hill, of Sisters Offering Support, said the study "substantiates what we've been saying all along for six years."
"What we say is based on our experience and what clients tell us. This validates and verifies everything we've been telling the community," Hill said, who was also among those Estes interviewed on three research trips to Honolulu. "We've been saying this is child abuse."
According to Hawaii law, child abuse is only dealt with at the family level, Hill said. "That's why CPS (Child Protective Services) doesn't get involved in our cases."
Hill said Sisters Offering Support gets 300 to 500 visits a year, of which about 10 to 40 are "active cases" at any given time. Though only a few men have been assisted over the six years of the program, she emphasizes that "we work with any person, regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation who is involved with CSE (commercial sexual exploitation)."
About half of Sisters Offering Support clients are 18 or younger, Hill said.
Estes said that while interviewing youth being commercially exploited he was surprised how often the girls cited the story line of the movie "Pretty Woman," where a handsome, rich guy falls for a street prostitute and rescues her.
Some convicted pimps told researchers they could make more money selling underage sex than they could selling illegal drugs -- with far less risk of doing time if they were caught, Estes said.
Hill said there is an easy explanation for why children are trafficked for sex: There are customers who will pay.
"Just as the exploited children come from all parts of society, so do the predators who pay kids for sex," she said.
Shannon Mar and Connie Tostado, both 18, do not want other kids to have to go where they have gone, see what they have seen or do what they have done.
2 girls found sparkling
allure of Hawaii sex
trade to be fools gold
By Diana Leone
As workers with the nonprofit Sisters Offering Support, they talk at schools and youth organizations about "myths and realities" of prostitution, stripping and the voracious market for young people in pornography.
They speak bluntly about how older guys with cash and sweet talk can draw in a girl. How after he's "courted" her -- bought her presents, taken her to parties, had sex with her, given her drugs -- he may threaten to tell her family what she has done with him if she does not start turning tricks and giving him the money.
"And the pimp doesn't ever tell his real name," Tostado said.
The psychological intimidation is so complex that Tostado remembers commiserating with other girls who worked for her pimp that they "wanted to get out. But then we'd say, 'What will he do without us?'" and stay a little longer, turn another trick.
"It's kind of like domestic violence taken to the extreme," said Jayne Bopp, director of HIV preventive services at the Life Foundation, which offers health services and counseling to sex-trade workers of any age or sexual orientation. "We try to meet people where they're at, try to help them reduce harms in their life any way we can. We're not asking them to stop, just do it more safely."
Sisters Offering Support is the only organization in Honolulu specifically dedicated to helping people exit the sex trade. The 6-year-old organization was founded by former prostitute Kelly Hill and is staffed mostly by women who have lived that life, made it out and now want to help others.
There are numerous other groups in Honolulu that reach out to homeless teenagers and people at risk for sexually transmitted diseases with health care, food and encouragement. But they are only reaching a fraction of the young people who are trading sex for money, food, drugs and a place to stay.
Tostado did not want to talk about how much money she made as a prostitute. She did not get to keep any of it anyway.
She remembers her first impression of one of her pimps. "He was handsome, had a nice car, a nice home," she said. "At first he told us that everything we made, we'd get half the money."
But "he kept all the money and spent it on himself."
That is typical, said Bopp.
"The pimp will have her call him every hour -- and pick up money from her on the street." After working with hundreds of prostitutes over 10 years, "I've never seen one leave with more than the clothes on her back."
Just a year after she quit working as a prostitute in Waikiki, Tostado said she hardly sees any girls there she used to know.
According to Estes' study, they likely have moved on to other cities -- maybe with the same pimp, maybe with a different one, maybe even as a commodity of an organized-crime unit.
Mar used to "hang out" in the parking lot of a strip club when she was only 15 years old, had a baby at home and was still in high school.
One night, a bouncer asked her if she wanted to make some money dancing, like her friends were doing. She said OK.
"At first I felt good about myself when I started dancing. I kinda thought I was a pretty girl and would make a lot of money.
"Then I found out what it was really about" -- that for most dancers, the stripping was a prelude to having sex with customers in the back of the club or at nearby flophouses.
She only danced at that club for a few months and did drugs to numb her feelings. But for some reason Mar could never bring herself to prostitution.
"These men were as old as my father, even my grandfather," Mar recalled, wrinkling her nose. "Some were married and had their wedding bands on. They'd open their wallet to get some money, and you'd see pictures of their kids and wives. It kinda was disgusting."
"I stopped because I couldn't handle feeling so dirty," Mar said. She continued to use drugs to cancel out flashbacks of the leering faces of the men she felt certain had known she was underage.
She used to tell the same lies her girlfriends who got into dancing before her told her: that it was fun, that it was easy money. But it was not.
"A lot of people see music videos, with girls in the background living it up with fancy cars and fancy jewelry," said Mar. "It gives them the image that you can make a lot of money and that prostitution is glamorous and fun.
"You don't know what it's like until you go into it."
Some recommendations from "The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico," by Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner.
>> Protect the children. Empower children to report abuse, giving law enforcement and agencies the resources to investigate abuse and protect children. Monitor convicted child sexual offenders.
>> Target adult sexual exploiters of children for punishment, not the children. Sexually exploited children are often revictimized by the agencies designed to assist them. Go after pimps, traffickers and customers -- not the children who are surviving by selling their bodies.
>> Enforce existing laws related to child sexual exploitation. "Benign neglect" of children in the sex trade will not make the problem go away.
>>Increase penalties associated with sexual crimes against children. "Our laws protecting animals are stronger than those for women and children," Estes said.
>> Strengthen laws pertaining to child sexual exploitation. For example, in Hawaii, prostitution, whether charged against the buyer or the seller, is a petty misdemeanor punishable by a maximum six months in jail.
>> Establish a national child sexual exploitation intelligence center. Multi-agency cooperation would resemble that done to counter drug trafficking.
>> Enlarge the pool of child sexual exploitation experts and specialists. There is a shortage of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, physicians, lawyers, police officers, coroners and others with special expertise in child sexual exploitation.
Sisters Offering Support
941-5554 (crisis line: 220-1501): Helps anyone in the sex trade who wants out.
The Life Foundation
521-2437: HIV/AIDS prevention work with sex workers.
988-5234: A shelter program for runaway and homeless youths in Waikiki. Hopes to create a group home for young people trying to leave the sex trade.
Domestic Violence Clearing House of Hawaii
534-0040 (hot line 531-3771): May be able to assist children and youths in danger.
Hawaii Youth Services Network
531-2198: Executive Director Judy Clark has contacts with a variety of organizations that help children and youths.
Center for Missing Children
586-1449: Assists agencies in trying to recover missing children.
Hawaii Kids Watch
845-0701: Advocacy on children's issues.
Honolulu Police Juvenile Division
529-3887 or 529-3919.
See the full report online