The literature on child prostitution is limited. There is some historical documentation, but data on contemporary empirical observations is generally unavailable. Moreover, most studies have focused on teenagers rather than on children. Drug abuse was the original concern of this investigation. During the course of the research, nine girls between the ages of 8 and 12 were encountered who admitted involvement in prostitution and/or pornography. They were not runaways. Rather, they had been introduced to their careers by relatives. Their initiation into sex seemed to motivated by fear of rejection, their drug involvement did not appear to be associated with their sexual activities, and they did not seem to be traumatized by their early association with sex.
The literature on sexual deviance has provided only limited insight into the world of the "baby pro" -- the child prostitute. There is considerable historical documentation of the phenomenon as it existed in the Orient and ancient Rome and Greece (Benjamin and Masters, 1965; Pearson, 1972; Sanders, 1970), as well as in nineteenth century America (Sanders, 1970; Shoemaker, 1977), but empirical observations of contemporary patterns are almost non- existent. There are reports of the numerous senatorial hearings on child prostitution and pornography which discuss the "evils" of the sexual exploitation of children and the need for legislative reform (Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, 1978). There are several "pop" sociological monographs which peak of "million dollar babies" who have earned as much as $30,000 per hear from engaging in sex for a fee (for example, Harris, 1960). These materials, however, are little more than loosely descriptive, and offer little in terms of the characteristics of child prostitutes, patterns of recruitment and training, the nature of their sexual involvement, and their attitudes toward prostitution. Furthermore, the few empirical investigations of "child" prostitutes have actually been studies of "teenage" girls ages 13 years and above (Gray, 1973; Bracey, 1979), leaving a large gap in the literature descriptive of sex for pay as it exists among truly "little girls". Within this context, this research note provides some baseline data on 9 female child prostitutes, ages 8 through 12, interviewed in New York City and Wilmington, DE during 1978-1980.
It is understandable that child prostitutes would be difficult to encounter for systematic study. Pre-teen girls who engage in prostitution do not walk the streets soliciting clients, for the moral outrage over the sexual exploitation of children has made their trade an almost totally underground phenomenon. Furthermore, both the methods of reporting the arrests of children and their processing through the courts make the majority of those that do come to the attention of the criminal justice system unidentifiable as prostitutes. As indicated in Table 1, for example, arrests for both prostitution and other sex offenses appear in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, suggesting that child prostitutes do indeed come to the attention of the criminal justice system (although from these FBI data it cannot be determined what proportion of the arrestees are female.) Moreover, it is likely that these few cases represent only a small proportion of those actually coming into contact with the police. Typically, a large number of the juveniles arrested who engage in prostitution often become visible to the criminal justice system for some other reason, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, vagrancy, curfew and loitering law violation, or "runaways". As such, while there were 178 persons ages 12 and under arrested during 1980 on charges of prostitution or other sex offenses, there were some 2,637 arrests in these other latter categories. It is likely that a number of these may have been prostitution arrests. Furthermore, in most jurisdictions, arrested juveniles become "status offenders" in the eyes of the courts. As such, even juvenile court data do not reflect the incidence of child prostitutes being processed through the judicial system. All of this suggests that official sources represent a poor base for locating data on child prostitution. The alternative is direct contact with the child prostitute in the street community.
It should be pointed out here that the original purpose of this investigation was not to study child prostitution. Rather it was an effort designed to study the relationship between drug use and criminal behavior of active addicts in the street community.
The peculiar life style, illegal drug-taking and drug-seeking activities, and the mobility of active drug users preclude any examination of this group through standard survey methodology. Thus, a sample based on a restricted quota draw was rejected in favor of one derived through the use of a more sociometrically oriented model.
In the field sites, the author had established extensive contacts within the subcultural drug scene. These represented "starting points" for interviewing. During or after each interview, at a time when the rapport between interviewer and respondent was deemed to be at its highest level, each respondent was requested to identify other current users with whom he or she was acquainted. These persons, in turn, were located and interviewed, and the process was repeated until the social network surrounding each respondent was exhausted.
Table 1. Total Arrests for Prostitution and Sex Offenses,
Ages 12 and Under, 1971-1980.
Year Prostitution Sex Offenses*
1971 13 1,258
1972 21 1,299
1973 17 1,224
1974 13 1,019
1975 15 1,215
1976 31 1,263
1977 87 1,317
1978 111 1,318
1979 70 1,221
1980 1 177
*"Sex Offenses," in FBI designations, includes statutory rape, and offenses against chastity, morals, and common decency. Source: Uniform Crime Reports for the years 1971-1980.
It was during this interviewing process that the first child prostitute was inadvertently encountered. She, in turn, introduced the author to three other drug-using prostitutes of the same age. Intrigued by the possibility of collecting interview data on a yet to be studied cohort of prostitutes, the author shifted the course of the research temporarily, and requested from these respondents introductions to other young prostitutes -- drug using or not. In all, 9 such individuals were contacted -- 7 in New York City and 2 in Wilmington, DE, and all were interviewed "on the street". Given the sensitive nature of the interviews, the setting in which they were undertaken, and the ages of the respondents, only minimal information could be elicited.
Briefly, the nine child prostitutes ranged in age from 8 to 12 years, with a median age of eleven years. n terms of race/ethnicity, 4 were white-Anglo, one was black, one Puerto Rican, and 3 were Oriental. None of these individuals were engaging in prostitution as a full-time occupation. All were attending elementary schools, having completed a median of 6 years of education at the time of interview. None of these children were runaways. Rather, they were living at home with a parent(s) and/or relatives. They were introduced to their careers in prostitution by a parent, sister, or other relative who was also involved in prostitution or pornography.
Julie, age 11. Born in Oxford, PA, Julie is a 7th grade student living with her parents. She was introduced to prostitution at age 9 by her mother, also a prostitute. Julie's first experience involved posing in the nude by herself, and later with other girls her own age. The photographs were taken by her father. Within a few months, she began participating in pornographic films, performing such acts as masturbation, fellatio, and cunnilingus with both children and adults. Since age 10, she has worked in a massage parlor, about twice a week, fellating and masturbating older men. She has never engaged in sexual intercourse. She has never used drugs, been arrested, nor did she admit to any criminal activity.
Stephanie, age 9. Stephanie was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and is a student in the 5th grade. She lives with her 21-year-old sister who introduced her to massage parlor operations at age 7. Stephanie's sexual activity has been limited to masturbating her sister's clients, both men and women, about once a week. She has never engaged in sexual intercourse. Stephanie smokes marijuana about twice a week, which she has been doing since age eight. On occasions, she sell marijuana to her peers. She is generally high on marijuana when she engages in sex.
Kelly, age 11; Kim, age 12. Kelly and Kim, of Oriental extraction, are sisters. Their parents are pornographers, who introduced them to films at age 7 and 8 respectively. Both have engaged in all varieties of sexual acts, with each other, children and adults of both sexes.
Kelly and Kim also use drugs, a practice they began at age 9. Their drug use occurs several times each week, and has included marijuana, alcohol, minor tranquilizers, organic solvents, and cocaine. Kim, the older of the two sisters, is a part-time prostitute, while Kelly's sexual activity is limited to pornography.
Chris, age 8. Chris, who has done films with Kelly and Kim, is also of oriental extraction. She is an orphaned cousin of the two girls and lives with them. She did her first pornographic film at age 7. Her primary activity has been oral sex, which she says she enjoys. She has never had sexual intercourse and does not use drugs.
Diana, age 10. Born in Mt. Vernon, NY, Diana lives with her sister and an aunt, both of whom are street prostitutes. They also work in massage parlors. Diana began her career in prostitution at age 8, masturbating some of her sister's clients. By age 9 she was engaging in fellation and intercourse, occurring at the rate of one or more times a week. Her only drug use is alcohol, but she claims she has never been intoxicated.
Maryann, age 12. Living with an aunt in New York City, Maryann's sexual experiences began at age 5, with sexual intercourse occurring "sometime after that". She has never done "kiddy porn" but has engaged in all varieties of sexual activity, about 4 times each week. She has never used drugs.
Georgia, age 11. Born in Brooklyn, New York, and brought up by her mother and uncle, Georgia began her career with pornography at age 9. Sexual intercourse began at age 10 and since that time she has participated in pornography films combined with prostitution at the rage of about once each week. She was also in a live sex show with several girls and boys her own age. Her only drug use is occasional marijuana smoking, which she began at age 10.
Laura, age 10. Originally from Chicago, Laura has lived in various cities along the East Coast. She has been a prostitute for two years, and was introduced to it by her teenage brother, who serves as her pimp. Both she and her brother have worked in films and live sex shows. Her drug use is generally marijuana and sometimes codeine, both of which she became involved with "only recently".
The initiation of these girls into prostitution and pornography appeared to be neither forced nor traumatic. Rather, the overt presence of nudity, sexual promiscuity and prostitution in the home seemed to desensitize them. As Julie indicated: "When you see people fucking ever since you're little, it seems to be just nuthin'." And Diana:
My sister would take me to work with her [to a massage parlor] sometimes when she couldn't get a baby sitter. I can't remember the first time I saw a dude get on top of her, but it didn't seem to bother her. She said it was fun and felt good too.
After their observations of sexual activity, actual participation began in several ways. Some were just simply told to do it. Kelly and Kim, for example, grew up in a household where pornographic films were produced on an almost regular basis. One day their mother told them it was their turn to take off their clothes and get in front of the camera. Georgia reported a similar experience:
Mom was doing a film one afternoon and her period was coming real bad and making a mess out of the bed. Then my uncle said "why don't you put the kid in there and have her just give a hand job." I had seen it done often enough so it was no problem.
On the other hand, some of the girls asked to participate. As Chris explained: "Kelly and Kim were on the bed having all the fun and all the attention, so I asked if I could do it too. One day mom said OK." Similarly, Julie commented: "Mom and dad were talking about me doing the films. I told them I'd do it if they'd take me to the beach... It was so easy. All I did was sit in front of the camera with my legs open."
In general, the girls' attitudes towards participating in prostitution and pornography appeared to be rather cavalier and nonchalant. Many viewed it as a mechanism for "easy money". Julie stated: "A hand job takes less than two minutes. The old fart is usually already hard when I go in there, and it isn't long before they shoot their load. Twenty bucks for a two-minute "local" [masturbating a male client] isn't a bad deal."
Giving head isn't the most fun thing I ever did, but it was never scary either. Someone was always there to see that nothing went wrong and so that nobody would hurt me, and then I'd get some nice presents or get taken out somewhere so it was worth it. Now I'm used to it and the spending money is real nice.
As indicated earlier, the data collected on these nine young prostitutes are rather sparse. This was due, in part, to the nature of the street-corner interviewing encounters, combined with the fact that all of the informants were both unwilling and unable to fully express themselves. It was apparent during the interviews that all of the girls had been instructed at length by their parents, guardians and peers as the illegality of their activities, and that there could be severe consequences if their prostitution became known. As one child put it: "My sister said we would all go to jail if people find out about it." Or another stated: "They'd put my mom away, and that would be bad." A second problem was the informants' inability to fully articulate their feelings and experiences. With regard to the topics of drugs or specific sexual activities, most of the girls were able to speak in a rather matter-of-fact and somewhat mature streetwise manner. But when it came to attitudes and feelings, their chronological age and educational level seemed to come forward, leaving them with the same intellectual and perceptual abilities of other children in the 8- 12 year cohort. Despite these problems, however, a number of tentative conclusions could be made.
First, it would seem that their early and repeated observations of sexual activity combined with the guidance of a parent or other relative provided them with an easy transition into the worlds of pornography and prostitution. These factors may have insulated them from the trauma that would ordinarily be experienced by other children who become victims of sexual exploitation.
Second, to a noticeable extent, their willingness to participate in sexual activities, both at the outset and as a continuing practice, seemed to be motivated by fear. Not fear in the sense of any physical harm or coercion, but fear of rejection by a parent or guardian. Their involvement was often a way of getting attention from an otherwise ambivalent mother, father, or sister. Many of these children were showered with affection, money, presents, or "a trip to the circus," after many of their sexual encounters. In this behalf, Georgia commented:
They wanted me to do this [sex] show with bunch of other kids one afternoon. I didn't mind playing around with the others, but it was in a room with a whole bunch of people watching. I felt kind of funny.... My mom said that it was just this one time, and after that, she'd take me to [F.A.O. Schwartz] and I could pick out anything I wanted.
Third, also apparent were their negative attitudes towards their clients. The "johns" were almost exclusively males, and were typically referred to as "old farts," "suckers," "assholes," "scum bags," and "shit heads". Although this vocabulary was most likely picked up from their parents and "pimps," they generally spoke of their male clients with some disdain. As Kim stated, for example: "You have to be awfully fucked up to want to be pissed on or screwed by a kid...." On the other hand, no such attitudes emerged with respect to the children, and men, who performed with them in films. These individuals were viewed as their equals -- as others performing a service for a fee.
Fourth, their drug use did not appear to be related to their careers in prostitution and pornography. Rather, they all resided in high drug use areas, and their initiation into marijuana and alcohol use was more a matter of differential association with the public school drug culture. Kelly and Kim, for example, were the heaviest drug users (although not daily users), and had been introduced to substance abuse by a 14-year-old non-prostitute schoolmate. A similar type of initiation was clear with several of the other respondents. On the other hand, their drug consumption patterns were made readily possible by the funds earned through sex. This was particularly clear with respect to Kelly and Kim, who would purchase cocaine once or twice a month.
Fifth, and finally, the absurd hypocrisy associated with the way these children had been sexually exploited surfaced when they were asked whether they had intentions of becoming career prostitutes. They all said no, offering as alternatives the same type of professional aspirations that most of the children have -- to be an actress, a television star, a doctor... Most had ben told by their parents -- the very same parents that introduced them to sex -- that prostitution was no way to earn a living, and that "when they get older," they ought to do something else. Maryann, the oldest, most mature, and the most sexually experienced of the group seemed to have the most realistic attitude toward her activities:
I know that this is a dirty business and that hookers end up as junkies and street bums... But I also know that as long as I look young I can do OK.... Once I grow up I won't be so special anymore.
In conclusion, it is clear that a high degree of coercion, however, covert, stimulated the entry of these nine girls into pornography and prostitution and has influenced the development and continuation of their careers. How these experiences will ultimately shape their conceptions of self, development of sex roles and attitudes, and views of the world as adults is open only to speculation.
Benjamin, Harry and R.E.L. Masters. 1965. Prostitution and Morality. London: Souvenir Press.
Bracey, Dorothy R. 1979. "Baby Pros:" Preliminary Profiles of Juvenile Prostitutes. New York: John Jay Press.
Gray, Diana. 1973. "Turning Out: a Study of teenage prostitution." Urban Life and Culture 1: 401-425.
Harris, Sara. 1960. They Sell Sex. Greenwich: Fawcett.
Pearson, Michael. 1972. The Age of Consent: Victorian Prostitution and Its Enemies. London: David and Charles.
Sanders, Wiley B. 1970. Juvenile Offenders for a Thousand Years. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Shoemaker, Donald J. 1977. "The teeniest trollops: "baby pros," "chickens," and child prostitutes". pp. 241-53 in Clifton, D. Bryant (ed.) Sexual Deviancy Social Context. New York: New Viewpoints.
Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency. 1978. Protection of children against sexual exploitation. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.