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The Naked Anthropologist · Teen prostitutes don't want to be saved again | New York | The Naked Anthropologist

Teen prostitutes don’t want to be saved so they must be brainwashed, right?

Psy theories brought to people exchanging sex for money (again) – child prostitution, so-called. We have already seen ludicrous psychologising in reports on Lithuania, and police confusion when migrant sex workers refuse rescue in India and China. Here it’s New York, and a new anti-sex-trafficking division, heaven help us. Law & Order will start a new series for this, mark my words (subcategory of Special Victims). My comments in green.

Teen prostitutes hard to save, cop tells City Council

Alison Bowen, Metro, 19 October 2011

New York City police say they are trying to rescue teens forced into prostitution, only to find that the girls often don’t want their help. A state law enacted last year considers prostitutes under the age of 18 victims, not criminals, and police are encouraged not to charge them with a crime.

But according to Inspector James Capaldo, head of the NYPD’s new anti-sex trafficking division, their efforts to help girls forced into prostitution are often spurned, he told the City Council at a hearing on sex trafficking yesterday.

So far so good, we know this happens all the time. But where do they go with this? To the cheap psychology department.

The teens are often terrified of being punished by their pimp, or they’re brainwashed into thinking he is a boyfriend, said Capaldo. They also often lie and say they are 19. “Sometimes they refuse to talk,” he said. “If it takes a man six weeks to put this woman in a situation, how do we undo that in 46 hours?”

Lots of people refuse to talk to the police all the time, but here we see how Rescuers use that fact to explain their failures. Brainwashing was the explanation heard at the BBC debate in Luxor, and terror-by-pimp is the idea proposed by social workers on an NPR show on child sex trafficking in Nevada. Not to say it never happens but you need to be suspicious when Rescuers need to justify their own jobs. See, this is a new unit on sex trafficking. They even imply that slowness is not their faults because they are undoing brainwashing. And in an age of cuts and Occupy Wall Street – shameful.

The teen prostitutes often advertise their illegal services on Backpage.com, according to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. Earlier this year, in Brooklyn, a tip led police to “Jennifer,” 18, who refused to testify against her pimp. Instead, prosecutors found him through a prostitution website. He was charged with sex trafficking.

Is the assumption that a female under 18 is not capable of placing an online ad? Pure infantilisation of women, inexcusable. Check out recent comments from a lot of men assuming that women would be incapable of flying budget airlines to Amsterdam to sell sex and go home again. Excuse me?

Anyway ‘Jennifer’ was 18, so what is this detail doing here? Did Backpage.com force her to place the ad? Gah!

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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  1. I can’t speak to being a teenage sex worker, but I was a semi-homeless teenager.

    There was *nothing* I wanted less than having anyone “rescue” me and force me into foster care or some kind of state program. I was kicked out shortly before turning 16, and while I didn’t have the easiest two years as I waited for the clock to run out on my time as a minor, I sure as hell did not want to be “saved.” Other young people in my situation all felt the same way. The government and police were not your friends, and nonprofits and “teen help groups” were generally treated with suspicion, like they were traps to send you into group homes or juvenile detention. Being a minor was very stressful at times, not because I was on my own or young, but because society does not give minors rights. Had I been able to legally get a decent job and rent an apartment, I would have. The laws meant to “protect” me as a “helpless child” at 16 and 17 only prevented me from gaining the stability, safety, autonomy, and equal rights that I wanted. My sources of support and friendship were not state/police programs, but other young people in a similar situation as myself.

    Gee, sounds a lot like sex work!

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  2. Furry, thanks for your remarks. Rescue projects are set up the same way for any sort of people who don’t live the way the mainstream approves: drug users, rough sleepers, children on their own called runaways and drop-outs, people considered too fat or too thin and so on, infinitely. Someone always Knows Better how they ought to live.

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  3. I’m wanting to comment but I find this issue so complex it is difficult to even start! Stockholm Syndrome is pretty easy to induce in someone. I’ve done a lot of reading on it and I have definitely experienced a Stockholm type reaction myself. I think there is a good chance that teenaged prostitutes who are not free lancers are likely being strongly manipulated to maximize profit for their pimp. (I wouldn’t necessarily use the term “brainwashed”) The trouble is rescue isn’t going to work. What got me free of my captor was my own empowerment, not any outside rescue and any attempts at intervention from the outside I saw as something to strongly defend against. This sort of intense connection to a captor is very powerful and emotional and even sexually charged but breaking free comes from within. Is the deprogramming recommended after brainwashing not just more manipulation? I don’t feel as if I am a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. In some way I colluded to being manipulated. I think teenagers are vulnerable and deserve some protection but rescue needs to be consensual.

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  4. Freya, thanks – I love the notion of consensual rescue. I don’t mean to say, in my critiques, that the bad things never happen. Are some teenagers manipulated and then defend their manipulators? Of course they are. Should we assume that all teenagers have been manipulated or that they suffer from stockholm syndrome if they deny they were? No, a resounding no.

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