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Tuesday, June 29, 1999 Published at 00:17 GMT 01:17 UK


Child prostitution linked to abuse and drugs

The government is proposing to treat child prostitutes as victims of abuse

Child abuse, peer pressure and drug use are key factors in young people's descent into prostitution, according to a report.

Alison Holt reports: "Researchers investigated the stories behind the young lives"
The Children's Society says most people who had been prostitutes before the age of 18 say the situation is getting worse.

Its survey of 50 young adults who are or have been prostitutes found half had started at the age of 14. Two were only 11.

Fifty per cent said their first sexual experience was one of abuse and a quarter had been abused before they reached the age of 10.

Peer pressure

The younger the child prostitutes were, the more likely they were to be taking drugs, says the report.

Two thirds had started using drugs before becoming prostitutes.

The Children's Society says most of the children came from a background of family discord, poverty, abuse and violence which led to them feeling isolated, unloved and neglected.

Over half were runaways - mainly from local authority care homes.

More than a third of these got involved in prostitution to survive while on the run, but some had been lured into it through peer pressure.

Eighteen of the 50 said they had begun working on the streets to get money for items like fashionable clothes and trainers.

Victims rather than criminals

The report, which is launched at the National Police Vice Conference in Portishead, near Bristol, on Tuesday, calls for a co-ordinated effort to "break the circle" of prostitution.

The Children's Society says police have a vital role to play in helping to prosecute those who encourage child prostitution.

The report, One Way Street: retrospectives on childhood prostitution, comes as the government considers responses to proposed new guidelines for police.

They recommend treating child prostitutes as victims of abuse rather than criminals.

The Children' s Society says pilot projects run by the Association of Chief Police Officers have shown this leads to greater prosecution rates for child sex offenders and better protection for children.

But it adds that the guidelines will not stop children being prosecuted for prostitution.

It is calling for:

  • Tougher penalties for those who encourage child prostitution, whether by luring children into it or using child prostitutes
  • An emergency network of projects to help support young runaways and stop them getting involved in prostitution
  • Better practical support to help children out of prostitution, such as careers advice
  • Greater care from local authorities in placing children who might encourage others into child prostitution
  • Better monitoring of children who are absent from school


Ian Sparks, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: "This research is about children being sexually abused by adults.

"For so many of the people we spoke to, their childhood was a fast track from destitution to degradation. Where they looked to adults for trust, they were betrayed and when they looked for help they found abuse.

"Some children took to running away. Some sold sex because they needed money for drugs.

"Others took drugs to dull the pain of prostitution. Either way, the circle they became locked in was vicious."

The charity will use the report for a new training programme giving young runaways an alternative to life on the streets.

Tim Brain of the Association of Chief Police Officers said the study was important because it told the reasons why young people turned to prostitution.

"It makes tough reading because the stories are painful to listen to," he said, adding that it also showed children were often resilient enough to start a new life outside prostitution.

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