How Does The Media Portray It?
This CBS article is about a 14-year-old who tried to meet up with a 22-year-old prostitute online.
If the 22-year-old hadn’t stolen his iPad and piggy bank, this story would have never made the news. The CBS article uses the term “Hooker,” and sensationalizes the incident, inciting the social stigma that is already placed on sex workers and victims of trafficking. They did not collect a statement from the girl, and that leads the question, “What if she was a trafficking victim, sent there against her will?”
She could have seen the boy’s young age as an opportunity to grab cash and get out. Additionally, the young boy was also endangering himself when inviting a stranger over from a presumably illegal website. The Sex Workers’ Outreach Project seeks to create a safer working environment for sex workers and johns as well, but they only speak for the community of sex workers that are consensually in the trade.
In another instance, a group of field-tripping high school football players snuck prostitutes into their hotel room. The news outlets that reviewed this story, focused on the expulsion and consequences that they would face as a result of it, passing the blame to the chaperones and teachers. This article even goes so far as to describe the “saddened” state of the coach’s and the school’s athletic program, as they had now lost five of their players.
Ties To Rape Culture?
The above instance is reminiscent of the Steubenville rape charges, and the way that the school administration handled it. While admittedly they did not attempt to cover it up, they did not question what they could have done to prevent the situation, and as demonstrated through the comments, and concerns on the news stories, many of the community members and fans of the football team stayed with the “boys will be boys” motto, as well as shaming the sex workers. Some fans also claim that the prostitutes were men in drag, and that’s why the boys told a parent. Thankfully, the identities and photos of the sex workers weren’t released.
Most importantly, the issue with the way these johns are portrayed with is that they were having sex/breaking school rules = bad. What they fail to recognize is that the person that they hired could have been, like some sex workers, working for a pimp who regularly abused and controlled them.
Consent by threat, is not consent, and likewise, signing a contract to have sex with people for money does not equal consent for each individual person.
The boys probably did not consider this. Even if the sex workers were fully consented, the students and community dehumanized them like so many have the tendency to do. Also, as these were underaged boys, most consenting sex workers would not get involved as that would indicate more legal repercussions.
What Needs To Be Done
It is clear in these cases, and many others, that an unsafe situation was created between two parties, and the media sensationalized the situations in an angle that dehumanized the sex worker. The lack of compassion for the sex worker is a human rights issue, and a lot authority figures are not discussing this with young children in the way they could.
While consensual sex work should not be inherently violent, their lack of safety and legal protection puts a damper on their voice. Trafficked victims suffer the most, as they are in the sex trade without consent, but there are many ways to educate a person out of buying sex from someone who does not consent.
Many organizations, like CAASE in Chicago, create and provide toolkits for educators and figures of authority to use and help children and young adults understand the various aspects of rape culture, and what abusive sexual relationships are comprised of.
The Sex Workers’ Outreach Project also does a lot of outreach work to introduce harm reduction and fight violence, and offer resources and tools to teach young people the importance of treating a sex worker or trafficked person with compassion. The reception of these news articles in their community is alarming to me, and many others, as they continue to stigmatize and shame the sex workers/prostitutes, and the johns do not exit the situation with any knowledge or compassion for people in the sex trade.
So, for all that have younger people in their life; I urge you to consider the situation that the sex worker you encounter may be in, and teach and show compassion and what a safe sexual encounter consists of. Let’s start a better dialogue, in the interest of human rights, and young people whose decisions have the power to change a culture.