It is amazing, disheartening, sickening, and shocking: the thought of a child as young as eleven selling their body for sex. Yet it is happening in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and yes, Nashville. A nonprofit organization has focused on a new campaign to remove these children from the street.
The Children of the Night home is open to child prostitutes throughout the United States, and the hotline accepts calls 24 hours a day. The organization provides free transportation nationwide for child prostitutes who wish to escape, find a home, gain an education, and begin a new life. One way the organization is reaching these children is through Backpage.com “escort” advertisements.
“A lot of people learn about us from Backpage.com,” explains Dr. Lois Lee, Founder and President of the nonprofit California-based organization. “So Children of the Night partnered with Backpage.com to run ads for the group’s services, offering help to those who want to escape prostitution.” Thus far it has been successful. “Our website hits went from 7,000 a month to 30,000 a month.”
It is impossible to know how many children are working as prostitutes in the United States, or the average age of entry into prostitution, explains Dr. Lee. “No one knows. There is no empirical data. There has never been a study nor has anyone had access to this data.” Children of the Night is a privately funded non-profit organization established in 1979; their mission statement is “…dedicated to rescuing America's children from the ravages of prostitution” (credit). “Since 1979 we have rescued over 10,000 American children from prostitution.”
Backpage.com “Escorts” has ads of escorts claiming to be as young as 18, who may or may not be adding or subtracting years from their true age. “Ask about my $50 special” one “18 year old” girl advertises. “Seeking a wealthy professional gentleman to sponsor me (for) bodybuilding competition,” a young man claiming to be 20 advertises. Escorts posting on Backpage must be 18, but there is no legal way to prove the escort's age. Some work for an Escort Agency, others work alone, but many, says “Jinny,” a Nashville ex-prostitute, work for pimps, similar to two men who were arrested in Murfreesboro for pimping teen girls last February. The pimps promise everything from riches to marriage, Jinny says, “And they prey on young girls, especially runaways. Kids come to Nashville thinking they’ll be the next Miley Cyrus.” One girl, who appears much younger than her advertised age of 21, posts on Backpage, “It’s Not Miley, It’s Riley! Not a lot of miles, but I'm not beginner either.” Her pictures appear to be taken in a hotel room, and there is sadness behind her eyes.
The Children of the Night organization hopes to assist these children, who feel they have nowhere to go, before they become adult prostitutes, or worse. The Backpage.com advertisements continue to run, in places like Dallas, Chicago, and yes, Nashville.
If you or someone you know age 11-18 wants out, or you need information, call the hotline at 1-800-551-1300 (se hable espanol)
For more information, click HERE
Sample ad for Children of the Night Backpage.com HERE
Credit: photo of Judith Yates