Anti-Prostitution Initiative Taken to D.C. Schools
Monday, November 24, 2008
The day's lesson in a Coolidge High School history class in Northwest Washington was the degrading names pimps have for the girls and women whose bodies they exploit.
Exhibit A was rapper 50 Cent's "P-I-M-P," a club anthem that is an ode to the art of a male luring a female into prostitution with promises of a glamorous life under his protection. In the song, as in life, it's a ruse to enrich him.
The point of the exercise -- run by a group that typically fights sex trafficking in foreign countries -- was to highlight the intractable problem of child prostitution.
For four years, there has been a concerted effort in the District to break up prostitution networks and enhance services for youths rescued from the streets. A task force of local and federal law enforcement and nongovernmental agencies has upended child-prostitution operations.
But there's no illusion that the crime has gone away.
"There is still a market for young girls," said Bradley Myles, deputy director of the Polaris Project, which seeks to stop human trafficking.
The scope of the problem is difficult to measure. The D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, which investigates adult and child prostitution, found 32 cases in the past year of teenage girls being coerced into sex for money by older men. Fewer than a dozen of those cases resulted in full-scale criminal investigations, authorities say.
Anecdotal evidence from police, prosecutors and groups that deal with troubled youths suggests a larger problem in the District. A national study funded by the U.S. Justice Department in 2001 estimated that as many as 300,000 runaways and otherwise homeless youths under 18 were sexually exploited.
That's one reason the Fair Fund has taken its message about trafficking and abusive relationships to District classes for the second school year.
The group typically works in Serbia, Bosnia, Russia and Kenya. But last year it signed an agreement with school officials to go into six high schools: Bell Multicultural, McKinley Tech, Woodson, Coolidge, School Without Walls and Anacostia. The schools were chosen, in part, based on police reports of family and domestic violence in neighborhoods that funnel students to the schools, said Andrea Powell, Fair Fund's executive director. This year, the program is continuing informally.
Powell founded Fair Fund five years ago and has developed a curriculum that warns students about human trafficking. Since November 2007, Powell and three other workers have reached 820 students, trained dozens of teachers and received 56 notes from students, many of them anonymous, seeking help. Some said they were raped by their fathers or know of teenagers involved in prostitution. A few said they were homeless.
Police and advocates say some juveniles trade sex for a place to stay or food.