Youth Involvement in Prostitution: A Focus on Intrafamilial Violence - A Literature Review

1. Introduction

1. Introduction

Since the early 1980s there has been a growing concern with the involvement of children and youth in prostitution. The discovery of youth prostitution as a social problem inspired an unprecedented quantity of government reports aimed at better understanding and combating the youth sex trade. Three major federal government responses have occurred since 1981. First, the federal government appointed the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youth (the Badgley Committee, 1984) to explore legal sanctions pertaining to child sexual abuse and to make recommendations aimed at protecting children at risk, including conclusions and recommendations following interviews with 229 “juvenile prostitutes.” The Badgley Report (1984) contained 52 recommendations to help confront the sexual exploitation of youth, which included the creation of new offences to protect youth and criminalize procurers and customers of prostitutes under 18 years -- while acknowledging that youth are not completely blameless.

Second, in 1985 the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution (the Fraser Committee) released its findings and conclusions. When it came to research and recommendations pertaining to “youth prostitution,” the Fraser Committee largely deferred to the Badlgey Report.  However, the Fraser Committee included some discussion of youth involvement in prostitution.

 Third, in 1992 a federal, provincial and territorial (F/P/T) working group on prostitution was established to examine “legislation, policy and practices concerning prostitution-related activities,” and to provide legal and social intervention recommendations (1998: 1). The working group’s mandate included special consideration of youth involvement in prostitution, and its final report contained 16 recommendations which reinforced that youth involved in s.213 offences should be dealt with as persons in need of assistance rather than treated as offenders.

1.1 Purpose of the Report

This report is a comprehensive literature review on youth involved in prostitution, with a focus on intrafamilial violence (i.e., sexual, physical and emotional abuse) and its role in precipitating youth involvement in the sex trade. The review includes: a general overview of the literature, an annotated bibliography, a binder of materials reviewed, and a one page fact sheet. Information for this report was gathered through library sources, select Internet sites, and requests for prostitution-related information made to representatives of the F/P/T working group on prostitution.

1.2 Definition

There are various debates in the literature about the definition and characteristics of youth involvement in prostitution. Typically, youth prostitution has been associated with females; however, research in this area has highlighted male involvement in the youth sex trade (for example, see Badgley, 1984; Earls and David, 1989; Visano, 1987) and the over-representation of Aboriginal youth involved in prostitution (for example, see Currie et al, 1996; Lowman, 1987). Disagreement has surfaced about the meaning of youth involvement in prostitution; for some it constitutes the direct sexual exploitation of youth, while others consider it the exchange of sexual services to subsist (i.e., for food or shelter) or for monetary purposes (i.e., money to purchase drugs). Recent discussions emphasize the victimization and exploitation of youth involved prostitution (British Columbia, 1996;  Halldorson Jackson, 1998; Manitoba, 1996).

Other of debates include the average age that youth enter prostitution, and the age used to describe youth prostitutes. The Badgley Committee (1984) reported that almost half of their respondents entered prostitution before the age of 15. Lowman and Fraser (1996) found the average age of entry was 16.3 years for females and 15.6 years for males. Research conducted in Victoria, British Columbia revealed 15.5 years as the average age for entering into prostitution (Report of the Sexually Exploited Youth Committee of the Capital Regional District, 1997). In general, the literature indicates that most prostitutes entered the sex trade before the age of 18 (and many before the age of 16).

Researchers have also used different ages to define a youth prostitute. The Badgley Committee (1984) identified “juvenile prostitutes” as being under the age of 20; while the Fraser Committee used up to age 18. More recent, the F/P/T working group used age 18 to define youth involved in prostitution, citing that the Young Offenders Act identifies a “young person” as being under 18, and that s.212(4) of the Criminal Code prohibits purchasing, or attempting to purchase, the sexual services of someone under the age of 18. Notwithstanding, most of the literature defines young prostitutes as being under 18 years of age.[1]

1.3 Overview of the Issues

A broad overview of the extant literature reveals many of the key issues surrounding the impact of youth involvement in the sex trade. Topics in the literature range from research on the factors preceding youth involvement in prostitution, to debates about appropriate legal and extralegal responses to the youth prostitution. The first section of the report discusses the history and development of prostitution-related legislation and law enforcement. Following this, the document reviews government reports and activities, and several findings and debates in the social science literature. The conclusion reviews the findings and makes recommendations for future research.

This report is organized around the following key issues:

  • Legislative History and Development
  • Government Reports and Activities (Including criticisms and supporting articles)
  • Social Science Literature: An Overview of the Findings and Debates
  • Antecedents of Youth Involvement in Prostitution: Intrafamilial Violence and Subsequent Involvement in the Sex Trade. Young Males Involved in Prostitution Psychological Issues Homeless or Runaway Youth Involved in Prostitution International Issues Research on Customers/Clients HIV-Related Issues Discursive and Conceptual Issues
  • Conclusion: Recommendations for Future Research

[1] Some social service agencies define “youths” as those under the age of 24 years; this provides agencies with more clients, and enables them to qualify for other government funding (Data collected in Vancouver, B.C. by Bittle, 1999).

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