STATEMENT: Stop Calling the Teen Trafficked by Oakland Police Officers a “Prostitute”
Statement by Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of NCOSE
Washington DC – The young woman at the center of a sexual exploitation scandal involving the Oakland Police Department is being unfairly labeled a “prostitute.” The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) calls for greater clarity in the terms used to describe child sex trafficking victims and prostituted persons.
“There is no such thing as a child prostitute,” said Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “The young woman who has attracted national attention after being traded between as many as 30 police officers for sex acts has been labeled by many, including The New York Times, as a ‘prostitute.’ However, when she was first targeted and sexually exploited by some of the police officers she was a minor. This means that she was a victim of sex trafficking in the eyes of the law, as minors cannot consent to participation in acts of prostitution. The pejorative and incorrect terms being applied to this victim, such as ‘teen prostitute’ ‘prostitute,’ and ‘sex worker,’ fail to recognize the toxic cycle of exploitation in which this young woman was ensnared. Though she is now 19, her status as an exploited survivor does not change with a birthday. The power and control in this situation rested on adult men of authority who were happy to ‘pass her around’ to their friends. This reality did not suddenly evaporate because the victim of this commercial sexual abuse turned 18. As a society, it’s vitally necessary that we recognize the plight of countless women and men who have ‘aged out’ of the legal definition of sexually trafficked minors, but who have still been shaped by those experiences and see a life of prostitution as their only option.”
“We applaud the Associated Press which recently recognized this concern, and revised its stylebook to instruct writers to avoid using the word ‘prostitute’ when a child is involved.”
“It is also telling that some major news sources have published pictures of this 19-year-old victim, but have failed to post pictures or even mention the names of the seven men who are currently facing criminal charges for sexually abusing her,” Hawkins added. “Why parade images of a sex trafficking victim in the public eye, and yet protect the men who took advantage of her vulnerabilities? It is Giovani LoVerde, Ricardo Perez, Brian Bunton, Warit Utappa, Tyrell Smith, LeRoy Johnson, and Dan Black who should feel the full brunt of public shame.”
To learn about best practices language for discussing victims of commercial sexual exploitation, download the “Chart of Preferred Terminology for Sex Trafficking and Prostitution.”