Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Do Girls Choose To Be Prostitutes?

The short answer to that question is...In an overwhelming majority of the cases, they don't! Now some may say that flies in the face of research that has been done in Cambodia. And I must admit that that End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia’s (ECPAT-Cambodia) Database Report on Trafficking and Rape in Cambodia 2009, states on page 24, that 95% of trafficking victims chose to willingly follow their traffickers. In other words they chose to become prostitutes. However, licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Becca C. Johnson, PhD, provides an interesting list of reasons why girls "choose" prostitution. This list includes the following...

Cultural Pressure: the spoken and unspoken obligation of children to obey, honor and support parents (primarily in Asian cultures) - no matter what it requires.

Familial Pressure: cultural pressures, plus parental demands and/or an inability to care for the girl or family.

Financial Pressure: cultural and familial pressures often lead to girls carrying the family's debt burden, and thus being encouraged or pressured into sacrificing herself for the good of the family. While some victims are sold unaware, others "choose" the sex trade, as a means of fulfilling their duty to provide money for the parents and/or the family.

Survival: believing there are no other available options.

Glamour: mistakenly thinking that sex work provides a life of glamour and money.

Vulnerability Factors: these factors include such things as a history of abuse, lack of family support and protection, in foster care (or living somewhere other than with their own family), emotionally immature (poor boundaries), instability, uncertain legal status, poverty, and desperation.

Our work with over 150 trafficked girls in Cambodia fully concurs with Dr. Johnson's list. In effect girls may say they have chosen prostitution, but in reality they are forced into it based upon their life circumstances. You can read the story of one such girl, Mein, at

Still, there is additional evidence to support the claim that girls don't choose prostitution, at least in the country of Cambodia. The ECPAT-Cambodia report referred to above contains additional findings that support that this thesis. On pages 31 and 32 of the report, the trafficking victims were asked, "what abuses did you suffer prior to being freed?" 83% responded, "I was forced to have sex." At the very least this would indicate that the girls had no idea that choosing prostitution meant having sex with men. And if they didn’t understand that, how could they be choosing it?

I've been hesitant to write this blog, afraid that some may think that the answer to stopping sex trafficking/sex slavery is economic development and education. There is no doubt that these are good things, and are helpful in the fight against human trafficking. However, they are not adequate to fight the evil of child sex trafficking. Certainly we need look no further than our own Western societies to confirm this fact. While there is no doubt the West leads the world in economic development and education, there is also no doubt that these have not eradicated evil. In fact, much of the evil that supports human trafficking worldwide originates in the West. So what's the answer? That will have to be the subject of another blog.