The Associated Press has announced that it will no longer use the term “child prostitute” after a petition started by Withelma "T" Ortiz Walker Pettigrew and Rights4Girls was signed by more than 151,000 people.
The Associated Press now recommends that writers avoid using the word “prostitute” when referring to a child or teenager “because it implies that the child ‘is voluntarily trading sex for money,’” Tom Kent, the AP standards editor and an editor for the Stylebook’ told the Columbia Journalism Review. This change to the Stylebook, among others, will go into effect on June 1, 2016.
“Together we stood up to say that there is #NoSuchThing as a ‘child prostitute,’ and that labeling trafficking victims as such is not just psychologically damaging, but also affects the way that lawmakers, the police and our society treat them,” wrote Pettigrew in an email to her supporters.
She emphasized that the change will have a widespread impact since the AP Stylebook is widely used as a guide in newsrooms, classrooms, and business around the world.
“For the AP to make this change in their style guide, it is not only historic in the movement to fight against human trafficking, but also stands as a clear symbol to those who've overcome such circumstances that they are way more than the labels that have been previously used to define them.”
This is something Pettigrew knows about first hand. From the ages of 10 to 17, she was sexually exploited throughout the western United States, arrested, and jailed. She now is an advocate for other survivors of child rape and a policy advisor on issues of human trafficking.
“I was not a child prostitute or child sex worker,” she wrote in her petition. “I was a victim and survivor of child rape. And so are the other kids out there now who are being bought and sold for sex. They are victims and survivors of child rape.”
Her powerful petition gained widespread attention thanks to the backing of some very high profile supporters including Sean Combs, Rosie O'Donnell, Russell Simmons, Julianne Moore, TI, and Mia Farrow, among others.
Changing the language around child sex trafficking is just the first step for Pettigrew and her partner organization, Rights4Girls.
“We also need law enforcement to follow the lead of the news media and stop arresting underage girls for ‘child prostitution,’ and instead get them the care and support that they need,” writes Rights4Girls Executive Director, Yasmin Vafa on the Huffington Post.
She notes that 1,000 children are arrested for prostitution in the U.S. each year.
“Los Angeles County became the first law enforcement agency in the country to declare that there is No Such Thing as a ‘child prostitute’ and we need more agencies to follow their lead...The simple fact is that if children cannot consent to sex, then there is no possible way that they can consent to sell sex.”
Do you want to see you state or county end the practice of arresting and detaining victims of child sex trafficking? Make your voice heard: