Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 153–166 | Cite as

Is Child to Adult as Victim is to Criminal?

Social Policy and Street-Based Sex Work in the USA
  • Anthony MarcusEmail author
  • Robert Riggs
  • Amber Horning
  • Sarah Rivera
  • Ric Curtis
  • Efram Thompson


Longstanding policy debates over how prostitution/sex work should be thought about and responded to have been upended in the USA by a growing tendency to conflate the practice with sex trafficking. US law and social policy have converged most fully on this issue in a movement to eradicate what has come to be known as the commercial sexual exploitation of children. One outcome of this movement has been an expanded focus on prosecuting and imprisoning pimps and other legal adults who support or abet juridical minors involved in the sex trade. This paper will show that the simplistic, one-size-fits-all narrative of the child victim and the adult exploiter inherent in this policy does not reflect the realities of street-based sex work in the USA. After 2 years of ethnographic and social network research in two cities, we find that sex market-involved young people participate in a great diversity of market–facilitation relationships, many of which provide the only or the most crucial foundation for their support networks. A social policy based on a one-dimensional construction of the child victim and the adult exploiter not only endangers these crucial relationships but also disappears the real needs of young people involved in the exchange of sex for money.


Pimps Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) Prostitution Child Adolescent Sex trafficking Victim 


  1. Barry, K. (1995). The prostitution of sexuality. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Benoit, C., & Millar, A. (2001). Dispelling myths and understanding realities: working conditions, health status, and exiting experiences of sex workers—short report. Victoria: Prostitutes Empowerment, Education, and Resource Society.Google Scholar
  3. Chapkis, W. (1997). Live sex acts: women performing erotic labor. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Cizmar, M., Conklin, E., Hinman, K. (2011) Real men get their facts straight. Village Voice, available online at:
  5. Curtis, K. T., Dank, M., Dombrowski, K., Khan, B., Muslim, A., Labriola, M., et al. (2008). The commercial sexual exploitation of children in New York City. New York: John Jay College.Google Scholar
  6. Cusick, L. (2002). Youth prostitution: a literature review. Child Abuse Review, 11, 230–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dank, M. (2011). The commercial sexual exploitation of children. El Paso: LFB Scholarly of Criminal Justice.Google Scholar
  8. Dworkin, A. (1997). Life and death. New York: Free.Google Scholar
  9. Farley, M. (2004). Bad for the body, bad for the heart: prostitution harms women even if legalized or decriminalized. Violence Against Women, 10, 1087–1125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Farley, M., & Kelly, V. (2000). Prostitution. Women and Criminal Justice, 11, 20–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Foucault, M. (1980). The history of sexuality, vol. 1. trans. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  12. Greaves, C., Spidel, A., Kendrick, K., Cooper, B. S., Herve, H. F. (2004). Pimping and psychopathy. Scottsdale, AZ. Paper presented at the American Psychology and Law Society Annual Conference.Google Scholar
  13. Heilemann, T., & Santhiveeran, J. (2011). How do female adolescents cope and survive the hardships of prostitution? A content analysis of existing literature. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 20, 57–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hodgson, J. F. (1997). Games pimps play: pimps, players and wives-in-law. Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s.Google Scholar
  15. James, A., & Prout, A. (Eds.). (1997). Constructing and reconstructing childhood. London: Falmer.Google Scholar
  16. Jeffrey, L., & Sullivan, B. (2009). Canadian sex work policy for the 21st century: enhancing rights and safety, lessons from Australia. Canadian Political Science Review, 3, 57–76.Google Scholar
  17. Jeffries, S. (1997). The idea of prostitution. Melbourne: Spinifex.Google Scholar
  18. Jenks, C. (1996). Childhood. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Jenness, V. (1990). From sex as sin to sex as work: COYOTE and the reorganization of prostitution as a social problem. Social Problems, 37, 403–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Katz, J. (1988). Seductions of crime. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  21. Kelley, R. (1998). Yo’ mama’s disfunktional!: fighting the culture wars in urban America. Boston: Beacon.Google Scholar
  22. Kelley, R. (2001). Miles Davis: the chameleon of cool: a jazz genius in the guise of a hustler. The New York Times. p. B3.Google Scholar
  23. Kennedy, M. A., Klein, C., Bristowe, J. T. K., Cooper, B. S., & Yuille, J. C. (2007). Routes of recruitment: pimps’ techniques and other circumstances that lead to street prostitution. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 15, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kristi House (2011) Accessed on: 1 June 2011
  25. MacKinnon, C. (1990). Confronting the liberal lies about prostitution. In D. Leidholdt & J. Raymond (Eds.), The sexual liberals and the attack on feminism. New York: Elsevier Science.Google Scholar
  26. MacKinnon, C. (1993). Prostitution and civil rights’. Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, 1, 13–31.Google Scholar
  27. Marshall, B. (2008). The contextual determinants of sexually transmissible infections among street-involved youth in North America. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 10, 787–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. May, T., Harocopos, A., & Hough, M. (2000). For love or money: pimps and the management of prostitution, Police Research Series 134. London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  29. McLeod, E. (1982). Working women: prostitution now. London: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  30. Messerschmidt, J. W. (1993). Masculinities and crime. Maryland: Rowman & Lillienfield.Google Scholar
  31. Milner, C. A., & Milner, R. B. (1972). Black players. Boston: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  32. Montgomery, H. (2001). Modern Babylon? Prostituting children in Thailand. New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  33. Norton-Hawk, M. (2004). A comparison of pimp- and non-pimp-controlled women. Violence Against Women, 10, 185–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Overall, C. (1992). What’s wrong with prostitution. Signs, 17, 705–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Partridge, E., Dalzell, T., & Victim, T. (2007). The new partridge dictionary of slang and unconventional English. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Pateman, C. (1988). The sexual contract. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  37. Pheterson, G. (Ed.). (1989). A vindication of the rights of whores. Seattle: Seal.Google Scholar
  38. Pinto, N. (2011). Women’s funding network sex trafficking study is junk science. Village Voice, available online at:
  39. Raymond, J. (1995). Prostitution is rape that’s paid for. Los Angeles Times. p. B6.Google Scholar
  40. Raymond, J. (1998). Prostitution as violence against women. Women’s Studies International Forum, 21, 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Salganik, M., & Heckathorn, D. (2004). Sampling and estimation in hidden populations using respondent-driven sampling. Sociological Methodology, 34, 193–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sanders, T. (2001). Female street sex workers, sexual violence, and protection strategies. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 7, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Silbert, M. H., & Pines, A. M. (1981). Occupational hazards of street prostitutes. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 8, 395–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. St. James, M. (1999). Economic justice for sex workers. Hastings Women’s Law Journal, 5, 6–7.Google Scholar
  45. US Department of State (2000). Trafficking victims protection act of 2000. Available online at:
  46. US Department of State (2005). Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005. Available online at
  47. Weitzer, R. (2007). Prostitution as a form of work. Sociology Compass, 1, 143–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Williamson, C., & Cluse-Tolar, T. (2010). Pimp controlled prostitution. Violence Against Women, 8, 1074–1092.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Yang, Y. (2006). Whispers and moans: Interviews with the men and women of Hong Kong’s sex industry. Blacksmith: Hong Kong.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony Marcus
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Robert Riggs
    • 1
    • 2
  • Amber Horning
    • 1
  • Sarah Rivera
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ric Curtis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Efram Thompson
    • 2
  1. 1.John Jay College of the City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Social Networks Research GroupNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations