Civics & Politics The Environment Health Economics Social Issues Full Archive
NOW on Demand
Week of 7.31.09

Fighting Child Prostitution

Can we stop a child prostitution epidemic in our own country?

It appears that your computer does not have the Flash Player required to view NOW videos. Visit Adobe to download and install the latest version of the Flash Player.

The Weekly Q
Child prostitution is on the rise not just in other countries around the world, but right here in America. The Department of Justice says, on any given day, tens of thousands of children across America are involved in prostitution. But what's being done to stop it?

This week NOW on PBS visits Atlanta, Georgia to see how one American city is handling the tragic phenomenon of child prostitution. It is one of 27 American cities where the problem seems to be spinning out of control.

"It's one of those issues that doesn't get discussed and therefore there's an assumption that perhaps either it doesn't exist at all or the young women and girls who are prostitutes are there by their own free will," Atlanta's Mayor Shirley Franklin tells NOW.

About two years ago Mayor Franklin launched an aggressive campaign in her city—where the adult entertainment industry is booming—to crackdown on pay-for-sex customers, or "Johns."

She's also launched an ad campaign to raise awareness of the problem of child prostitution and ordered her police department to develop better ways to protect children caught up in the trade.

"[The child prostitutes are] ten or 11 years old, and the age is getting lower. We're not talking about 17 and 18 and 19 year olds, although we could," Franklin says.

One would think fighting child prostitution is a cause everyone could get behind. But the battle against this epidemic in Atlanta has been difficult, and the more NOW on PBS dug into the story, the more challenges we discovered.

This show was originally broadcast on May 30, 2008.

Web Features

Stories from the Sex Trade
What really goes on behind closed doors at strip clubs in America? A former sex worker speaks out.

"John Schools"
Can men who hire prostitutes be reformed?
Related Links:

Prostitution Research & Education: How Prostitution Works

Juvenile Justice Fund

Viewer Comments

Commenter: angelica cruz
i am 14 go on 15 i'm writing a report on prostitutions a it is so sad to read all the facts an stories out there.I cry when i read this stories and when im in my class an hear my classmates joke about it an not really listens to wat is really going on all over the world, it hurt. an just to know to that the grovnment is taking so long to stop it, i just hope they end it soon .

Commenter: kizzii
"Who deserves greater punishments prostitutes or there clients?" About a year ago when I was 14 I was involved in prostitution, at first I had agreed to it. I had been raped two times before, and my self-esteem had gone down so much more than it had been. I thought that I was worth nothing and since I was worth nothing I might as well sell my body and earn money on top of it. My Pimp that had introduced it to prostitution to me made it sound so great, He said that if I did what I was told I could the top notch, I could have so much money. What had crossed my mind with the money was that maybe if I made enough I could give it to my parents to help pay bills. Eventually I started feeling really violated so I left him. My "friend" pretty much forced me into prostituting for a Pimp she knew, I was so scared (because I knew him and I knew what he would do if I said no to him) so I did everything he told me. One day my "friend" introduced me to another guy who she said wanted to get to know me and wanted a real relationship so I said I would get to know him without my Pimp knowing. Well the guy ended up telling me I could leave my Pimp and stay with him. Of course it is very difficult to leave because they make so much money off of you so they dont want to loose you. My Pimp a gun out and said he was going to shoot me, and me being so hard headed I said "if your going to shoot me then go ahead." My luck and God's help he said i could go only because he was so sure I would come crying back to him. Well after a few days the guy I was staying with started hitting me and wouldnt stop because I would not have sex with his uncle for weed and other crap. I ended up doing it and eventually he put me out on the street to "work." Thankfully a man asked me if I was ok and needed help. He said he would take me home if I would have sex with him, so I did. I am so lucky I was able to get away and safe. So in my opinion I think that the clients should get the greater punishment because they are the ones taking advantage. Some girls/women (no going to say prostitues because I think its wrong) are forced to go and sell themselves by others. Some may do it on there own but that's a release for them. Im not saying its a good release but not everyone has someone they can trust or can find a good coping skill for a long time. We should help the girls/women not hurt them even more.

Commenter: tony ball
I noticed in your survey that you didn't offer pimps as a choice for prosecution. Looks to me like you're also part of the problem. If pimps aren't prosecuted then pimpin' has no consequences. You're telling pimps to keep on pimpin'

Commenter: jessica
The question,"Who deserves greater punishment prostitutes or their clients?" I believe they both need to be tried with great severity. The women should not be selling themselves and men should not purchase them. Plus to me it sends a bad message to our children that this kind of behavior is ok. Predators are also out their stalking these women. i belive that our government needs get of their butts and put a stop to this once and for all.

Commenter: kimberly
i'm seventeen, valedictorian, and not invulnerable to the cycle that has captured over 300,000 American youth. there are a few things that adults either don't remember or they choose to forget about teenagers. we don't trust establishment, and we don't trust adults. every day is a battle over our strength and morals, and often failure marks a spiraling cycle that leads to no end. you don't have to be from the inner city or an abusive home to fight against insecurity and self-esteem issues. manipulators find hopeless girls easy prey, and have discovered easy profit. many of my high school girlfriends send nude pics as routine in order to feel appreciated, and are often subjected to more against their better judgement. rational thought is a weak force when compared to the raging battle encountered daily from all sides. my generation is being educated by media, music, and adults that glamorized sex and immoral addiction is accepted and appreciated. can you really blame anyone for our entire society's ugly frame of mind? every girl, every "john," and even every pimp has a story. sometimes the biggest impact doesn't come from numbers and rationale, but from seeing the faces of each victim. the people who choose to fight for a cause that seems hopeless fight with passion and conviction. they are to be honored and supported in any way possible. one government, a few organizations, and six beds cannot make a big enough difference. society has to see itself in all its nasty hypocrisy and double standards in order for real change to come about.

Commenter: Mikkisha
John, I understand how you feel about your name since my name is considered "ethnic" in society and seen as "ghetto". John should be a respected name and "ethnic" names like mine should be respected and not shunned or make a mockery of. As for the child prostitution, I wish those young girls had more opportunities and the pimps and clients were brought to justice more frequently.

Commenter: John Nordstrom
Go after the causes, not the girls or their customers. The ones to really go after are the pimps. They are the ones who profit from prostitution. Oh, while we're at. My name is John and I hate it when you refer to customers as 'Johns'. John is a respectable name and you people drag it through the dirt, make it dirty, and laught about it.

Commenter: Bob Marley
The survey above is idiotic.

"Who deserves greater punishment -- prostitutes or their clients?"

This is dumb. It's the pimp, the criminal organization supporting the pimp, and especially the rich boss never getting his finger dirty and living in a palace.

In almost any city the street gangs are handling the prostitution and are forced to work for the higher powers. need I name them ?

The government know where they are and never do a thing. Always try to gather evidences.

In wartime we get martial law. Why can't we get a special anti crime law effective 24/7 targeting solely known members of criminal organization and waiving their rights, and allowing the use of extreme force ? Don't we have an army to deal with those problems ?

I'm not concerned with petty thieves and ordinary robery. I'm concerned with the organisation dealing in slavery and child prostitution.

This need to be hit at two level. At the top you trash the criminal organization, or force them to reform to acceptable activities (gambling, whatever, maybe even start a business, they can't all be homicidal maniacs without skills).

At the bottom poverty must be eliminated by ensuring poor peoples got a shelter, something to eat and a chance at education

Commenter: Morgan
We need to do something about this while we still can. it is much worse in other countries like india and iran, we can still win this disturbing war for our children of our country!

Commenter: MamaGee
My opinion is that the majority of people just don't care about throw away children and youth, because the financial cost of caring would and should mainly fall onto state and federal government, that where the criminal code becomes nul and void to suit off-loading of public services onto the public sector which in most part falls under the category of not caring. In other words, people don't care and if the government doesn't care why should anyone else outside of a few individuals and/or community groups..?

Consequently, even when people do try to care and further try to take action right in the trenches, someone in upper political power prevent any positive movement via police interference because a political agenda is more important than saving children and their lives. Why get homeless people involved when in the real world it's more politically profitable to criminalize the act of poverty 9the poor), than it is to reverse the effect of poverty itself..? Someone needs to make a living wage paycheck and a disenfranchised youth isn't it.

So, your damned if you do and damned if you don't but at the end of the day tricks get rewarded for being scum, while people play dumb. Finally, don't even get me started on pimps never mind pop corn pimps.

Commenter: Johnny
I didn't realize Atlanta was so BLACK ! It would appear that the problem in Atlanta is exclusively BLACK and that doesn't surprise me. If you look at the prison population across the nation, it is "peculiarly" evident that over 85% average of the inmates are BLACK ! And of course "RACIAL PROFILING" is ENTIRELY to blame, right????

Commenter: bemero
Excellent program. Thanks for the info. We all should be involved in the solution.
Education and better opportunities is the best cure to this endemic problem.

Commenter: Doreen Connors
We need to call "Child Prostitution" what it really is: Child Slavery, the "johns"(including fathers and uncles and brothers and grandfathers) and "pimps" are the slave masters/owners.

The use of the word "prostitution" with regards to children (and many 'adult' women "prostitutes") is a misnomer that can no longer be erroneously used.

Commenter: ILoveThisworld1977
I watched the show now on the topic of how our children especially the baby girls are allowed to be treated and that common sense has lost all moral direction. As I write this I'm trying to express the pain and anger I feel also the sadness and aryness in the fact that we as a nation can wake up everyday and just exsist inside such an insidious realm now I know about how busy the government can be with monitoring the world but you mean to tell me that they can make laws to put smart, strong young people in prison 5- 15 years or more for selling 3grams of crack other mumbo-jumbo like that but can't make reinforced laws the totally crush(outlaw) the very nature of making a human being not even want to breath the thought of taking another person sexually against their (will) and/or selling their body laws that young childern will know and understand that the person and themselves will be in a world of trouble period. what type of law allows little girls as young as 7 years old to be abused in such a fashion where the problem has numbed the world of womenhood I'm a father of 4 girls in this world and I hate and (use this word only accordingly) to have to think that the only way for the world to remedy this physical cancer is by another million man march this is an outrage and its be going on far to long especially with people in a position of power in a room full of empty conversation when real conversation is needed and I know their are a billion other things but this is up their in the top ten. I have a question for my fellow americans how can you not give all the help if in the position to when faced with a crisis of this magnitude we as a people have lost all sense of direction and human culture as we let the drugs, tv, racism and the way we use and view money in this world create these realms on our planet now I don't have all night but I will leave you with this what type of world are we leaving behind with childern who are batterd with little if no education mentally ungameful in life and how long before they totally deminish the ones who are just like global warming we as a people need to foucus and stop the emotions that come between us and save our world greed and turning the other cheek will only be our on genocide. Please if you understand and feel like I do don't be affraid to voice yourself let me know @

Commenter: Rosemary Graham-Gardner
The problem is that very prominent men are making money from this repulsive business while City officials and Police are looking the other way!

Commenter: Thomas Atwood
$500,000 per year for a program that provides only six beds? And she wants more money? She is going to have to be more efficient with her money before anyone can take her program seriously.

Commenter: Elasha Fain
I volunteer for an organization that helps homeless youth. One of the major sources of income for homeless kids is prostitution. It's a way for them to make money where they don't have to "hurt" others (versus stealing, selling drugs, etc.).

If kids are on the streets, they have been seriously neglected or abused. The stats say homelessness is caused by aging out of foster care, getting kicked out 'cause you're gay, running from neglect, and running from abuse. Most of these start with abuse and neglect.

Teen prostitution is the result of abuse and neglect. These kids start out victims and then are treated as criminals. Something needs to be done to educate and relieve parents so they can have healthy lives and healthy kids.

As an African American I feel PBS discriminates. All of the pimps they showed are African American. They make African American parents of the prostitutes look like they lack social values. They make whites look blameless, like they have higher morals than we do.

Commenter: Tonia
This is definitely a situation that is so real and if there is nothing done about this. It will only escalate further.
I am a mother and this is heartfelt it touches home.
I feel for those young ladies that are out there on the streets and working for those pimps.

With no where to turn.

Commenter: Kathleen
There should be john schools as part of all programs for johns- they are definitely effective but should not replace the typical incarceration. See for an example of youth activism against the child sex trade. Just found out about it...

Commenter: shane
On the attempt of the child prostitution piece. why don't you do a show on who is really behind big pimping? Then we can all know why no one wants to champion an end to this cause. You know, beyond street level african americans. I bet your ratings go up if you peek at the men & women behind the blue curtain. Thanks anywho.

Commenter: mhai
Child prostitution nowadays has been greatly widespread all over the country.One of the reason why there are a lot of child prostitutes is some parents or the children themselves are getting themselves involve with prostitution it's because of lack of money or they might be suffering from financial crisis.Let us also consider the fact that they are uneducated people/children,of course,they cannot find a job that could pay them for their necessities.They do not have a choice but to sell themeselves. It's very sad and disappointing to know that there are children who are selling their body just to get money to buy for their food and other needs. There are sectors in the Government who help stop the child prostitution. There are also government programs that could help those children have a better life.But of course,it's the parents responsibility to guide their children so that they wont engage in child prostitution.

Commenter: Richard G. Eramian (Rick)
The reason why prostitutes are vulnerable to abuse and worse is because the law treats them as criminals. Instead of being protected by law, they are victims of the law and its armed agents. More than 99% of those who have been declared criminals by prostitution laws are consenting adults like Elliot Spitzer and his service providers. They are not child molesters who need to be cleansed from the planet as portrayed by self-serving do-gooders and the police-prison-industrial-complex. Your portrayal of law enforcement as humanitarians who are helping sex workers is ridiculous. Sex workers are persecuted and prosecuted by the law. They are routinely assaulted and arrested by the police. Millions of peaceful people have been victimized by these outrageous laws. Teenage prostitution is mainly the result of the illegalization of the adult sex trade just like the illegalization of the adult drug trade produced teenage drug dealers. Another cause of teenage prostitution is alienation. More and more people of all ages are rejecting the violence, lies, and hypocrisey of the ruling class. Everyone who supports laws that criminalize peaceful behavior is a violent criminal because they use or authorize the use of violence (the law) against peaceful people. These violent predators are just like rapists. They force their will onto others and punish anyone who does not obey. Some even convince themselves that their victims will benefit from being assaulted, humiliated, and forced to submit. Laws that criminalize peaceful, consensual behavior have no place in a free society. Why is it that the NOW editors never interview anyone who defends peace and freedom?

Commenter: Robin
I wish I could say that this is a newish problem, but it isn't. I was one of these girls in the early 70's in Portland Oregon. And being molested at home is the most common denominator - it isn't poverty, drugs, or any of those things... I am white, grew up lower middle class to decent and hard-working parents - I was molested by a neighbor when I was young. Any city with a greyhound bus station has a HUGE problem with child prostitution. My best friend on the street died from STDs on the street in '74. She was 15. If we want to end this cycle in America... it has to begin with severely punishing people who molest children - and also punishing the parents or other adults who do not report the abuser. The cure to the ill has to begin prior to the disease.

Commenter: Big Daddy
Good program, nice idea, fantastic topic, but I felt strongly that the point was missed and that the programs in effect are weak bandaids. There was acknowledgement but very little followup of what I feel is the real problem. Yes, we agree that the majority of these prostitutes are sexually molested as children, at home, by family. But where was the discussion, the programs, the education the prosecution, the EXECUTION, the HELP for kids around this core part of the problem? Why aren't these kids educated in elementary school about inappropriate touching? Why aren't they medically examined? Why aren't they encouraged to come forward, get therapy, name their abusers? Why aren't those abusers sought out, investigated, prosecuted and incarcerated or executed? Why isn't that the spearhead of the campaign to TRULY end child prostitution? I've heard from many of these kids the same argument 'I'm getting molested at home anyway, have been for years, it's about time I got paid for it!' These programs are bandaids at the end of a long chain of abuse. Where is the solution to nip it in the bud at the beginning? Nothing will change with such narrow, short-sighted thinking and planning.

Commenter: Mike Stankovic
The Now program on child prostitution in Atlanta,Georgia (and other cities) was very disturbing. There is a program in Nashville,TN. that is helping in stopping child trafficking/child prostitution. Please go to and hit the link for The Home Foundation. Thanks for caring PBS and everyone who is reading this. Mike Stankovic Bloomington, Indiana

Commenter: Linda
I don't get it. Doesnt Atlanta have a Child Protective Services Dept? Why are these children not designated as abused and neglected and put in group homes, foster homes, counseling and school? Why aren't they taking the names of their early and ongoing abusers? Why are the pimps not being arrested for sex abuse and sexual exploitation of a minor? Why are their parents not being prosecuted for neglect and failure to protect? Why are they not visiting the parental home to see if there are other children at risk? All these laws exist in the Social Services System. It shouldnt take that kind of money to set up one group home. That kind of money could go a long way in improving and expanding the CPS group homes and foster programs. Why are they reinventing the wheel? Where is CPS? Im suprised they were not interviewed for the piece. There ARE laws on child abuse. Someone should mention that to the police dept!! What do they do if they find an abused infant? Arrest it?

Commenter: Joe
I think you should differentiate child prostitution and adult prostitution. Prostitution is legal in certain areas in Nevada. When done legally, it's not an unreasonable way to earn a living. We can all agree that child prostitution is wrong because a child doesn't have the capacity to reason, but as adults, we should be allowed to choose how we want to live. If not, then why not make homosexuality illegal as well?? Who decides what is correct moral behavior? Who's to say women don't belong at home, and not in the workplace? And to say just because there are examples of women who were hurt by prostitution is not a valid reason. Some people get hurt from working in sweatshops, and certainly, labor laws get violated. But the fact that there are sweatshops doesn't mean work should be illegal. The fact that there is human trafficking and child abuse means we need to stop human trafficking and child abuse, and NOT that we need to stop prostitution. Your views quite clearly show that you find evidence to support your viewpoint, and not look at the evidence, and derive a correct conclusion. Your views are illogical with regards to adult prostitution.

Commenter: :Lucia
Very informative and timely. Thx. I was/am surprised to see only African American girls and women. I am certain this problem transcends ethnic, socio-economic boundaries. That being said - I delighted in seeing the strong women who are working on the children's behalf. EVERY state congress needs to address this crime and fund safe houses for the girls and boys to find their self esteem. Perhaps the Feds need to get involved too! Keep up the good work.

Commenter: Claudine O'Leary
I think what is critically important is involving teens in the solutions. I work with teens involved in the sex trade in Milwaukee and too often adults are making plans without having youth at the table as leaders in this effort. If youth are involved and respected for their knowledge, we can create options that teens won't run away from. Claudine O'Leary Rethink Resources Milwaukee, WI

Fighting Child Prostitution

Stories from the Sex Trade

"John Schools"

Audio: Stream | Download
Buy a DVD
Contact Us

Topics search results will display here.