by Amanda Kloer
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the king-sized failures of the justice system are no exception. A Harris County District had a major justice FAIL recently when he prosecuted a 13-year-old girl for prostitution, despite the fact that she’s legally a human trafficking victim and not old enough to consent to sex. And her 32-year-old “boyfriend” (aka pimp) who was having sex with her and likely facilitated her prostitution? Well, he walked off free and clear.
The Texas Supreme Court is hearing the case this week, and it’s unclear whether they’ll decide that a trafficked child too young to consent to sex can be prosecuted for prostitution.
The girl, who media are calling B.W. to protect her identity, was picked up in 2007 when she offered to give an undercover Houston police office a sex for $20. Quickly, the police discovered that she was a minor, and that she had run away from a foster home placement two years earlier, when she was just 11. After running away, she moved in with a 32-year-old man whom she called her “boyfriend.” While staying with him, she used a number of illegal drugs, acquired several sexually transmitted diseases, and had two abortions.
While B.W. never admitted to being engaged in prostitution between the ages of 11 and 13, the high number of STDs and abortions are strong indicators that her “boyfriend” may have been pimping her out, even at that young age. But she did plead guilty to the prostitution charges related to her arrest.
So why is there a legal battle currently raging in Texas over whether or not to charge a young girl, clearly victimized by an older man, with prostitution? B.W.’s lawyers are arguing that it’s just plain ridiculous for a 13-year-old to be prosecuted for prostitution when lawmakers have otherwise determined that a child of that age is legally incapable of consenting to any sex act, much less one that involves an implied contract (minors that age are also too young to legally agree to contracts). They say a prostitution conviction would create an inconsistent legal precedent which states that a child is at the same time both legally capable and legally incapable of consenting to sex.
The D.A., on the other hand, claims B.W. was agreeing to engage in the sex act, which does not require legally-effective consent. Plus, in Texas, state law allows minors to be charged with prostitution, so they claim her consent doesn’t even matter. They also claim that in jail, B.W. will have access to all sorts of educational, rehabilitative, and other services, whereas if she were free, she’d just go back into foster care, run away, and be back on the street.
The awful truth of the situation is that jail might be B.W.’s best hope of getting help, which is a terrible, terrible solution. Her innocence is clear because of her age — and I’m livid at the D.A.’s assertion that her consent doesn’t matter because there happened to be a financial transaction involved in her statutory rape. That’s dangerously close to the fallacy that women (and children like B.W.) in prostitution check their ability to consent or refuse to consent at the brothel door. But until we begin recognizing children like B.W. for what they are — victims of domestic minor sex trafficking — we have few resources to help them heal and break the psychological control their pimps have over them. So for many girls like B.W., the choice ends up being jail or the streets, a lose-lose situation.
And speaking of pimps, whatever happened to the 32-year-old who was having sex with a 13-year-old, giving her STDs and illegal drugs, and taking her to have multiple abortions. Anyone find him, question him, or even look for him? Or was everyone so busy crucifying a little girl for a crime she’s too young to legally commit? Here’s a hint: As a rule, 11-year-old kids don’t, upon running away from foster care, decide to start voluntarily prostituting themselves. There was someone who pushed B.W. into the life, and I’ll bet a Texas-sized wad of cash on her much older, cohabiting boyfriend.
If you’re not going to hunt down her pimp, then the least you can do is do right by B.W., Texas, and show us all that the biggest thing about you is your heart.
Photo credit: lanuiop