March 15, 2017

On today's show we talk with guests Michael Lange, Leif Tilden, and Children of the Night Founder Dr. Lois Lee.

Child prostitution is America’s “dirty little secret,” one that cuts across racial and socio-economic divides.  It has become a problem of epidemic proportions, with estimates ranging between 300,000 and 800,000 here in the United States. Those figures are likely even higher when one considers how many street kids — runaways, thrown-aways and foster care system age-outs — remain unaccounted for in America. Left to fend for themselves, these young girls and boys quickly become prey for small-time pimps and organized sex-trafficking rings.

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. The truth is there is little to suggest that these children ever ‘willingly’ choose such a lifestyle. 

Children who are sold for sex (the majority are female) typically range in age from 11 to 17, with some as young as 9 years old. Once they have been lured or forced into prostituting themselves, these children are subjected to a full range of injuries, diseases, pregnancies, mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and drug addiction, not to mention criminal and delinquency charges if they are caught. For those who are “rescued” out of the system, the stigma of having once been part of the sex trade is hard to overcome.  

For most of these children, life with a pimp was better than life at home and meager shelter settings cannot compete with the lifestyle afforded through prostitution and association with a pimp. 

Unfortunately, we have become good at turning away from things that make us uncomfortable. Yet the harsh reality is that this epidemic is largely one of our own making. Simply put, we have failed to prioritize or protect our young people, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Many believe it is the breakdown of the family over the past 40 years that has had the greatest impact on young people today. The rise of single-parent homes, the drop in marriage rates and soaring divorce rates are a testament to this breakdown. Just consider the family background of a child who has fallen into prostitution: typically, it includes an absentee parent, marital separation, domestic violence, substance abuse, prostitution activities within the family and neighborhood influence.

Even though we as a society have failed to adequately consider the importance of family on our children, those who prey on young people understand it all too well. In a study at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that 75% of known child prostitutes work for pimps, who are adept at creating a pseudo-family environment by promising money, love and affection to children coming from dysfunctional homes who are seeking care and nourishment. These sexual predators then strip these children of whatever money they make and severely abuse them in order to establish a relationship of dependency.

So where does this leave the thousands of young people forced to sell themselves for sex every day just to survive to see the next day?

There are few cut-and-dried solutions.  However, until each of us gets serious about this crisis, until we all start doing our part to target the underlying societal causes — poverty, drug abuse and dysfunctional family units — the gains will continue to be minimal. And tragically, it will be the children who pay the price for our neglect.

Children of the Night
Children of the Night

“My commitment to sex trafficking victims throughout the world is grounded in my life’s work and history. Children of the Night goes where others won’t because the areas are considered far too dangerous or the victims hopeless.”  - Dr. Lois Lee

Dr. Lois Lee is a pioneer in saving the helpless children who are victims of human sex trafficking, blazing the trail for academics, researchers, law enforcement, social service providers and legislators. She is the founder and president of Children of the Night, the first established and only comprehensive sex trafficking program in North America. 

Since 1979, she has rescued over 10,000 American children from prostitution in the United States—that is more children than all of the other sex trafficking programs combined.

As a result of Dr. Lee’s efforts police departments now treat America’s child prostitutes as victims instead of criminals and juvenile courts divert these children to shelters, foster homes and treatment programs rather than detention.

Since 1988 she has served as an expert witness for federal and state prosecutors enforcing laws against dangerous pimps. Chapter Five of her PhD dissertation, “The Pimp and His Game”, continues to be relied upon by vice officers, district attorneys, FBI and U.S. attorneys as a guide for the treatment of child prostitutes.

Without sophisticated shelter/home case management and comprehensive social services combined with adequate living quarters, these children will return to the streets because underfunded and underdeveloped shelter/homes cannot compete with the promises of a pimp.

Dr. Lee discusses the work Children of the Night is doing to rescue America's children from the ravages of prostitution.

Adrian and Leif Tilden
Adrian and Leif Tilden

Last week, Leif Tilden visited a class at Celerity Octavia Charter School as part of The Peace Fund's Interactive Storytelling Program.  Leif was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in Berkeley, California.  He moved to New York City at 18 to attend NYU's Tisch School of the arts to study Dance, Film and Experimental Theatre.

After NYU, Leif then landed the role of Donatello in the first two Teenage Mutant Turtle Movies and worked on several projects after that with the Jim Henson Company. He later studied with the late Cinematographer Sven Nykvist in Sweden. He wrote and directed his first short film, entitled 'biglove' which premiered at the Sundance Film festival.

Leif has done extensive work as location manager on many popular TV series such Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dark Blue, Justified, Hung, Law & Order, and many others.

While at the reading event, Adrian had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Leif.