Earlier tonight Sean Diddy Combs tweeted a link to a Change.org petition that urges the Associated Press to stop using the phrase “child prostitute.” The petition, written by survivor Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, asks that the media consider the implications of the phrases “child prostitute” and “child prostitution,” both of which are used in the AP’s style guide. Pettigrew writes:
“ ‘Child prostitute’ may seem clear because it conveys the fact that money is exchanged for sex, but it is also misleading because it suggests consent and criminality when none exists. Many of us are not even of legal age to consent to sex. I was 10. And girls like me are beaten, kidnapped, gang raped, and tortured into selling our bodies to adults, every night. This is not about choice. This is about abuse and rape.”
Pettigrew is working with the DC-based organization Rights4Girls. The group focuses on gender-based violence, advancing policy changes for trafficked and abused girls. One of Rights4Girls’ initiatives is to change the way trafficked girls are described by the media; “child prostitute,” or “child sex worker,” are misleading because, as the petition argues, “there is no such thing.”
The petition concludes:
“It is important that the Associated Press take leadership in ending the use of these terms, because how we are named is how we are treated. If respectable media outlets continue to use these terms, children who are bought and sold will continue to be treated as criminals, instead of as victims and survivors of child rape. They deserve to be named and treated as such.”
Rights4Girls recommends that “victims of rape, statutory rape or the sexual abuse of a minor” are all more accurate phrases. The group’s recommendations can be read here.