Sexual Exploitation of Children--A Problem of Unknown Magnitude

HRD-82-64: Published: Apr 20, 1982. Publicly Released: Apr 20, 1982.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO gathered information on teenage prostitution and child pornography, and it reviewed Federal, State, and local efforts to deal with these problems. GAO made an extensive literature search and sent questionnaires to States, territories, police departments, and mayors' offices in major cities. GAO also developed detailed information on teenage prostitution and child pornography in large population centers on both the east and west coasts of the United States.

The literature search revealed a wide range of estimates on the number of children involved in prostitution or pornography. Officials responding to the questionnaire generally believed that the number of teenage prostitutes, as well as the number of children involved in pornography, had increased during the past 5 years. The results of the study showed that many teenage female prostitutes are products of a poor home environment. They often see prostitution as a life of adventure, glamour, excitement, and an easy way to earn money. Many male teenage prostitutes are gay identified and become prostitutes to explore their homosexuality. Many female prostitutes come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, have done poorly in school, possess poor self-images, and have limited job opportunities. Children involved in pornography often have similar backgrounds of family abuse or neglect. They can be psychologically scarred and suffer emotional distress for life. Many of the services that sexually exploited children will need, if they wish to leave the life of prostitution or pornography, are available through special programs or social service agencies. However, children who do not come into contact with the police or outreach workers must seek such services on their own. Funding to support these programs may come from Federal, State, county, or private sources. GAO identified only four shelters exclusively for teenage prostitutes.

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