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Children turning to prostitution while in sta -

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Children turning to prostitution while in state care

AM - Saturday, 16 October , 2004 08:24:00

Reporter: Kate Arnott

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Here at home a disturbing report into child prostitution has recommended major
changes to state welfare systems.

The report, called 'Speaking for Themselves' reveals that children as young as 12 are turning to
sex work to fund their drug addictions. And it seems that many are introduced to prostitution while
still in state care.

Kate Arnott reports.

KATE ARNOTT: Sarah was only 13 when she started selling sex to pay for her heroin and prescription
drug addiction. She took to the streets to escape her violent father and abusive uncle.

SARAH: From the age of six years old my uncle started sexually assaulting me. Being six years old
and naïve, I knew it was wrong with the advantage he was taking upon me. He also told me if I told
anybody they wouldn't believe me.

The abuse continued until I was around the age of 11 years old, so I started hanging around with
some homeless youth, and wouldn't return for weeks on end. I started using heroin, which was
developing into a daily habit by the age of 13.

KATE ARNOTT: Sarah's story is one of many in the report 'Speaking for Themselves'.

It gives a disturbing insight into the lives of child prostitutes and the reasons why they become
locked into tangled web of sex work, drugs, homelessness and violence.

The report's author, Nancy Hanley, interviewed 30 people as part of her research. All of them have
worked as prostitutes in inner Melbourne. Eighteen had started sex work by the age of 14, and four
were only 12 years old when they started.

NANCY HANLEY: It was very difficult for me to come to terms with how desperate a young person would
have to be to undertake that kind of activity. I really don't think that the wider community have
any great idea of how young these people are on the streets. I certainly didn't, and you know, I've
been a youth worker for years.

KATE ARNOTT: All of the prostitutes interviewed had backgrounds of family violence, leading them
into state care or life on the streets. Initially, they engaged in sex for favours - a place to
stay, food or drugs.

More than half of those interviewed said bad experiences under state care led them to prostitution.
They blamed the system for their exposure to violence. Two of the participants reported being
sexually abused by care workers.

More than half of those interviewed had experienced the state care system, and said they were
introduced to sex work and drugs through friends they met while they were wards of the state.

For many child prostitutes getting help isn't easy. Nancy Hanley says that's because they're
overlooked by the welfare system.

NANCY HANLEY: It's not being taken into consideration that some of the workers are under the age of
18 years. And there are services out there for older sex workers, but these young people are
frightened to access those services in case they're put into state care, so they really are falling
through gaps and they're very isolated and alone and vulnerable.

KATE ARNOTT: Sarah knows those feelings only too well.

SARAH: We just need somewhere... someone there that actually cares, and can become a role model in
our lives. Like me and many others, we didn't have an adult to look up to.

KATE ARNOTT: Even though finding help is hard, Sarah doesn't believe the system is wholly to blame.
She says she's on the road to recovery because she decided to take control of her life.

SARAH: Don't say to yourself if only I could turn back time, because as we all know, that can't be
done. But put a positive view on it, that if the event didn't take place, you wouldn't be as strong
as you were before the event occurred.

You're still young, and you don't need the devil's drug to take over your life. It robs you of
everything. There are people out there that can help you. You just need to get the right links.

KATE ARNOTT: The report recommends major changes to state welfare systems. It says a child must
live in a safe place, away from others who are at risk. There's also a call for non-judgemental 24
hour-a-day counselling and support services for children who have experienced violence, neglect,
and breakdown. As well, the report says carers working in foster homes and residential units should
be more rigorously screened and supervised.

Nancy Hanley says it's now up to the community, and especially government, to listen.

NANCY HANLEY: I'm hoping that through this awareness, more so this report, it will make it clear to
them that there needs to be some action taken for these young people. I'm hoping that that will
change things and get some people in government moving and a little bit passionate about these
young people.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Nancy Hanley, ending that report from Kate Arnott in Melbourne.

(c) 2006 ABC