Adult men 'exploiting teenage girls'
By NOELLE NICOLLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
TEENAGE girls engaged in a culture of transactional sex are not "prostitutes", but rather victims of exploitation, said Dr Sandra Dean-Patterson, director of the Bahamas Crisis Centre.
She said it is not accurate to say "teen prostitution is common among Bahamian youths", because teenagers under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex.
As victims of adult "predators", Dr Patterson said, it is key not to blame the teenagers.
"Teenage girls being exploited because of their vulnerability: that is what the real problem is," said Dr Patterson.
"The behaviour that people may see as fresh girls or girls selling their bodies in return for gifts is really symptomatic of their violation early in life. There is an increasing number of girls who are raped, sexually assaulted, molested, forced into sex, which are indicators of this kind of behaviour," she said.
Underage teenagers engaged in sexual relations with older men are victims of statutory rape. Any male over the age of 14 who has sex with someone under the age of 16 can be charged with statutory rape. If the sex is not consensual, regardless of the age, it is considered rape, according to an officer at the National Crime Prevention Office.
There have been convictions in the past for statutory rape, said the officer, but most incidents go unreported. When reports do come in, it is usually from parents, said the officer.
"If we get permission from the parents the child has no say about whether we do a physical examination," said the officer.
Police investigations include physical exams, witness testimonies and statements from the victim. The officer said sometimes teenagers do not want to "incriminate" their partners, but the police often have other means of investigating.
Prostitution is usually an "organised activity", involving individuals having sex with a "series of persons in order to make a living", said Dr Patterson.
"Persons who are in relationships with one or several persons and using those relationships to fulfil material needs that would be more transactional sex, but that is not prostitution," said Dr Patterson. In either case, with an underage teen, it is "exploitation".
In Bahamian society, there has been a normalisation of behaviour that is tantamount to "prostitution", said psychiatrist Dr David Allen, based on his research over the past three years.
"(The girls in the focus group) said they didn't see any problem with using their body for survival. They don't call it prostitution. They call it survival and that is just the way things are right now," said Dr Allen.
Some teenagers agree, it is a part of the "common culture" for young girls and boys, from as early as 13 years old, to engage in sexual relationships with older men, between 20 and 40 years old.
The reasons why vary: some do it out of financial desperation; others do it for status, material gain, or love, said a 15 year old, high school student.
"It is just friends for benefits. Some do fall in love with the older men even though they are using them. Some of the older men fall in love with the teenager, and the older men get physical and abuse them if the girl doesn't want to do anything anymore. Some of the girls get scared and don't know what to do. Some of them turn to drugs. Some of them go to the police station but they wouldn't help them at all," she said.
The teenager said young girls are looking for more "support"; however, they feel "someone always wants something" from them and does not really have their best interests at heart.
"When they ask for the support, they find some people to give it to them, but in a wrong way. If I ask you for help you always want something in return from me," she said.
Some teenagers say they know the risks are too high and the behaviour is inappropriate, but it is unclear whether they are in the minority or majority.
"It is not okay behaviour, because them grown man is too old. All of them are trying to have sex and then go. They give the girls $10 and then tell them go. They are married, so the only thing they are doing is destroying their bodies and going back to their wives. They don't care about the little girls," said a teenager.
"Some of the girls try to leave out of the relationships, but some of the men are abusive so they are scared. They are willing to take the risk because they are thinking about the money," she said.
Another teenager said: "I don't think girls are emotionally mature enough to be in a relationship with the older men. Most of the girls who actually go through it, they have low self esteem and lack of knowledge; they are not very smart so anything people tell them they believe," said a teenager.
"Most of the time when certain men come up to you they are pretty smart. They have their talk down pat. Mostly they will say they could take care of you, buy whatever you want, buy you a phone. These days girls go with men who have cars," she said.
Parents are struggling to cope with the situation, according to Dr Patterson, particularly the "tremendous number of single mothers."
"There may be some mothers who set their children up to have relationships with adult men, or they may close their eyes to it because the girls are bringing home things to help the family out. As a parent once you close your eyes to that kind of thing then the child begins to get a sense of power from the feeling that they are providing for the family and that they are in charge," said Dr Patterson.
"When the mother tries to discipline the child they do not listen because they have been allowed to be a provider for the family and they become an uncontrollable child," she said.
Without intervention, Dr Patterson said teenage girls will not understand they are being "violated", and they will become more and more vulnerable.
"They can also internalise their anger, and then they may start to lash out and fight and be super aggressive," she said.
July 23, 2010