He may have changed his name more times than we can count, but the artist presently know as Sean Diddy Combs took to Twitter last night to publicize his participation in a Change.org petition to stop the use of the phrase “child prostitute” by the Associated Press (AP), and, by proxy, the media as a whole.
In her letter to the AP’s Style Guide Editor David Minthorn, Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, the creator of the Change.org petition, writes of her own past as a survivor of child sex trafficking.
“I was not a child prostitute or child sex worker. I was a victim and survivor of child rape. And so are the other kids out there now who are being bought and sold for sex. They are victims and survivors of child rape.
But, too often, when the media reports on child sex trafficking, or attempts to tell our stories, the way we are described mislead the public about what is happening to trafficked children….I, with the Human Rights Project for Girls, understand it is the media’s job to convey a situation or an issue with precision and clarity.
‘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.”
Many other public figures have taken to social media to voice their support for the petition and to see the AP make the style guide change, from actor Ashton Kutcher to hip hop mogul and activist Russell Simmons to Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey to comedian and activist Margaret Cho.
Human Rights Project for Girls, also known as Rights4Girls, is a human rights organization focused on gender-based violence against vulnerable young women and girls in the U.S. The group lobbies for policy changes and develops public awareness to empower young women, dismantle the sexual abuse to prison pipeline, and to end domestic child sex trafficking.
A study released this summer by the Human Rights Project for Girls, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and the Ms. Foundation for Women reports that a 2006 Oregon case study found 93 percent of imprisoned girls had a history of sexual or physical abuse; 76 percent had been sexually abused before the age of 13.
A 2009 case study of delinquent girls in South Carolina found 81 percent to have had a history of sexual violence, with 42 percent reporting dating violence.
Girls’ rate of sexual abuse is 4 times higher than boys’ in juvenile justice, and girls’ rate of complex trauma is nearly twice as high.
The report notes that “despite the body of research showing that the effect of trauma and abuse drives girls into juvenile justice, the system itself typically overlooks the context of abuse when determining whether to arrest or charge a girl, often with a minor offense. When law enforcement views girls as perpetrators, and when their cases are not dismissed or diverted but sent deeper into the justice system, the cost is twofold: girls’ abusers are shielded from accountability, and the trauma that is the underlying cause of the behavior is not address.”