Covenant House International Takes a stand on prostitution

To those who think that leaving any form of prostitution legal is wise, moral or humane, we invite you to come to Covenant House.

To those who think that weakening the current anti-pimping laws in Rhode Island will accomplish anything but more human misery, we invite you to come to Covenant House.

Covenant House is the largest homeless shelter for trafficked and sexually exploited children and youth in the United States. We take care of more than 70,000 homeless youth each year across six countries and many of them have been muscled into the commercial sex trade during their adolescence, victimized by "johns" and pimps. Often, after law enforcement infiltrates a criminal sex ring, these are the youth left in the wake.

Each year thousands of homeless and runaway youth are swept up by human traffickers and subjected to vicious commercial sexual exploitation. They struggle in the shadows, away from the spotlight, out of the public eye, and without protection. So many of the victims are filled with such despair and self loathing, it takes years to rebuild their esteem and equip them to leave the past behind them. The chilling stories they recount sound a familiar refrain: as they struggled to survive on the margins of society, they found themselves alone, hidden from view, and cut off from any help.

To those who think that leaving any form of prostitution legal is wise, moral or humane, we invite you to come to Covenant House.

To those who think that weakening the current anti-pimping laws in Rhode Island will accomplish anything but more human misery, we invite you to come to Covenant House.

Covenant House is the largest homeless shelter for trafficked and sexually exploited children and youth in the United States. We take care of more than 70,000 homeless youth each year across six countries and many of them have been muscled into the commercial sex trade during their adolescence, victimized by "johns" and pimps. Often, after law enforcement infiltrates a criminal sex ring, these are the youth left in the wake.

Each year thousands of homeless and runaway youth are swept up by human traffickers and subjected to vicious commercial sexual exploitation. They struggle in the shadows, away from the spotlight, out of the public eye, and without protection. So many of the victims are filled with such despair and self loathing, it takes years to rebuild their esteem and equip them to leave the past behind them. The chilling stories they recount sound a familiar refrain: as they struggled to survive on the margins of society, they found themselves alone, hidden from view, and cut off from any help.

The Rhode Island Legislature is facing a great moral test. Representative Giannini has introduced H 5044A, legislation that closes a longstanding loophole in Rhode Island’s criminal law that has permitted indoor prostitution. This legislation makes sense. For the kids we care for and love, whether they were exploited on the streets or inside a "spa" or "salon," their anguish is the same.

Law enforcement plays a pivotal role in identifying victims of sexual exploitation by investigating and prosecuting those who buy and sell other human beings. They rescue victims and bring them to Covenant House and other agencies where they receive counseling, shelter, healthcare and a fresh start. But Rhode Island police now work at a considerable disadvantage because of these impediments to investigating indoor prostitution. As a result, the State foregoes an important tool that is being used in every other state (save the limited exception of a few Nevada counties) to combat human trafficking and bring victims the care they need. We at Covenant House believe strongly that the youth of Rhode Island are as valuable as every other human being in every other state, and they deserve the same opportunity for safety and dignity.

With the introduction of the House Bill 5044A, Rhode Island has arrived at a defining moment. If lawmakers and the Governor insist that all forms of prostitution be outlawed, regardless of location, law enforcement will have a vitally important tool to identify and rescue victims. Pimps and "johns," those who buy and sell other human beings for sex, can be prosecuted, and the trafficked can at last find protection.

For those who prefer the status quo, or a more modest change to the law, please come to one of our Covenant Houses anywhere in the United States and meet some of the kids. Hear their stories. Listen to them talk about the adults who betrayed them, who lured them with tales of safety and new opportunities, then beat them, drugged them, demoralized them and sold them into the sex trade. Listen to their stories about communities who have ignored them. We think you’ll leave supporting Rhode Island House Bill 5044A.

Sincerely,
Kevin M. Ryan, President, Covenant House
Mary Leary, Associate Professor of Law, The Catholic University of America

Note from Covenant House Vancouver:  with the upcoming 2010 Olympic Games, many advocates in Vancouver are concerned about an increase in the sex trade and human trafficking.  For more information:  Buying Sex is Not a Sport