Diddy Thinks We Need To Stop Saying 'Child Prostitute' Immediately

Words matter.

On Tuesday night Sean 'Diddy' Combs tweeted a petition asking the Associated Press to stop using the phrases "child prostitute" and "child prostitution" in their style guides and news stories.

"They are victims [and] survivors of rape," he wrote, sharing a link to the campaign from the D.C.-based Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls).

Because the terms deal with the issue of people who are too young to consent to sex, let alone sex work, the group argues that saying "child prostitute" or "child sex worker" is both insensitive and factually inaccurate. Instead, the group suggests that outlets refer to these children as "victims and survivors of child rape."

"When we refer to children and youth who are bought and sold for sex, who are not even of the legal age to consent, we cannot call them child prostitutes," Rights4Girls Executive Director Malika Saada Saar told MTV News.

"The term really denies a lot of the suffering and the injury that happens to kids that are bought and sold. It suggests that these kids are doing it because they want to do it. Not only does it imply choice, agency and consent — it implies criminality. When, in reality, they are the ones that have been hurt."

Author Withelma "T" Ortiz Walker Pettigrew writes in the petition that she was "sexually exploited" from the age of 10 to 17 throughout the U.S. and, ultimately, arrested and jailed on prostitution charges.

"I was 10," she writes. "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."

Pettigrew further notes that there have been "5,000 instances in the past five years when reporters for print, wire and online outlets have used the phrase 'child prostitute,' 'child prostitution,' 'underage prostitution' or other variations on the phrase to describe these exploited children."

Word choice like this can compound stigma and guilt for survivors, as well as contribute to misconceptions about sex work in general -- both from the public and law enforcement. According to FBI crime data, there were 609 people under the age of 18 arrested for "prostitution and commercialized vice" in 2012.

"Kids who are subject to commercial rape are arrested and put into the juvenile justice system, not a public health system," Saar said. "We don’t do that with any other child who is abused. We have to come to a place where we stop criminalizing kids for being subject to rape."

Such criminalization also disproportionately affected African-Americans, who comprised 59.4% of the aforementioned 2012 arrests.

"We have the school-to-prison pipeline, but there's also a sex abuse to prison pipeline — and a black and brown girls pipeline for girls arrested for sexual abuse," Saar said. "It's important to understand the particular way black and brown girls are criminalized through being subject to commercial rape ... It says a lot about who is allowed to be a child and who is allowed to be a victim of abuse — and clearly African-American children are allowed neither."

While the conversation regarding which words the people involved in sex work prefer to use is ongoing -- and there's no one-size-fits-all term -- many consenting adults find "sex worker" to be a more humanizing and sensitive option.

But when it comes to children -- who absolutely cannot consent to any kind of sex work -- it's vital to center conversations around helping survivors and victims.

"Language has power," Saar said. "We have to stop talking about these girls as being criminals as prostitutes and understand they are survivors and victims of rape -- child rape -- and that's how they deserve to be treated."

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