THE INVISIBLE CHILDREN: Child Prostitution in America, West Germany and Great Britain by Gitta Sereny
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THE INVISIBLE CHILDREN: Child Prostitution in America, West Germany and Great Britain

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Discreetly and compassionately, Sereny has looked into the situation of underage prostitutes--runaways of eleven and up--in the United States, West Germany, and Britain. She met them through social workers and other intermediaries, and arranged that someone ""would continue to work"" with them: a Hungarian-born British author and journalist, she has also had child-care experience. In the eleven stories she develops--through extended interviews with the youngsters, and visits to their parents--there are horrors and wonders. And there are patterns: these are children who could not live with their families, and for whom there was no recourse but prostitution; invariably they had been beaten from an early age, and several had been sexually traumatized--abused themselves, or witness to shocking parental sex. In America, Sereny found middle-class white girls--hustling on grim streets, servicing customers in cars and cubicles--abject dependent on black ""daddies,"" craving to be their ""main lady."" ""It is part of [the men's] technique in handling the girls, an awareness of psychological manipulation many a psychiatrist might envy. The pimps know very well that what these lost youngsters primarily seek is personal, human contact."" Through a police friend, Sereny interviews one of the pimps: bright and personable, cocky/plaintive, certain that he's entitled to his money. (Like many, he shuns black girls--less remunerative, less docile. ""Another pimp had expressed it bluntly: 'Can you think of a better way to get back at whitey than to deal in his kids?' "") Beaten, sick, betrayed, a girl may realize she's being used, and break away: Sereny sees it happen. In West Germany--this is a lesson in cultural anthropology as well-prostitution is pervasive and flagrant; the police largely overlook child involvement; but among social workers there is more risk-taking, with new approaches to ""putting the principles of individual freedom into practice."" (West Berlin runaways can have an apartment if they stay out of ""the scene."") In Germany, too, Sereny witnesses a agonizing exchange between a young boy prostitute and his homosexual ex-teacher, her intermediary. Britain brings the most confounding and tragic of the stories--that of Scottish Nellie, convicted murderer: ""the most honest girl and the most accomplished fantasy-weaver I met."" Sereny plainly indicts societal preoccupations (sex, money) and society's neglect. ""Prostitution, this act of extreme self-abasement. . . serves both to feed their self-contempt and vengefully to express the anger and fear stored up against those who caused it--their parents."" Those who can no longer live at home ""long to be wanted--as children."" A searching study of an ugly, difficult subject, all the more impressive for its restraint.

Pub Date: March 6th, 1985
Publisher: Knopf