Softball games, dance classes, birthday parties, and family breakfasts are typical activities for most middle-class kids—which is why they’re also standard-issue services at a Los Angeles–area shelter for former child prostitutes. Boys and girls staying at the Children of the Night shelter are not loaded into austere rooms with bare walls and creaky bunk beds; instead, they take yoga classes, get professional haircuts, and sleep in semiprivate bedrooms equipped with teen essentials like CD players, decorative posters, and new clothes.
These are unthinkable expenses at most group homes, but they’re an integral part of the success at the shelter, which offers these kids “the closest thing to a comfortable middle-class childhood that they have ever had,” reports Good (July-Aug. 2008).
Since Children of the Night opened in 1979, more than 10,000 former child prostitutes have passed through its doors. While some of these young people inevitably return to the streets, founder Lois Lee works to ensure that their exploiters will not: She writes and speaks extensively about the importance of prosecuting pimps, not prostitutes, and encourages her kids to testify against the men who abuse them.