Are my sisters being pimped?

My older sister wants to introduce the younger ones to much older men. Is this legal? Is it right?

Published June 24, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I am writing to you because I seek your thoughts on how much American society evolved while other societies held on to tradition. When I was a teenager, my older sisters introduced me to older men (26 to 40). I was American-raised, but my parents and older sisters are immigrants and still cling to old-fashioned values.

I am now in my early 20s, and single because I wanted an education instead of a marriage. Now that I have been around college-educated peers, I have been told that such relationships were inappropriate and illegal. I admit that when I was dating these older men, I did feel taken advantage of because I was so young.

Now my older sister is trying to set up my teenage sisters with older men (25–40). When I confronted them, they felt that it was better for a young girl to date and marry an older, financially secure man than to date a boy their age.

Why do American parents have a problem with older men courting and/or trying to marry their teenage daughters?

Also, how do I tell my sisters that we live in the United States, where a young girl has more options instead of marrying an older man for financial security? How do I let them know that their actions are illegal and they could be arrested for "pimping" out underage girls to older men?  

Pimping Out My Sister?

Dear Pimping Out My Sister?

If your older sister is arranging for your younger sisters to have sex for money, then she is breaking the law and could be arrested. But there is no law against trying to arrange marriages and dates, hoping to marry off her younger sisters to older, more financially secure men.

If your younger sisters are having sex with these older men, depending on the ages involved, these men may be committing crimes. It depends on their relative ages and on the state laws that apply.

You need to know what is going on. I suggest that you approach your younger sisters, rather than approaching your older sister. Ask them what is going on. Ask them if they are having sex with older men. Ask them if they are being paid.

If that is going on then you need to contact some experts for help on what to do next. If there is someone you know personally that you can trust -- perhaps someone at your university -- then discuss it with that person. If not, get in touch with Children of the Night. Call their hotline at 1-800-551-1300 and ask for advice.

On the other hand, it's possible that your sister is only trying to get what is best for everyone and doing what is considered proper. You don't say what culture you come from, or what the specific practices are, so out of concern for their safety I am imagining the worst-case scenario.

I'm hoping it's not like that.

Assuming they are not being forced into prostitution, then take a long-term approach toward influencing their choices. You care about your younger sisters. You want them to be happy and do well. If you are close to them and they trust you, you can influence them. Be their advocate, their trusted adviser. Listen a lot. Just listen. Show interest in what they are doing and what they want. Nurture their interests. Encourage them.

Older men may seem interesting to them. From their perspective, there may be clear advantages to dating older men with an eye toward getting married. Young people like flashy stuff. They may be influenced by the idea that these older, richer men can give them flashy stuff. Your older sister may be introducing them to these older men hoping they will marry and bring money to the family.

But they also like their freedom and independence.

What I find interesting is why you chose to do what you did. Talk to your sisters about what you have done and why you feel good about doing it. You can be an example to them of a different path. By going to university you have created for yourself an interesting and enviable life. Show them what your life is like. Show them the choices you have.

The larger issue is about culture and policy, how governments treat women, what women's choices are, and how power is distributed  in society and in the family. You yourself made the choice to delay marriage in order to become educated. This seems to be a wise choice for a woman, and it is the choice favored by a great many younger women in the United States.

It is understandable that you would want your younger sisters to follow your example.  Since we cannot control people, and you do not have power of coercion in your  family, all you can do is set a good example, maintain close ties and be honest with them.

As you suggest, many American parents do have a problem with older men courting and trying to marry their teenage daughters. Parents want the best for their daughters, and daughters seem to be happier and do better in life when they can get an education and delay marriage. So this attitude seems natural.

You sound like you are smart and independent. One consequence of the independent life is that family ties weaken.  If you are to follow a career that takes you away for your family, you may not see them for months or years at a time.  If you choose this path, then others will have more influence over your younger sisters. If you want to maintain influence over them, you probably need to stay close to home.

Also talk to your older sister. Tell her that you want the best for everyone in the family and you think that education is better in the long run than an early marriage. Show her the evidence.

There is a worldwide effort underway to stop the marriage of underage girls. According to the Elders, a global group of statesmen and thinkers whose members include Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Jimmy Carter, Gro Harlem Brundtl and Nelson Mandela, "More than 25,000 girls every day are married off before they reach the age of 18. This increases the likelihood that they will drop out of school, impacting on their education and economic prospects. It also leaves them vulnerable to serious health risks associated with early sexual activity and childbearing, and to the risk of domestic violence and HIV infection from older husbands."

There are also efforts underway to make it easier to protect underage prostitutes who may have been forced into it. As the law is now, according to the Guardian UK, "In New York state, minors ages 16 and 17 can be arrested and prosecuted for prostitution, despite being considered not mature enough to consent to sex legally." Lawmakers in New York state are expected to vote soon on a law that would prevent child prostitutes under 18 from being prosecuted for the crime -- recognizing them as victims rather than criminals.

Talk to your sisters. Get them involved. Get them thinking about their future, and their choices. The world is changing fast, and young women are a part of this new world. It's exciting. They don't have to marry old men. They can make it on their own. Good luck!

(I read a lot in the preparation of this relatively short piece. Here are various links I came across in reading and thinking about this topic):

Delayed marriage on the rise.

Late marriage and its consequences

"In policing the relationships between 'men' and 'girls,' California has substituted the judgment of district attorneys and judges for the clinical discretion of doctors, nurses, social workers, and psychiatrists." Also: "In California, "unlawful sexual intercourse"—statutory rape—is defined as sex between an adult and anyone under the age of 18 if the couple isn't married." (Article by Amy Benfer on changing laws.)

Teen girl pimps in Ottawa

Good study on effects of early sex, particularly on depression. Effects of early sex on adolescents: "4) has a strong negative effect on the self-reported academic grades of white males" (count me in that category--ct)

These are the "model state provisions on pimping, pandering and prostitution" -- in other words, the laws the federal government suggests states model their laws after. As you will see,  the model law covers prostitution as well as arranging for other people to do prostitution. So if your sisters were arranging that, then they could be prosecuted.

Child bride dies of injuries.

Child marriage in Islam

Statutory rape law, according to Nolo: "A minor can be guilty of statutory rape of another minor. If two 16-year-olds engage in sexual intercourse, in many states each could be prosecuted for statutory rape. In other states, only males can be prosecuted for statutory rape. Of course, such cases are rarely prosecuted. Even when they are, laws in many states make concessions to the frequency of sexual intercourse among minors in modern society. So long as one minor is not more than three years older than the other minor, statutory rape is often a misdemeanor rather than a felony."

By Cary Tennis

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Age Of Consent Child Prostitution Marriage Prostitution Since You Asked Statutory Rape Women's Rights