Pop Culture Paves the Way Series: The Child Sex Trade: Battling a Scourge. Part Eight of Nine. Second of Three Articles Appearing Today

Article excerpt

Brooke Shields was just 15 years old when she declared that "nothing comes between me and my Calvins" in a TV advertisement for jeansmaker and fashion-industry icon Calvin Klein.

Beyond the allure of city life and the wads of cash flashed in front of a hungry street child, aspects of popular culture are also softening traditional lines of resistance toward prostitution, experts say.

Music videos, advertising, movies, and television talk shows frequently portray teenagers as sex objects and prostitution as an alternative career "choice." Child prostitution experts call it the "Pretty Woman" syndrome - after the 1990 movie of the same name in which actress Julia Roberts played a prostitute who wins over a millionaire and marries him. While movies have long depicted the "hooker with a heart of gold," Hollywood only recently has begun to portray prostitution in glamorous terms. Movies like "Pretty Woman" and "Milk Money" glorify prostitution and make it socially acceptable, says Ross MacInnes, a retired Calgary, Alberta, police officer trying to help children leave prostitution. "This feeds into the illusion most of the world has that these kids are engaging in it of their own volition - and that it really isn't that bad an activity," Mr. MacInnes says. One such barometer of pop culture is the tabloid talk show "Ricki Lake," which last month debated the topic: "Who needs a girlfriend? I'd rather go to a prostitute." On the show a used-car salesman named "John" told the audience "my girlfriend was costing me more than the prostitutes were. …