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Teach them about pimps

Body Shop founder calls on schools to help end the glamorisation of prostitution among teenagers

Body Shop founder Anita Roddick has called on all secondary schools to teach their pupils about prostitution, to crack down on "pimp culture" and prevent boys from growing into kerb-crawlers.

"Some schools are going to say that kids shouldn't learn about that stuff, but it's essential, especially when you think of the way children are sexualised by marketing and the media anyway," said Ms Roddick.

"Pimp culture is everywhere. Channel surf and the image of party animals dripping in girlfriends with an endless bank roll emerges. It glamorises a very violent business."

It is not the first time that Ms Roddick has slammed "pimp chic", the sleazy look popularised by music channel MTV and now used by mainstream brands like Virgin Atlantic, whose "Pimp My Lounge" campaign caused controversy last year.

"I am probably not the only woman who finds it depressing that an increasing proportion of young women today think being a glamour model and having breast implants is sexual or liberating," she said.

Ms Roddick's comments were made at the launch of the Prostitution: what's going on? exhibition at the Women's Library in London, which is running a programme of frank sessions about the sex trade for 16 to 18-year-olds.

Exhibits include diaries and videos made by exploited children, explicit lyrics by rapper Ice-T and a video installation naming murdered sex workers.

Louise Finch, a sociology teacher at Raine's CofE school, Bethnal Green, east London, said that while she was initially intimidated by the controversial subject matter, her school had taken up the idea enthusiastically.

"I sent a letter home to parents before we went and I was a little cautious. But our school chaplain works with prostitutes so our head of sixth form is planning to bring the entire year along next time.

"It is nice to have the opportunity to discuss these issues because in school we are so exam-focused. It's a chance for them to apply sociology to something contemporary. Living in the East End, prostitution is on their doorstep."

Her pupils toured the exhibition before sitting down to argue the case for and against the sex trade. Predictably, debate was intense.

"I think it's wrong and immoral, and under no circumstances should it be legalised," said Kingsley Afrane, 18. "It's the main cause of the breakdown of society."

However, he agreed that prostitution was glamorised by the media: "A boy looks to be called a pimp. Everybody wants to be one."

Rachael Zvaipa, 17, said: "In music it's seen as he's a pimp, he's got money, I want to be with him. You hear 14-year-old girls saying, 'Oh, she's a ho', but they don't know what it means.

"I used to think prostitutes were dirty. Now I know the historical background and understand these women sometimes don't have a choice."

Kerry Johns, 17, said: "Before I came here I thought prostitution should be legalised. Now I see the reality and the violence."

Joanna Ingham, Women's Library learning co-ordinator, said: "There were some sniggers but the children seemed interested."

Pressure on schools to teach children about prostitution has mounted following reports that pimps are recruiting girls as young as 12 to sell sex. The exhibition includes testimonies from children aged 11 to 18 who have been sexually exploited "Most aren't in school and lead chaotic lives. They may have been in care and have very low self-esteem," said Ms Ingham.

Liz Kelly, professor of sexualised violence at London Metropolitan university, said: "Pimp culture glamorises the sex industry, but it's rare to have a serious conversation about it."

However Helena Wray, from Family and Youth Concern, advised caution. "Some of the exhibits are of an explicit nature. If prostitution is to be tackled in schools it needs to be treated with great sensitivity."

Contact Joanna Ingham, Women's Library learning co-ordinator, on 020 7320 3504, email: joanna.ingham@thewomenslibrary.ac.uk. The sessions run until Christmas and are available to over-16s only

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