Women's Funding Network sex trafficking study is junk science

Schapiro Group data wasn't questioned by mainstream media.

ATTORNEYS REPRESENTING CRAIGSLIST told Congress on September 15 that the ubiquitous web classifieds site was closing its adult section.

Under intense scrutiny from the government and crusading advocacy groups, as well as state attorneys general, owner Craig Newmark memorably applied the label "Censored" in his classifieds where adult advertising once appeared.

During the same September hearing of a subcommittee of the House Judiciary, members of Congress listened to vivid and chilling accounts regarding underage prostitution.

Jesse Lenz
Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, says the Schapiro study is based on a logical fallacy.
Deanna Dent
Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, says the Schapiro study is based on a logical fallacy.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Village Voice Media, which owns this newspaper, owns the classified site Backpage.com. In addition to used cars, jobs, and couches, readers can also find adult ads on Backpage; for this reason, Women's Funding Network and their allies have often called attention to the site, sometimes going so far as to call for its closure.

Certainly we have a stake in this discussion. And we do not object to those who suggest an apparent conflict of interest. We sat quietly and did not respond as the WFN held symposiums across America—from Seattle to Miami—denouncing Backpage. Indeed, we were never asked for response.

But then we looked at the "science" and the media's willingness to regurgitate, without question, these incredible statistics. In the interest of a more informed discussion, we decided to write.

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The congressmen heard testimony from half a dozen nonprofit executives and law enforcement officials. But the most alarming words of the day came from Deborah Richardson, the chief program officer of the Women's Funding Network. She told legislators that juvenile prostitution is exploding at an astronomical rate.

"An independent tracking study released today by the Women's Funding Network shows that over the past six months, the number of underage girls trafficked online has risen exponentially in three diverse states," Richardson claimed. "Michigan: a 39.2 percent increase; New York: a 20.7 percent increase; and Minnesota: a staggering 64.7 percent increase."

In the wake of this bombshell revelation, Richardson's disturbing figures found their way into some of the biggest newspapers in the country. USA Today, the Houston Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the Detroit Free Press all repeated the dire statistics as gospel.

The successful assault on Craigslist was followed by a cross-country tour by Richardson and the Women's Funding Network.

None of the media that published Richardson's astonishing numbers bothered to examine the study at the heart of Richardson's claim. If they had, they would have found what we did after asking independent experts to examine the research: It's junk science.

After all, the numbers are all guesses.

The data are based merely on looking at photos on the Internet. There is no science.

Eric Grodsky, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota who teaches about proper research construction, says that the study is fundamentally flawed.

"The method's not clean," Grodsky says. "You couldn't get this kind of thing into a peer-reviewed journal. There are just too many unanswered questions about their methodology."

Ric Curtis, the chairman of the Anthropology Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, led a Justice Department-funded study on juvenile prostitution in New York City in 2008. He's highly skeptical of the claims in the Women's Funding Network's study.

"I wouldn't trust those numbers," Curtis says. "This new study seems pretty bogus."

In fact, the group behind the study admits as much. It's now clear they used fake data to deceive the media and lie to Congress. And it was all done to score free publicity and a wealth of public funding.

"We pitch it the way we think you're going to read it and pick up on it," says Kaffie McCullough, the director of Atlanta-based anti-prostitution group A Future Not a Past. "If we give it to you with all the words and the stuff that is actually accurate—I mean, I've tried to do that with our PR firm, and they say, 'They won't read that much.'"

   

A FUTURE NOT A PAST is a product of the Atlanta Women's Foundation, the Juvenile Justice Fund, and Harold and Kayrita Anderson's foundation. To measure the amount of juvenile prostitution in the state, the consortium hired the Schapiro Group, an Atlanta business-consulting operation.

The Schapiro Group members weren't academic researchers, and had no prior experience studying prostitution. In fact, the group was best known for research paid for by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. The study found—surprise—that membership in the Chamber of Commerce improves a business's image.

The consultants came up with a novel, if not very scientific, method for tabulating juvenile prostitutes: They counted pictures of young-looking women on online classified sites.

"That's one of the first problems right there," Grodsky says. "These advertisers are in the business of making sales, and there's a market for young-looking women. Why would you trust that the photographs are accurate?"

In other words, the ads, like the covers of women's magazines, are relentlessly promoting fantasy. Anyone who has tried online dating understands the inherent trouble with trusting photographs.

Even if the person placing the advertisement is the one in the picture, there's no telling how old the photo is, says David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

"How do you know when the pictures were taken?" Finkelhor asks. "It's not illegal for an 18-year-old who's selling sex to put up a picture of herself from when she was 16."

And if, for the sake of argument, the photos were an accurate portrayal, how do you train those viewing the photographs to guess the correct age?

In fact, you don't.

Before conducting its full study, the Schapiro Group tested the accuracy of its method in a sample of 100 observers. At one point, the 100 observers are described as a "random sample." Elsewhere, they are described as "balanced by race and gender."

These 100 adults were shown pictures of teenagers and young adults whose ages were known, and were asked to guess whether they were younger than 18.

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8 comments
Tell the truth
Tell the truth

Millions of USA American government tax dollars are being spent to fight a crime that is extremely rare. The US government assumes that all prostitutes on Earth are sex trafficked slaves.There is a lot of controversy over the numbers of adult woman who are forced sex slaves. The real factual answer is that no one knows. There is hard evidence that the sex slavery/sex trafficking issue continues to report false information and is greatly exaggerated by politicians, the media, and aid groups, feminist and religious organizations that receive funds from the government, The estimate of adult women who become new sex slaves ranges anywhere from 40 million a year to 5,000 per year all of which appear to be much too high. They have no evidence to back up these numbers, and no one questions them about it. Their sources have no sources, and are made up numbers. In fact if some of these numbers are to believed which have either not changed or have been increased each year for the past twenty years, all woman on earth would currently be sex slaves. Yet, very few real forced against their will sex slaves have been found.

It is not easy for criminals to engage in Sex Trafficking activity:

Sex trafficking is illegal and the penalties are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well. They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police.

This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare. These criminals would be breaking dozens of major laws not just one. Kidnapping itself is a serious crime. There are many laws against sex trafficking, sex slavery, kidnapping, sex abuse, rape, sexual harassment etc. If someone is behind it, they will be breaking many serious laws, be in big trouble, and will go to jail for many long years. While there are some women who may be true victims. And it is possible for this to happen in rare situations. This is a small rare group of people and that the numbers and scale of this crime is exaggerated. The very nature of someone pulling off a kidnapping and forced sex for profit appears to be very difficult. Since it would be difficult this makes this crime rare. Not impossible, but extremely rare. And do you really think that millions of people are lining up to make a career out of being a illegal violent sex slave kidnapping pimp?

A key point is that on the sidelines the adult prostitutes themselves are not being listened to. They oppose laws against prostitution. But no one wants to listen to the prostitutes themselves. Only to the self appointed experts that make up numbers and stories many of which have never met a real forced sex slave or if they did it was only a few. The media and government never ask the prostitutes themselves what would help them in terms of laws.

Many women in the sex business are independent workers. They don’t have a pimp.They work for themselves, advertise themselves, and keep all the money for themselves. No one forces them, because there isn’t anyone to force them. They go out and find their own customers, set their own prices, and arrange everything by themselves. Sometimes they may employ others to help them, but these are not pimps. If for example, she hires an Internet web design company to make a website for her, does that make the web design company a pimp? If she pays a phone company for a phone to do business, does this make the phone company a pimp? If she puts an ad in the paper, does this make the editor a pimp? If she puts the money she makes into a bank account does this make the bank a pimp?

A lot of anti prostitution groups would say yes. Everyone and everybody is a pimp.

These groups make up lies, and false statistics that no one bothers to check. A big reason they do this is because it provides high paying jobs for them. They get big donations, and grants from the government, charity, churches, etc. to have these groups, and pay these high salaries of the anti prostitution workers.

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Football Fan
Football Fan

According to the media hype There was supposed to be hundreds of thousands of under age child sex slaves kidnapped and forced to have sex with super bowl fans. At the Dallas Super Bowl 2011.

WHERE ARE THE THOUSANDS OF SUPER BOWL KIDNAPPED FORCED CHILD SEX SLAVES???????

It was all a big lie told by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, government officials, and various anti-prostitution groups: Traffick911, Not for Sale, Change-org, Polaris Project, and the Dallas Women’s Foundation, Future not a past, Salvation Army, which are anti-prostitution groups that tell lies in order to get grant money from the government

Top FBI agent in Dallas (Robert Casey Jr.) sees no evidence of expected spike in child sex trafficking:

“Among those preparations was an initiative to prevent an expected rise in sex trafficking and child prostitution surrounding the Super Bowl. But Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, said he saw no evidence that the increase would happen, nor that it did.“In my opinion, the Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes,” he said. “The discussion gets very vague and general. People mixed up child prostitution with the term human trafficking, which are different things, and then there is just plain old prostitution.”

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Amy Arce
Amy Arce

These are the reasons why research and investigation is so critical. The idea that an organization would lie about stats in regards to such a horrific and cruel crime is beyond my reasoning. This causes funding to legitimate organizations to be delayed; not to mention the lack of public trust about the severity of this crime and our abilities to combat it.

 
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