Lost Boys: New child-sex-trafficking research demolishes the stereotype of the underage sex worker

And sparks an outbreak of denial among child-sex-trafficking alarmists nationwide.

Jennifer Dreher, who heads the anti-trafficking program at Safe Horizon, a New York nonprofit whose Streetwork Project has targeted juvenile prostitutes and homeless youths since 1984, says if federal lawmakers took the time to read the John Jay report, they would better grasp the complexity of the issue.

"We have been seeing and talking about this population for so long, but that kind of tug-at-your-heartstrings narrative was the only one focused on," Dreher says, referring to the stereotype of the pimped little girl.

Certainly those girls are out there, Dreher says, and they're in need of help and compassion. But they're only a small segment of the underage population commercially exploited for sex. If you want to eradicate the scourge, argues Dreher, "you have to recognize the 90 percent of other types of people that this John Jay College study found."

"It was almost like nobody wants to document their existence": Georgia State University criminologist Mary Finn's research effort in Atlanta was thwarted by uncooperative advocacy groups, incomplete arrest data, and an utter lack of shelter beds for juveniles in crisis.
"It was almost like nobody wants to document their existence": Georgia State University criminologist Mary Finn's research effort in Atlanta was thwarted by uncooperative advocacy groups, incomplete arrest data, and an utter lack of shelter beds for juveniles in crisis.

Details

EDITOR'S NOTE: Village Voice Media, which owns this publication, 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, certain activists and clergy members have 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 activists held symposiums across America—from Seattle to Miami—denouncing Backpage. Indeed, we were never asked for response.

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

Curtis couldn't agree more. "All of the advocates are focused on girls," he fumes. "I'm totally outraged by that — I can't tell you how angry I am about that. The most-victimized kids that I met with were the boys, especially the straight boys. I felt so bad for those who have no chance with the advocates."

More than three years after publishing his study, the researcher still smarts from the cold shoulder that greeted his work.

"[Initially] there were a lot of people enthusiastic in Washington that we found such a large number," he recounts. "Then they look more closely at my findings. And they see, well, it wasn't 300 kids under the yoke of some pimp; in fact, it was half boys, and only 10 percent of all of the kids were being pimped. And [then] it was a very different reception."

Dank, who now researches human trafficking and commercial sex at the nonpartisan Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., is equally baffled at the study's lack of traction outside the halls of the Justice Department.

"We're not denying that [pimped girls] exist," she emphasizes. "But if you were to take all the newspaper, magazine, and journal articles that have been written on this, you'd come away saying, 'Oh, my God! Every child-prostitution incident involves a pimp situation!' It's this huge thing. Where really, at the end of the day, yes, that is an issue, but we're at the point where we need to look beyond this one subgroup of the population and look at commercial sexual exploitation of children as a whole."

About a year after the John Jay study commenced, the Justice Department set its sights on Atlanta, awarding a $452,000 grant to Mary Finn, a professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University. Finn's 2007 study had two goals: first, to calculate the population of the metro area's underage sex workers. And second, to evaluate the work of an assemblage of government agencies and nonprofits that had joined forces to combat child prostitution.

The coalition Finn was to assess had formed several years earlier with $1 million in Justice Department funding. Heading it up: the Juvenile Justice Fund, a child-advocacy agency allied with the Atlanta Women's Foundation and the Harold and Kayrita Anderson Family Foundation. The trio of nonprofits had commissioned a child-prostitution survey whose alarming findings were destined to be regurgitated nationwide by an unquestioning media — and whose methodology, in turn, would be exposed as entirely bogus and discounted by a veritable who's who of child-prostitution researchers.

To kick off the project, Finn arranged a meeting with representatives of the collaborative and invited Curtis along to help break the ice. It seemed like a good idea: Curtis had accrued a wealth of experience thanks to his one-year head start, and the researchers would ultimately share their findings in a final report. But what was intended as an exercise in diplomacy quickly devolved into a debacle.

The get-together began to unravel when Finn explained that the Justice Department's guidelines required her team to gather its data without regard to gender or motive — in other words, they would be calculating the prevalence of commercial sex among both boys and girls, and that both trafficking and so-called survival sex were fair game.

At that point, Finn recounts, a Juvenile Justice Fund board member angrily objected, insisting that no child would engage in prostitution by choice. Throughout the debate that ensued, not a single representative from the Atlanta advocates' contingent uttered a syllable of support for Finn's approach.

Curtis stepped in, noting that Finn's methodology made sense in light of his preliminary findings.

The group wasn't having any of it.

"The members of the collaborative felt the data couldn't be accurate — that maybe that's the case in New York, but it's certainly not how it is here in Atlanta," Finn recalls. "That's when I sensed that they had far more invested — that there was a reason to be so standoffish, to resist so aggressively or assertively, that I wasn't privy to. What was clear to me was the silence of everyone else: There was some issue of control and power."

To this day, Finn says, she's not sure what was behind the hostile reception. But she does provide some compelling historical context.

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19 comments
Swaneagle Harijan
Swaneagle Harijan

This article was published in Seattle Weekly, which is owned by Village Voice News, who funded this piece of CRAP article that is highly inaccurate.

Joeltaylor21
Joeltaylor21

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Joeltaylor21
Joeltaylor21

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Terrence
Terrence

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Terrence

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Mariamante
Mariamante

This article is very interesting. It doesn't deny the fact the children are being pimped, it simply says that children hooking on the streets have a large male population, and are in many cases there on their own. It makes perfect sense, as does the comment that these children are a symptom of a bigger problem of childhood sexual, physical, and mental abuse which are usually a package deal as far as childhood abuse goes.

Jeff Lewis
Jeff Lewis

Where are all the underage children kidnapped and forced against their will by a pimp to have sex with the general public for money?

How come we don’t see any of the forced victims themselves complaining about it? Why don’t the “millions of forced against their will child victims” talk about how they were kidnapped and forced against their will by a evil pimp to have sex for profit? I would like to have a interview with the “millions of forced against their will raped kidnapped child victims” So I could hear their stories.

Where are they? Why do we only hear from the anti-prostitution groups that received money and grants from the government, and not the millions of victims themselves? If there are Millions of them, Shouldn't the police and public know where they are, and shouldn't we hear the millions of victims speak?

Instead, none are found.

Do all men really love raping children who are kicking, crying and screaming, with no one willing to help? like the anti-prostitution groups say?

Here are some good websites about sex trafficking:

http://bebopper76.wordpress.co...

http://sextraffickingtruths.bl...

http://researchonhumantraffick...

http://sextraffickingvictims.b...

http://sextraffickingintheusa....

http://www.villagevoice.com/se...

http://www.melonfarmers.co.uk/...

SMDH
SMDH

I like how the comments disspelling this article were deleted. So much for VVM believing in the 1st Amendment.

SMDH
SMDH

The one study mentioned did not call escort services. they posed as escort services to see how many males sought out children to buy. Plus, if you good child prostitution and especially Backpage.com/Vilage Voice Media, you will see the arrests of pimps who are selling children, and NONE of those are paid....they are caught and sent home. MOST discuss how they were forced to stay and had to run for help.

This article is what's bogus. i've been following this and there are too many cases - proven cases - of children being pimped and on the internet they are being sold in much higher numbers than street walkers could ever get in a night. Its pretty vile.

This is a sad article. Its basically saying that children/teens are wanting to prostitute themselves. Even if that were true - since when did children become the best decision makers?

Marcelhic
Marcelhic

The people who did the research have studied all kinds of other stuff, which is on their website, like meth-heads, pimps, prisoners, HIV, homosexuality.

www.snrg-nyc.org

Ray
Ray

I worked in the field of child abuse and neglect for 23 years. It is amazing what a well trained and skilled interviewer can drawer out from a child. The money pulls them in but your sincerity and caring allow you to get most of the facts. Kids know how to separate the BS from those who are just doing a job from those who really want to help.Much of the time you are able to determine who is trying to con you. Most people don't have the slittiest idea about what drives these kids to the street. Most have been abused or neglected by those they love and trust. The system has and is failing our youth. We wait until they commit a crime and are imprisoned and then spend millions to separate them from society and try to rehabilitate them.Let's open our eyes and ears and listen to the research that says it's not just the pimps that destroy these children but most often their parents. Oops ... let's not blame the parents they may be us.

Eduardo1garcia
Eduardo1garcia

Very interesting article. My only problem with it is that basically they paid for the information. How can we be sure of the accuracy of their testimony? Word got around that some guy was paying $20 dollars for an interview and all you had to do was make up some story and answer questions the best you can. $20 is a lot of money to a teenager. Motive to lie. Just saying.

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

I'm interested in what you're saying. Can you point me in the direction of a scientifically guided study that covers the topic of online child sex trafficking?

elbastardo
elbastardo

Whether it's $20 for head or an interview, the reporter still gets their rocks off.

Norma Jean Almodovar
Norma Jean Almodovar

How do you think the prostitution prohibitionists gather their research? Or any other group who wants to gather information on a particular population? Do you even know how research is conducted?

Every researcher must offer SOMETHING of value to the populations they study. So whether it is the prostitution prohibitionists or those who conduct unbiased studies, if they want people to participate, they either give money or something else the participant can use or wants. If a participant is willing to 'lie' to an unbiased researcher who gets their funding from the government, aren't other participants in other, very biased research just as likely to lie for the money/goods they get? One of the reasons to interview as many individuals as possible within a group is to minimize the number of potentially false statements, and clearly, with the government funding this study, that was done.

 
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