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.

To calculate their population estimate, the John Jay team first culled the interview subjects who didn't fit the study's criteria but had been included for the potential referrals they could generate. The next step was to tally the number of times the remaining 249 subjects had been arrested for prostitution and compare that to the total number of juvenile prostitution arrests in state law-enforcement records. Using a mathematical algorithm often employed in biological and social-science studies, Curtis and his crew were able to estimate that 3,946 youths were hooking in New York.

David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, calls the New York study significant, in that it "makes the big [national] numbers that people put out — like a million kids, or 500,000 kids — unlikely."

Finkelhor's single caveat: While RDS is efficient in circulating through a broad range of social networks, certain scenarios might elude detection — specifically, foreign children who might be held captive and forbidden to socialize.

Brian Stauffer
Researchers Ric Curtis (right) and Meredith Dank induced hundreds of New York's underage sex workers to open up about their "business." The findings upended the conventional wisdom — and galled narrow-minded advocates.
Ashlie Quinones
Researchers Ric Curtis (right) and Meredith Dank induced hundreds of New York's underage sex workers to open up about their "business." The findings upended the conventional wisdom — and galled narrow-minded advocates.

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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.

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Still, says Finkelhor: "I think [the study] highlights important components of the problem that don't get as much attention: that there are males involved and that there are a considerable number of kids who are operating without pimps."

The John Jay study's authors say they were surprised from the start by the number of boys who came forward. In response, Dank pursued new avenues of inquiry — visiting courthouses to interview girls who'd been arrested, and canvassing at night with a group whose specialty was street outreach to pimped girls. She and Curtis also pressed their male subjects for leads.

"It turns out that the boys were the more effective recruiter of pimped girls than anybody else," Curtis says. "It's interesting, because this myth that the pimps have such tight control over the girls, that no one can talk to them, is destroyed by the fact that these boys can talk to them and recruit them and bring them to us. Obviously the pimps couldn't have that much of a stranglehold on them."

The same, of course, might be true of the elusive foreign-born contingent Finkelhor mentions.

Curtis and Dank believe there is indeed a foreign subpopulation RDS could not reach. But with no data to draw on, it's impossible to gauge whether it's statistically significant or another overblown stereotype.

And as the researchers point out, the John Jay study demolished virtually every other stereotype surrounding the underage sex trade.

For the national study, researchers are now hunting for underage hookers in Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and interviews for an Atlantic City survey are complete.

Curtis is reluctant to divulge any findings while so much work remains to be done, but he does say early returns suggest that the scarcity of pimps revealed by the New York study appears not to be an anomaly.

A final report on the current research is scheduled for completion in mid-2012.

"I think that the study has a chance to dispel some of the myths and a lot of the raw emotion that is out there," says Marcus Martin, the PhD who's leading the Dallas research crew. "At the end of the day, I think the study is going to help the kids, as well as tell their story."

At the end of the day, if the work Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank began in New York will indeed help the kids, it will do so because it tells their story. And because it addresses the most difficult — and probably the most important — question of all: What drives young people into the sex trade?

Dallas Police Department Sgt. Byron Fassett, whose police work with underage female prostitutes is hailed by child advocates and government officials including Senator Wyden, believes hooking is "a symptom of another problem that can take many forms. It can be poverty, sexual abuse, mental abuse — there's a whole range of things you can find in there.

"Generally we find physical and sexual abuse or drug abuse when the child was young," Fassett continues. "These children are traumatized. People who are involved in this are trauma-stricken. They've had something happen to them. The slang would be that they were 'broken.'"

Fassett has drawn attention because of his targeted approach to rescuing (rather than arresting) prostitutes and helping them gain access to social services. The sergeant says that because the root causes of youth prostitution can be so daunting to address from a social-policy standpoint, it's easy — and politically expedient — to sweep them under the proverbial rug.

And then there are the John Jay researchers' groundbreaking findings. Though the study could not possibly produce thorough psychological evaluations and case histories, subjects were asked the question: "How did you get into this?" Their candid answers revealed a range of motives and means:

• "I can't get a job that would pay better than this."

• "I like the freedom this lifestyle affords me."

• "My friend was making a lot of money doing it and introduced me to it."

• "I want money to buy a new cell phone."

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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
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?

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?

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.

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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