Real Men Get Their Facts Straight

Ashton and Demi and Sex Trafficking

It is true that police departments do not arrest every juvenile engaged in sex work. But, surely, they don't ignore the problem.

So, if there are slightly more than 800 underage arrests a year, where did an estimate as horrible as several hundred thousand come from?

There are, quite simply, no precise numbers on child prostitution.

Ivan Nikolov/


Editor’s note:
Congress hauled in Craigslist on September 15, 2010. There, feminists, religious zealots, the well-intentioned, law enforcement, and social-service bureaucrats pilloried the online classified business for peddling “100,000 to 300,000” underage prostitutes annually.

Those same numbers had already inspired terrified politicians, who let loose hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession.

The Craigslist beat-down was absurdist theater.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking” culminated with the humbled attorneys from Craigslist announcing that they would close down their adult classified business.

The First Amendment was shouted down in the name of children.

Village Voice Media watched with more than passing interest.

From its earliest days, the Village Voice has run adult classifieds. Today, those classifieds are hosted online at

Having run off Craigslist, reformers, the devout, and the government-funded have turned their guns upon Village Voice Media.

Solicited by advocates, such websites as Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and others in the mainstream media raised the alarm that America’s children have been enslaved in prostitution, thanks to the Internet.

It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion.

But the facts speak for themselves.

SPECIAL REPORTS: The Truth Behind Sex Trafficking Archive

For an interactive map with all 37 cities' info, go to

The "100,000 to 300,000" figure that people like Kutcher and Moore trumpet—the same number that's found its way into dozens of reputable newspapers—came from two University of Pennsylvania professors, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner.

But what no newspaper has bothered to explain—and what Moore and Kutcher certainly don't mention—is that the figure actually represents the number of children Estes and Weiner considered "at risk" for sexual exploitation, not the number of children actually involved.

Furthermore, the authors of The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, released in 2001, admitted that their statistics are not authoritative.

"The numbers presented in these exhibits do not, therefore, reflect the actual number of cases in the United States but, rather, what we estimate to be the number of children 'at risk' of commercial sexual exploitation," they wrote, underlining their words for emphasis.

Who, then, is at risk?

Not surprisingly, the professors find that any "outsider" is at risk.

All runaways are listed as being at risk.

Yet the federal government's own research acknowledges that "most runaway/thrown-away youth were gone less than one week (77 percent)"—hardly enough time to take up prostitution—"and only 7 percent were away more than one month," according to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children 2002, commissioned by the Department of Justice.

According to Estes and Weiner, transgender kids and female gang members are also at risk.

So are kids who live near the Mexican or Canadian borders and have their own transportation. In the eyes of the professors, border residents are part of those 100,000 to 300,000 children at risk of becoming whores.

Interviewed for this story, Estes offers an explanation about the risk of living on the border that hardly wins points.

"All you have to do is go to San Diego and look at who fills the San Diego trolley going to Tijuana on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and it's very, very obvious that the kids are on the way to Tijuana to make money, and they come back Sunday totally stocked," he says. "They go there for cheap drugs, cheap money, cheap sex—[Tijuana's] full of everything. And that's using public transit, right to the border station."

Rather than taking a trolley to engage in prostitution in a third-world city like Tijuana, isn't it possible that kids from San Diego might simply want a cold Corona south of the border?

Such broad brushstrokes by professors have not endeared the study to such serious social scientists as David Finkelhor, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire and director of Crimes Against Children Research Center. Finkelhor's work is cited in the University of Pennsylvania study, and he helped review the report—not that he could've changed the direction of it.

"As far as I'm concerned, [the University of Pennsylvania study] has no scientific credibility to it," he says. "That figure was in a report that was never really subjected to any kind of peer review. It wasn't published in any scientific journal."

Rigorous peer review, as is required for most scientific publishing, could have really helped the study, he says.

"Initially, [Estes and Weiner] claimed that [100,000 to 300,000] was the number of children [engaged in prostitution]. It took quite a bit of pressure to get them to add the qualifier [at risk]," he says.

Professor Steve Doig, Knight Chair of Journalism at Arizona State University, said the "study cannot be relied upon as authoritative."

As for the supposed number of children being exploited as prostitutes, Doig says, "I do not see the evidence necessary to confirm that there are hundreds of thousands of them."

Doig, who specializes in the analysis of quantitative methodology, was contracted by Village Voice Media to examine the science behind the Estes and Weiner study.

"Many of the numbers and assumptions in these charts are based on earlier, smaller-scale studies done by other researchers, studies which have their own methodological limitations. I won't call it 'garbage in, garbage out.' But combining various approximations and guesstimates done under a variety of conditions doesn't magically produce a solid number. The resulting number is no better than the fuzziest part of the equation."

When asked directly, Estes gives an estimate that is much less dramatic.

How many kids are involved in sex slavery—forcibly taken into the trade and abused?

"That number would be small," Estes acknowledges. "Kids who are kidnapped and sold into slavery—that number would be very small."

When we talk about very small, what sort of number are we talking about?

"We're talking about a few hundred people."

Finkelhor says there's no way to know for sure how many child prostitutes there are in America.

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Having worked for the better part of a decade at a sexual assault and abuse crisis and support center, I can tell you that it is the vast majority of sexual assault and abuse cases that do not get reported. It's generally not more than 20% at best in any given location. The city I live in is not large. Our center had 3000-5000 client contacts per year. That's separate contacts with people, not individual survivors, and could be anything from a call for support lasting 15 minutes to a trip to the hospital lasting several hours. Many people do not call right away, especially children, who usually wait until decades later when their traumatic symptoms become overwhelming as adults with children the age they were at the time of abuse, for example. Many, many children who are abused, filmed and otherwise prostituted by the people who are supposed to be protecting them never tell anyone for a very long time. This is intensely painful and puts people at risk for drug abuse, suicide, adverse economic, emotional, intellectual and interpersonal conditions of all kinds. It's too bad that people feel they have a right or reason to minimize it in any way. 


Village Voice Media has had people attacking them left and right lately because they profit greatly from all the ads that people have put for prostitution on their site. One of those type organizations has been blasting them, so now it appears they're trying to save face by denying this issue really exists.

In the Bay Area, in Oakland, California, there are THREE officers--not three platoons of officers, not three SWAT teams of officers, but three *officers*--who work on this issue. This is in one of the bigger cities in an area with a population of over 7 million. How many arrests do you think three officers could make in a year, in a city of 400,000, and in a large metropolitan area? Many other cities around here have no one even working on this issue at all.

So, yes, it's rather difficult to get data from police officers who do not exist.

Also, many argue (correctly) that these children are victims, not criminals, and thus should not be arrested. As this article did point out, there's nowhere to put them once they're arrested--so I would imagine that many of them go free due to that fact alone--not allowing them to be added to the "numbers arrested."

In the article, it's repeated many times that there are no accurate facts...and then the sidebar states that "the facts speak for themselves." This is nothing but VVM trying to save their own butts by mudslinging. Can we stick with facts--that there aren't really any?

And how about irrelevant sidetracking: What's the reason they start talking about Canada? Are child prostitutes legal there? Of course not.

I find this a disgusting article by VVM that uses propaganda to distract our attention from themselves, and to undermine what is really going on: There is an undetermined number of children being sold into sexual slavery, and these are people who happen to be famous who are trying to stop it. The "issue" is CHILDREN.

Even one is too many.

I agree with Maggie Neilson: "And I don't frankly care if the number is 200,000, 500,000, or a million, or 100,000—it needs to be addressed. While I absolutely agree there's a need for better data, the people who want to spend all day bitching about the methodologies used I'm not very interested in."


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