Lost Boys

New research demolishes the stereotype of the underage sex worker—and sparks an outbreak of denial among child-sex-trafficking alarmists nationwide

Life is life, and you gotta do what you gotta do. It’s like everybody can’t be a doctor, a teacher, or have rich parents take care of us. And it’s gonna teach us, like—when we get older, we’re gonna be stronger, ’cause we know life experience and stuff like that. And we’re goin’ to know what to do in certain situations because of what we’ve been through when we were younger. You gotta do what you gotta do to survive.

— female, age 16

The first night Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank went looking for child prostitutes in the Bronx back in the summer of 2006, they arrived at Hunts Point with the windows of Curtis’s peeling Oldsmobile, circa 1992, rolled down.

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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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Curtis, who chairs the anthropology department at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, had done research on the neighborhood’s junkies and was well acquainted with its reputation for prostitution (immortalized in several HBO documentaries). If the borough had a centralized stroll for hookers, he figured Hunts Point would be it.

But after spending several hours sweating in the muggy August air, the professor and his PhD student decided to head home. They’d found a grand total of three hookers. Only two were underage, and all three were skittish about climbing into a car with two strangers and a tape recorder.

Dispirited though they might have been, the researchers had no intention of throwing in the towel. They were determined to achieve their goal: to conduct a census of New York City’s child sex workers.

Even before they’d begun gearing up for the project two months prior, Curtis and Dank knew the magnitude of the challenge they had on their hands.

No research team before them had hit on a workable method of quantifying this elusive population. For decades, most law-enforcement officials, social workers, and activist groups had cited a vast range—anywhere from tens of thousands to three million—when crafting a sound bite pegging the population of underage hookers nationwide. But the range had been calculated with little or no direct input from the children themselves.

Over time, the dubious numbers became gospel.

In similar fashion, monetary outlays based on the veracity of those numbers began to multiply.

The $500,000 the federal government had allotted for this joint study by John Jay and New York’s public-private Center for Court Innovation was chump change compared to the bounty amassed by a burgeoning assortment of nonprofit groups jockeying to liberate and rehabilitate the captive legions of exploited and abused children.

Now Ric Curtis intended to go the direct route in determining how many kids were out there hooking: He and Dank were going to locate them, make contact with them, and interview them one-on-one, one kid at a time. If they could round up and debrief 200 youths, the research team would be able to employ a set of statistically solid metrics to accurately extrapolate the total population.

It took two years of sleuthing, surveying, and data-crunching, but in 2008, Curtis and Dank gave the feds their money’s worth—and then some.

The results of the John Jay survey shattered the widely accepted stereotype of a child prostitute: a pre- or barely teenage girl whose every move was dictated by the wiliest of pimps.

After their first attempt flopped, the two researchers switched tacks. They printed a batch of coupons that could be redeemed for cash and which listed a toll-free number that kids could call anonymously to volunteer for the survey. With a local nonprofit agency that specialized in at-risk youth on board to distribute an initial set of the coupons, the researchers forwarded the 1-800 line to Dank’s cell phone and waited.

It took almost a week, but the line finally lit up. Soon afterward, Dank met her first two subjects—one male, the other female—at a café near Union Square. Both were too old to qualify for the study, and the man said he’d never engaged in sex for pay. But Dank decided to stay and interview them.

The woman said she had worked as a prostitute and that she was confident she could send underage kids Dank’s way. The man said he was 23, just out of jail and homeless.

“Out of the two of them, I thought she would have been the catalyst,” Dank says now. “But his was the magic coupon.”

Within a day, her phone was “blowing up” with calls from kids who’d been referred by the homeless man. Almost as quickly, word got around that two professors were holding late-afternoon “office hours” at Stuyvesant Park and would pay half the going rate for oral sex in exchange for a brief interview. Before long, the researchers found themselves working long past dark, until they’d covered everyone in line or the rats got too feisty.

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23 comments
mysterymilfinri
mysterymilfinri

I think the researchers would be happy to  data, that included all US prostitution arrests, by state for the past 30 years and it shows that out of all the arrests that less than 2% were minors.  The data is taken right of the FBI and Justice dept websites but its a much different story than what they report to the media. http://www.policeprostitutionandpolitics.com/




Its time to change the social perception that she wasn't a person, she was a "prostitute". No one wants to feel a sense of community or sameness with her. She was something other than us and therefore we don’t need to feel fear or grief at the fact or the manner of her death."



Criminalization does nothing to sop people from buying or selling sex, but it does create the perfect playground for bad cops and predators to continue robbing, raping, threatening, exploiting and murdering sex workers.  Criminalization is a FAILED policy and they can't even police 1% of the sex industry.
US sex workers, demand that consensual adult sex work be decriminalized, and we demand our right to agency and our labor rights.  We also want to see discrimination and hate crime legislation.

Crudhouse
Crudhouse

More than the women it's the men with vaginas that are creating havoc. Grow up...you don't need to suck up to some ideology to feel like a man. It's disgusting how mass mentality that should be guided by philosophy (male dominated) is being shaped by less long-ranged thinking. Eventually the women suffer as much as the men.

Mos Stef
Mos Stef

Rape apologist bullshit. Sure, you did a study. Cute. Now start actually giving a shit about the kids beyond trying to cover your asses for the Backpage scandal.

eehd
eehd

I had a class with Ric at John Jay. I think it was Psych 110...drug and alcohol addiction (cross-listed with Sociology 110 and Anthropology 110). He was one of my favorite professors and if there's one thing I learned about him is that he has balls. He's a short guy like me, maybe 5'7" or so and white, but he will go to the ghetto and do his research. I'd recommend his classes to anyone. You'll learn a lot from him.

Mel
Mel

on Nov 30th ECPAT USA (End Child Prostitution & Trafficking) will host its 20th Anniversary Fundraiser. I will love to extend an invitation and have someone or Kristen Hinman cover the event.

Joana
Joana

Curtis was my professor in college and he is a very brave man. He is willing to explore areas of the city and expose what really happens on our streets in NYC.

Jeff Lewis
Jeff Lewis

Sex Trafficking/Slavery is used by many groups as a attempt to outlaw all prostitution around the world by saying that all women are victims even if they do it willing. This hurts any real victims because it labels all sex workers as victims.

This is done by the media, aid groups, NGO’s, feminists, politicians, and religious organizations that receive funds from the government. There are very strong groups who promote that all adult women who have sex are victims even if they are willing, enjoy it and go out of there way to get it. These groups try to get the public to believe that no adult women in their right mind would ever go into the sex business unless she was forced to do so, weather she knew it or not. They say that 100% of all sex workers are trafficking victims.

They do this in order to label all men as sex offenders and wipe out all consensual prostitution. Which is what their real goal is. There is almost no one who challenges or questions them about their false beliefs. Therefore, the only voices you hear are of these extreme groups. These groups want to label all men as terrible sex offenders for seeing a willing adult woman. No one stands up to say this is foolish, the passive public says nothing.

These groups even say that all men who marry foreign women are terrible sex predators who take advantage of these "helpless foreign women wives".

These groups believe that two adults having consensual sex in private should be outlawed. Since they believe that it is impossible for a man to have sex with a woman without abusing the woman in the process.

Here are some good websites about sex trafficking:

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

http://sextraffickingtruths.bl...

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

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

Meg
Meg

For any one in the sex industry or who has researched it, the difference between someone lying about their involvement and someone actually involved is obvious.

As someone with experience, who knows many individuals who entered as teens, the study reflects the experiences of people I know.

For more information about the experiences and agency of young women of color in the sex industry, please refer to the following website:

http://ywepchicago.wordpress.c...

Rjwilliams45
Rjwilliams45

This study is awful. Teens who are pimped out are TRAINED by the pimp to never ever give up the pimp - not even when they are arrested. They will lie through their teeth to protect their pimps. And how do we know that these children are telling the truth? Many kids lie to get money, especially if they have no support. There was a huge incentive for these kids to refer other prostituted children. How can the researchers prove that that the kids were prostituted? This study is highly flawed!! What a waste of funding!

Koster
Koster

In response to Cathy's comment:

In addition to family members, it was widely expected that pimps and so-called“boyfriends” would be a primary route into CSEC markets for youth, especially girls (see section below on “market facilitators”). Pimps were clearly a route into the market for some girls (n=19, 16%), but only one boy and no transgender youth reported being recruited into the market by pimps. As reported in the methods section above, the project made extra efforts to recruit pimped girls, and while it seems likely that they were more difficult to recruit than youth that did not have pimps, there is little reason to believe that the proportion of pimped girls in the CSEC population was much higher than what is reported here. Indeed, when asked how many pimps they “know,” out of 93 youth that responded, 44 reported “none”, and others offered relatively low numbers.

Among the girls that blamed pimps for their entry into the CSEC market, some of themsaid that they were not at all surprised or alarmed when they were approached by pimps whotried to recruit them. Initially, the pimps seemed to offer options that appeared somewhatattractive to the girls, and certainly better than what group homes or the shelter system seemed to offer them. For example, one 17-year old female from the Bronx described meeting a pimp at a homeless shelter where she had multiple problems:

He found me at Franklin Shelter in the Bronx. We was outside. It’s a lotta pimps outthere. I know a whole lot of ‘em. So one day, I was in a bad situation because I wasgettin’ kicked out because I got into a fight, so he offered to let me stay in a hotel withhim. So, I packed my stuff and I left wit’ him. (1035)

Cathy
Cathy

Unfortunately the study may be fundamentally flawed by it's use of social networking with coupons to select subjects. Anyone controlled by a pimp could be severely restricted in their social contacts, and less likely to be allowed to take part in an interview. So the methodology of the study may select for sex workers without pimps.

Crazyyy_Girls_90
Crazyyy_Girls_90

@happy..........This is crаzy...Sistеr's girlfriеnd mаkes 73 hоurly оn the PC. Shе hаs bееn firеd frоm wоrk fоr 11 mоnths but lаst mоnth her pаychеck wаs 7756 USD just wоrking on thе PC for a fеw hоurs. Rеаd аbоut it on this wеb sitе......http://alturl.com/gk7gs

Anthony
Anthony

The folks who did the research have their report on their website along with research on methheads, prisoners, HIV, pimps, and indigenous arctic alcoholics

www.snrg-nyc.org

Bobby
Bobby

the researchers have a website with all kinds of strange research -- methheads, arctic alcoholics, HIV, prisoners, and pimps --etc.

www.snrg-nyc.org

Norma Jean Almodovar
Norma Jean Almodovar

Interesting about Atlanta. When the cops and the feds - and for that matter, government agents anywhere in the world- conduct a ‘rescue’ raid, generally speaking all persons of any age who are suspected of being prostitutes or of being ‘victims of sex trafficking’ are rounded up and herded into custody. Handcuffed. Chained to each other. Put into jail cells. Strip- searched. Treated like vicious criminals. And that is as it should be, according to some wonderful Christian ladies of the Georgia Eagle Forum. Women like Sue Ella Deadwyler, publisher of Georgia Insight, who stated- in opposition to the brave Republican Georgia state senator Renee Unterman who introduced a bill that would steer girls under the age of 16 into diversionary programs instead of arresting them as prostitutes- “Arrest is a valuable life-saving tool that must be used. We need to hire more cops to arrest the prostitutes.” She said that she believes that arrest is a better deterrent than a proposal for rehabilitation — no matter the age. “Sure there are those who are forced into prostitution, but I think most of them volunteer,” Deadwyler said of under 16-year-old prostitutes. “Many, many children have been scared straight because of arrest.” Of course.

One of her colleagues argues, “We cannot repeal the prostitution law for children, because that law acts as a very real barrier that protects children from sexual predators that would, otherwise, feel free to lure them into prostitution....Have we forgotten that correction oftentimes turns a life around?”

Unfortunately for those who are arrested, going to jail is not a safe place for those victimized youth either, as the May 5, 2011 Economist notes, "Sexual abuse in prison is distressingly common: the Justice Department estimated that more than 217,000 prisoners, including at least 17,000 juveniles, were raped or sexually abused in America in 2008." Clearly we ought not to be taking children off the street who sell sex, arrest them because they are being "sexually exploited" and then expose those 'victims' to rape at the hands of their keepers or other inmates, ought we? At $400,000 per rescue, surely we can use some of that money to give them a good home where they will not be sexually exploited by anyone, can't we?

Peter Houlihan
Peter Houlihan

What on earth...?

The whole article was about giving a shit about them. How do you think they can be helped without studying them? And how does any of the above have anything to do with excusing rape?

Gordon
Gordon

You didn't bother to read the article, did you? Your response is typical of a feminist ideologue, who has had their precious world view trashed.

domina_elle
domina_elle

@Rjwilliams45  it's time to get REAL. The very sad REALITY is that kids are CHOOSING sex work more than ever before in our history. I know you don't want to face this. I wish it wasn't true. But it is. In fact- more people are choosing sex work because of the lack of a living wage! So what you might want to do is to spend your time better by demanding a higher wage, and by seeking to ABOLISH POVERTY. What are you doing about THAT? OH, and it's a much better study than say Melissa Farley research which is JUNK JUNK JUNK! People hate facts. They hate the truth, especially when it does not support their personal opinions. If you care about these kids then you would want to be dealing with facts not BS. Stop drinking the koolaid!

Norma Jean Almodovar
Norma Jean Almodovar

And yet the research conducted by virulently anti- prostitution folks like Farley and Hughes which starts out with the premise that ALL prostitution exploits ALL women is not fundamentally flawed? The so called "facts" on prostitution are constantly repeated by every one of those prohibitionists, without so much as a citation to the alleged study to which it refers so that no one can do their own investigation to find out how the study was conducted, whether or not there was a control group, how the participants were selected etc. Do you know how these so called (prohibitionist) researchers select their participants? Do you know that if interviewing a segment of the prostitution community will not give them the results they seek, they leave us out entirely? But no one questions the validity of these 'studies'... because you all want to believe the bovine excrement that is pedaled by the religious right and the radical feminists who believe that ALL sex work exploits ALL women...

coccyx
coccyx

Your sister's girlfriend is an underage prostitute?

geemp
geemp

Instead of talking money and what age qualifies for what, get your assess out there n rescue these kids. The more you talk the greater the risk to these kids lives. This government of the USA is a disgrace. Go get those kids and stop talking!!!!

 
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