Lost Boys

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

Although many kids said they developed buddy-system strategies to stay safe and fed on the street, nearly all wanted a way out:

“I really wanna stop now, but I can’t ’cause I have no source of income since I’m too young,” said a girl who’d begun hooking at age 12. “So it’s like that I have to do it; it’s not like I wanna do it. As I say, I’m only 17, I got a two-year-old daughter, so that means I got pregnant real young. Didn’t have no type of Medicaid. . . . Can’t get a job, have no legal guardian, I don’t have nobody to help me but [friends], so you know, we all in this together.”

In late 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice called on the Center for Court Innovation and John Jay professor Ric Curtis to expand their research to other cities nationwide, backing the project with a $1.275 million federal grant. Now Curtis and Jennifer Bryan, the center’s principal research associate, direct six research teams across the U.S., employing the same in-the-trenches approach that worked in New York City: respondent-driven sampling, or RDS.

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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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The method was developed in the 1990s by sociologist Doug Heckathorn, now on the faculty at Cornell University, who was seeking a way to count hidden populations. It has since been used in 15 countries to put a number on a variety of subcultures, from drug addicts to jazz musicians. Curtis and his research assistant, Meredith Dank, were the first to use RDS to count child prostitutes.

For the John Jay study, Curtis and Dank screened kids for two criteria: age (18 and under) and involvement in prostitution. All subjects who completed the study’s full, confidential interview were paid $20. They were also given a stack of coded coupons to distribute to other potential subjects, and for each successful referral, they were paid $10. And so on.

RDS relies on a snowball effect that ultimately extends through numerous social networks, broadening the reach of the study. “The benefit of this is that you’re getting the hidden population: kids who don’t necessarily show up for [social] services and who may or may not get arrested,” says Bryan. “It’s based on the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory.”

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, Ric 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.

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 at 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 yet 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 Las Vegas, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and interviews for an Atlantic City survey are complete.

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21 comments
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.

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.

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.

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...

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

coccyx
coccyx

Your sister's girlfriend is an underage prostitute?

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?

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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