"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.

Nine months later Dank and Curtis had far surpassed their goal, completing interviews with 249 underage prostitutes. From that data, they were able to put a number on the total population of New York's teen sex workers: 3,946.

Jennifer Bryan of the Center for Court Innovation is helping to expand the John Jay College study nationwide using the same methodology, which has generated reliable census data on a vast range of subcultures, from drug addicts to jazz musicians.
Caleb Ferguson
Jennifer Bryan of the Center for Court Innovation is helping to expand the John Jay College study nationwide using the same methodology, which has generated reliable census data on a vast range of subcultures, from drug addicts to jazz musicians.

Most astonishing to the researchers was the demographic profile teased out by the study. Published by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2008, Curtis and Dank's findings thoroughly obliterated the long-held core assumptions about underage prostitution:

• Nearly half of the kids — about 45 percent— were boys.

• Only 10 percent were involved with a "market facilitator" (e.g., a pimp).

• About 45 percent got into the "business" through friends.

• More than 90 percent were U.S.-born (56 percent were New York City natives).

• On average, they started hooking at age 15.

• Most serviced men — preferably white and wealthy.

• Most deals were struck on the street.

• Almost 70 percent of the kids said they'd sought assistance at a youth-service agency at least once.

• Nearly all of the youths — 95 percent — said they exchanged sex for money because it was the surest way to support themselves.

In other words, the typical kid who is commercially exploited for sex in New York City is not a tween girl, has not been sold into sexual slavery and is not held captive by a pimp.

Nearly all the boys and girls involved in the city's sex trade are going it alone.

Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank were amazed by what their research had revealed. But they were completely unprepared for the way law-enforcement officials and child-advocacy groups reacted to John Jay's groundbreaking study.

"I remember going to a meeting in Manhattan where they had a lot of prosecutors there whose job was to prosecute pimps," Curtis recalls. "They were sort of complaining about the fact that their offices were very well staffed but their workload was — not very daunting, let's say. They had a couple cases, and at every meeting you go to they'd pull out the cherry-picked case of this pimp they had busted, and they'd tell the same story at every meeting. They too were bothered by the fact that they couldn't find any pimps, any girls.

"So I come along and say, 'I found 300 kids' — they're all perky — but then I say, 'I'm sorry, but only 10 percent had pimps.'

"It was like a fart in church. Because basically I was saying their office was a waste of time and money."


Jay Albanese, a criminologist at Virginia Commonwealth University who headed up the Justice Department's research arm for four years, says the findings of the John Jay study are among the most interesting he has seen.

"Whether you are a kid or an adult, the issue becomes: To what extent is this voluntary?" Albanese says. "Because you make more money in this than being a secretary? Or because you really have no choices — like, you're running from abuse or caught up in drugs? The question becomes: If Curtis is correct, what do we do with that 90 percent? Do we ignore it? How hard do we look at how they got into that circumstance? You could make the case that for the 90 percent for whom they couldn't find any pimping going on — well, how does it happen?"It's a very valid question," Albanese continues. "A policy question: To what extent should the public and the public's money be devoted to these issues, whether it's child prostitution or child pimping?"

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the only agency that keeps track of how many children the legal system rescues from pimps nationwide. The count, which began in June 2003, now exceeds 1,600 as of April of this year, according to the FBI's Innocence Lost website — an average of about 200 each year.

Through interviews and analysis of public records, Village Voice Media has found that the federal government spends about $20 million a year on public awareness, victims' services and police work related to domestic human trafficking, with a considerable focus on combating the pimping of children. An additional $50 million-plus is spent annually on youth homeless shelters, and since 1996 taxpayers have contributed a total of $186 million to fund a separate program that provides street outreach to kids who may be at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.

That's at least $80 million doled out annually for law enforcement and social services that combine to rescue approximately 200 child prostitutes every year.

These agencies might improve upon their $400,000-per-rescued-child average if they joined in the effort to develop a clearer picture of the population they aim to aid. But there's no incentive for them to do so when they stand to rake in even more public money simply by staying the course.

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14 comments
Nate Davis
Nate Davis

Overall, I thought it was a pretty fair article--more so than the title implied. As someone who just spent a year in Manila volunteering with two anti-trafficking organizations, I appreciate any coverage of the issues of trafficking and prostitution, in the hopes that such stories will prompt more people to not only grasp the grim realities, but more importantly, take action.

The phrase "outbreak of denial among child-sex-trafficking-alarmists" in the subtitle, however, I thought was a really cheap, sensationalist ploy for attention, and I thought deeply discouraging, because it implies that underage trafficking and prostitution aren't that big of a deal. As Kathryn previously noted, the sampling methods used in the study should have glaringly obvious caveats; I've read multiple accounts of and met personally a number of victims imprisoned or threatened with violence, for whom walking down the the park to take a survey would've been a laughable impossibility. In addition, while shame plays a much greater role in Asian cultures, I still find it implausible to think that would not be victims who would be too embarrassed to walk up to a couple strange adults and announce "Yes, I'm a prostitute."

However, even if we grant that there are "only" several thousand minors involved in NYC, when you extrapolate that nationwide, that's what, "only" 100,000? 200,000? Which of course raises the question, "What does the number have to be for us to decide it matters?" That we want to do something about it? That helping this invisible 1% is more important than protesting the Wall Street 1%

Red_Eye_Girl_4434
Red_Eye_Girl_4434

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The Myth of Sex Trafficking
The Myth of Sex Trafficking

Where are all the underage children kidnapped and forced against their will by a pimp to have sex with the genreal 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/...

Frank
Frank

Frankly, the only items that surprised me was the low percentage using (or being used by) a pimp and the high percentage who had tried to avail themselves of youth services (which apparently failed them). It can hardly be a surprise that most the customers are men, or that nearly half of the prostitutes are boys (I thought it would be more, actually). The sex trade has always been driven by male desire, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

Kathryn
Kathryn

@Liliwanders, I was actually criticizing the reporter rather than the researchers themselves. Respondent driven sampling is a well-respected data collection and sampling method used in numerous similar studies to read\ch "hidden populations". However, the article stresses that because the research found a different population than expected, that people working in anti-trafficking are wrong, when, in fact, it is much more likely that they were unable to reach portions of the community. For instance, if a child (foreign or American) were trafficked or under strict control of a pimp, what is the likelihood that he/she could present for an interview? Slim to none. So no wonder they didn't interview many kids with pimps or who were trafficked, their sampling method targeted kids with freedom of movement, but didn't account for those whose movement is restricted.

Motmaitre
Motmaitre

Again, do you have better data? A basis for a different conclusion? or do you just believe what it is in your interest to believe?

Kathryn
Kathryn

I do not have better data, but that is because better data does not yet exist! There are populations of people that for various reasons cannot or do not want to be found for this type of population based research. Children being held against their will are part of this population. I don't propose to know how many of those children there are, but assuming that because none of them were interviewed, they do not exist just doesn't make sense given the stories from children who have escaped from exactly those situations. We know that trafficking exists, although we do not yet know to what extent. Drawing the conclusion from this research that it does not exist, rather than that the children who are not physically forced to engage in transactional sex were the ones reached makes more sense. The limitations of the study should influence the interpretation of the data, which wasn't the case in this article.

maxinedoogan
maxinedoogan

oh now this publication is being held to a higher standard than other media outlets?

Kathryn
Kathryn

My apologies, you're right that this article was published by news outlets all over the country. My reaction should have been directed at the author, but the news sources that chose to publish it should also bear some responsibility.

RicardoMay
RicardoMay

mу bеst friеnd's brother is making $ 83 per hоur working from home. hе was оut оf his jоb fоr eight mоnths but this october his salary wаs $ 8100 only by wоrking оn thе cоmputer fоr а fеw hоurs a day. for more info go to С А S H S H А R Р . С О М

Kathryn
Kathryn

It is a shame that well-respected news outlets across the country are running this story. As someone who works in Child Protection and has used Respondent Driven Sampling to measure the presence of underaged children being exploited for sex, the interpretation of the data presented is irresponsible and may have major, unjustified, repercussions.

Motmaitre
Motmaitre

So what are the real numbers? If you can;t cite anything, then we must conclude that you;re part of the coterie profiting from general misinformation. Why are you afraid of the truth? Afraid your budget will be cut? Afraid your department headcount will be reduced? Afraid of loss of power, relevance and control?

It's not about you. Remember that.

Kathryn
Kathryn

I'm not afraid of the truth, this report simply fails to mention some of the pitfalls of this kind of data collection, and this method in particular. I've used this method and while it does a very good job of identifying children who have relative freedom of movement and association, it is only as good as the networks between children. If there are children who are not allowed to move around and are not friends with other children in the same situation, they will never be referred and are therefore excluded from the sample population. So consider this a sample of all the children engaged in sex for money who can move around freely, but those tightly controlled by pimps and those who were trafficked and held against their will obviously can't stroll down to Union Square for an interview.

 
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