Curtis stepped in, noting that Finn's methodology made sense in light of his preliminary findings.

The group wasn't having any of it.

"The members of the collaborative felt the data couldn't be accurate — that maybe that's the case in New York, but it's certainly not how it is here in Atlanta," Finn recalls. "That's when I sensed that they had far more invested — that there was a reason to be so standoffish, to resist so aggressively or assertively, that I wasn't privy to. What was clear to me was the silence of everyone else: There was some issue of control and power."

Researchers Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank induced hundreds of New York’s underage sex workers to open up about their “business.” Their findings upended the conventional wisdom — and galled narrow-minded advocates.
Ashlei Quinones
Researchers Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank induced hundreds of New York’s underage sex workers to open up about their “business.” Their findings upended the conventional wisdom — and galled narrow-minded advocates.
“It was almost like nobody wants to document their existence”: Georgia State University criminologist Mary Finn’s research effort in Atlanta was thwarted by uncooperative advocacy groups, incomplete arrest data and an utter lack of shelter beds for juveniles in crisis.
Courtesy of Mary Finn
“It was almost like nobody wants to document their existence”: Georgia State University criminologist Mary Finn’s research effort in Atlanta was thwarted by uncooperative advocacy groups, incomplete arrest data and an utter lack of shelter beds for juveniles in crisis.

To this day, Finn says, she's not sure what was behind the hostile reception. But she does provide some compelling historical context.

Back in the late 1990s, she explains, Atlanta women had galvanized to prevent child prostitution. One juvenile-court judge in particular provided a catalyst when she instituted a screening process in her courtroom that was aimed at identifying kids who were engaging in prostitution.

The only children who were questioned about sex work were girls. Boys were never screened.

"The problem was very narrowly defined from the outset," says Finn.

"I'm a feminist scholar," she goes on. "I understand the importance of these advocates — who are predominantly women, predominantly concerned about the plight of girls — wanting to retain that focus on that issue. But as a researcher, knowing that this is labeled as 'child exploitation,' and knowing that there are numbers in other cities showing boys are being victimized, I had to argue that this was maybe a small but significant population we had to look at."

Finn soon found herself facing a dilemma on the research front as well.

When Curtis and Dank put out the call for underage sex workers in New York, they were confident they'd be able to find space in an emergency shelter if they encountered an interview subject who appeared to be in immediate peril. Atlanta, on the other hand, was equipped with no emergency shelters for homeless youths. In the absence of any such backstop, Finn concluded, it would be unethical to go hunting for kids to interview.

So she went with Plan B: interviewing law-enforcement agents and social workers; examining arrest records; and mining a countywide database of child-sexual-abuse cases.

Despite the less-than-satisfactory secondary-source approach, Finn figured she'd have plenty of data to mine. After all, she'd seen breathless media reports of trafficking in Atlanta. "The overall market for sex with kids is booming in many parts of the U.S. In Atlanta — a thriving hotel and convention center with a sophisticated airport and ground transportation network — pimps and other lowlifes have tapped into that market bigtime," blared a 2006 New York Times op-ed.

"I walked in thinking: This is going to be a huge priority for any agency that is dealing with at-risk youth. I mean, goodness, this must be at the top of their agenda for training, protocol — all of it."

On the contrary, Finn found that most organizations, whether nonprofit or government run, were not systematically documenting cases of child prostitution. Apart from 31 juvenile arrests police had made over a four-year period, there were virtually no numbers for her to compile.

"It was almost like nobody wants to document their existence," Finn says. "Whether it's because they don't want to label the youth, or they don't want other agencies to know they're aware of them because then the call comes — 'Well, what are you doing about it?' — I just don't know. It was very odd. The environment we were seeing in the media just looked so different from the environment we walked into."

In September 2008, just as Finn was preparing a summary of her scant findings, the Juvenile Justice Fund announced an ongoing statewide study based on "scientific probability methods," whose results to date pointed to "a significant number of adolescent girls being commercially sexually exploited in Georgia, likely ranging from 200 to 300 girls, on the streets, over the Internet, through escort services and in major hotels every month from August 2007 to May 2008."

Published in 2010, the final report was nearly as ambiguous, though there were more — and even bigger — numbers. According to the Justice Fund's "scientific research study," underwritten with money from the Anderson Family Foundation, each month in Georgia, 7,200 men pay underage girls for 8,700 sex acts, "with an average of 300 acts a day." The report's authors updated their 2008 stats, increasing their underage-hooker count to 400.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution trumpeted the report's findings under the headline "City's shame remains; despite crackdowns, Atlanta is still a hub in selling children for sex."

The Journal-Constitution did not, however, inform its readers that the "scientific study" was undertaken not by researchers adhering to rigid academic standards, but by the Schapiro Group, an Atlanta public-relations firm hired by the Justice Fund.

Despite the claims to the contrary, there was nothing remotely "scientific" about the research. In order to gauge the number of men who pay for sex with underage girls, the PR firm observed activity at major hotels and on streets thought to be frequented by sex workers. Staffers also called escort services, posing as customers, to inquire into the possibility of hookups with adolescent girls. And they created online ads featuring photos of young-looking females and inviting prospective customers to call a phone number — a line answered by PR firm "operators" posing as pimps and madams. (For more about the Schapiro Group's dubious methods, see "Weird Science," written by Nick Pinto and published in the Mar. 24 issue of Village Voice Media's newsweeklies.)

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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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