Mary Finn is troubled by the murky provenance of the statistics, but more so by the time and effort wasted on sensationalizing a problem instead of addressing it.

"This shouldn't be a race to the top," she contends. "We should be mobilized for a single victimization. Why do we need 300, or 500, or 1,000 to mobilize as a community?

"I guess that's what is most disheartening about the [dubious] numerical information that's coming out: We may not be putting resources where we need to put them, because we don't have a clear grasp of what the underlying problem is."


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.

Anyone curious about the underlying problem in New York City can find numerous clues within the 122-page report documenting the several hundred in-person interviews at the core of the John Jay College study.

There are, for instance, the state-run group homes for orphans and kids whose families have kicked them out:

"...[H]e was like, you know, the little leeches that linger around," said a girl who told of being picked up by a pimp outside the group home where she resided at age 15. "And I was sittin' on my steps and I was cryin' because they're givin' you allowance — 20-sumpin' dollars a week — and then you're not allowed to do certain types a jobs because you have a curfew. And if you miss curfew, they shippin' you somewhere else. So it was like, I was just at my rope's end. And the things that he was sayin' to me, it sounded good."

And the potential pitfalls of the foster-care system:

"My mother died and I was placed in foster homes," said a girl who started hooking at age 15. "My foster father would touch me, and I ran away. I ended up coming to New York, and I was on the streets; nobody wanted to help me. And I ran into this girl, and she was like 38 when she passed away last year, but she taught me everything I know. She taught me how to do what I have to do — but not be stupid about it — to play it right, and be smart."

Not to mention youth homeless shelters:

"I've been raped at Covenant House, three times," one young man stated. "It was by guys in the men's ward." (The three other youths interviewed for the study who spoke specifically about the New York-based nonprofit, whose mission is to care for kids in crisis, made no mention of sexual assault; they described the shelter as a place where kids shared knowledge about how to sell sex and/or a popular place for pimps looking to recruit.)

One recurring theme is economic desperation:

"The fact that people think that I'm doing it because I want to — I mean, I get replies all the time on e-mail, and they tell me, 'You know, why don't you just get a job?'" reported a boy with three years' experience selling sex. "Well no shit, Sherlock! Honestly! I don't know, I would like someone to be able to offer me something."

Law-enforcement personnel, the kids say, are not always helpful:

"One cop said, 'You're lucky I'm off duty, but you're gonna suck my dick or I'ma take you in,'" a transgender youth stated. "This has happened to me about eight times."

"Police raped me a couple a times in Queens," said a female who had worked as a prostitute for four years. "The last time that happened was a coupla months ago. But you don't tell anybody; you just deal wit' it."

Though 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.

The method was developed in the 1990s by sociologist Doug Heckathorn, now part of 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.

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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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