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, 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."

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.

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 sub-population 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.

Curtis is reluctant to divulge any findings while so much work remains to be done, but he does say early returns suggest that the scarcity of pimps revealed by the New York study appears not to be an anomaly.

A final report on the current research is scheduled for completion in mid-2012.

"I think that the study has a chance to dispel some of the myths and a lot of the raw emotion that is out there," says Marcus Martin, the Ph.D. who's leading the Dallas research crew. "At the end of the day, I think the study is going to help the kids, as well as tell their story."


At the end of the day, if the work Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank began in New York is indeed going to help the kids, it will do so because it tells their story. And because it addresses the most difficult — and probably the most important — question of all: What drives young kids into the sex trade?

Dallas Police Department Sgt. Byron Fassett, whose police work with underage female prostitutes is hailed by child advocates and government officials including Senator Wyden, believes hooking is "a symptom of another problem that can take many forms. It can be poverty, sexual abuse, mental abuse — there's a whole range of things you can find in there.

"Generally we find physical and sexual abuse or drug abuse when the child was young," Fassett continues. "These children are traumatized. People who are involved in this are trauma-stricken. They've had something happen to them. The slang would be that they were 'broken.'"

Fassett has drawn attention because of his targeted approach to rescuing (rather than arresting) prostitutes and helping them gain access to social services. The sergeant says that because the root causes of youth prostitution can be so daunting to address from a social-policy standpoint, it's easy — and politically expedient — to sweep them under the proverbial rug.

And then there are the John Jay researchers' groundbreaking findings. Though the study could not possibly produce thorough psychological evaluations and case histories, subjects were asked the question: "How did you get into this?" Their candid answers revealed a range of motives and means:

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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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