I cross-posted this article (a shorter version of my July 1st column) on Bound, Not Gagged because I think the Village Voice article is very important and I wish to call as much attention to it as possible. Please spread the word!
Late Tuesday evening ( June 28th) a story entitled “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight” by Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin and Kristen Hinman, appeared on the Village Voice media website; it uses the widely and justly ridiculed Ashton Kutcher/Demi Moore anti-prostitution ad campaign as a springboard for examining the fantastically exaggerated claims of “child sex trafficking” fetishists.
First, the story compares the widely-touted “100,000-300,000 trafficked children” myth I debunked back in January with the police arrest records of the 37 largest American cities and found that in the past decade there were only 8263 juveniles arrested for prostitution among them, an average of 827 per year (roughly 22 per city per year). Even if one assumes that these cities together have only half of the underage prostitutes in the U.S., that still gives us fewer than 1700 per year. Ask yourself: Even considering the incompetence of police departments, which is more believable: that police catch roughly 5% of underage prostitutes per year (by my estimate), or that they catch only 0.27% per year?
The article then moves on to the 2001 Estes & Weiner study, the original source of the fabulous number; as I reported in my column of April 2nd, the study “guesstimated (by questionable methodology) that ‘as many as 100,000-300,000 children and youth [of both sexes] are at risk for sexual exploitation’ of one kind or another…this guess is for BOTH sexes, for ‘children and youth’ (not just children), and most importantly represents those at risk of some form of ‘exploitation’, not currently involved in one specific form (sex trafficking).” That “questionable methodology” (such as including all runaways, female gang members, transgender youth and those living within a short drive of the Mexican or Canadian borders as automatically “at risk”) was criticized in the Village Voice article by the University of New Hampshire’s Dr. David Finkelhor, who said “As far as I’m concerned, [the University of Pennsylvania study] has no scientific credibility to it…That figure was in a report that was never really subjected to any kind of peer review. It wasn’t published in any scientific journal…Initially, [Estes and Weiner] claimed that [100,000 to 300,000] was the number of children [engaged in prostitution]. It took quite a bit of pressure to get them to add the qualifier [at risk].” Professor Steve Doig of Arizona State said the “study cannot be relied upon as authoritative…I do not see the evidence necessary to confirm that there are hundreds of thousands of [child prostitutes].” He also said, “Many of the numbers and assumptions in these charts are based on earlier, smaller-scale studies done by other researchers, studies which have their own methodological limitations. I won’t call it ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ But combining various approximations and guesstimates done under a variety of conditions doesn’t magically produce a solid number. The resulting number is no better than the fuzziest part of the equation.” And when pressed by the reporters, Estes himself admitted, “Kids who are kidnapped and sold into slavery—that number would be very small…We’re talking about a few hundred people.”
Not that any of this bothers Maggie Neilson, Ashton & Demi’s “celebrity charity consultant”; she told the reporter “I don’t frankly care if the number is 200,000, 500,000, or a million, or 100,000—it needs to be addressed. While I absolutely agree there’s a need for better data, the people who want to spend all day bitching about the methodologies used I’m not very interested in.” Presumably it would still “need to be addressed” if the number were 827, so why not just say 827? Because, of course, that wouldn’t justify pouring millions down police department and NGO toilets instead of spending it on programs to help actual underage prostitutes (as opposed to phantom multitudes of “trafficked children”): as the article explains, “…though Congress has spent hundreds of millions in tax-generated money to fight human trafficking, it has yet to spend a penny to shelter and counsel those boys and girls in America who are, in fact, underage prostitutes. In March of this year…[two senators] introduced legislation to fund six shelters with $15 million in grants. The shelters would provide beds, counseling, clothing, case work, and legal services. If enacted, this legislation would be the first of its kind…[it] has yet to clear the Senate or the House.”
The article ends with a clear indictment of government attitudes in prohibitionist regimes and an equally-clear statement that sex work is work: “The lack of shelter and counseling for underage prostitutes—while prohibitionists take in millions in government funding—is only one indication of the worldwide campaign of hostility directed at working women.” Village Voice recently told a group of sex worker rights activists that they are behind us, and that this is only beginning of a campaign for decriminalization; this could at last be the public voice we’ve needed for so long, and I eagerly await the next salvo fired in defense of whores.