Saturday, January 21, 2012

How many children are in the US sex trade? Just guess.

Joel Best, in his Damned Lies and Statistics; Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists, explains that activists sometimes estimate quite big numbers for the social problem they want to address. When their target social issue is poorly-understood to start with, as is often true for illicit activities like drug use or prostitution, the true numbers are unknown and the estimate may go unchallenged. The large estimate of the activists is then repeated, misinterpreted and further exaggerated.

...Like this, perhaps. Maggie McNeill is a prostitute who writes The Honest Courtesan blog. She is firmly opposed to the prohibition of prostitution. In this blog post from last year, McNeill complains that some of the figures being discussed in American media estimating the number of children in the sex trade are grossly exaggerated:
The biggest danger of such rhetoric is that it plays fast and loose with the facts and the tale grows in the telling. Girls who can’t be told from legal adults become “children”, hiring for a service becomes “buying for sex” as though they were carried home in a plain brown wrapper and stored in a drawer in the nightstand, and a rare event (only about 3.54% of all prostitutes are underage) becomes a “hidden epidemic” and normal, decent men are accused en masse. But we’ve seen all that before; what makes this article unique is that it affords us the rare opportunity to catch a lie in the actual process of growth. The author says “according to the Daily Beast, 100,000 – 300,000 children between the ages of 12 and 14 years old are victims of the child sex trade in this country” and helpfully provides us a link. But if you click on that link you’ll find that’s not what the article says at all; the actual quote is “Between 100,000 and 300,000 children—primarily girls between the ages of 12 and 14—are victims of the sex trade right here in the United States.” The new claim drops “primarily” and represents all of them as being in that age range.

The “300,000 trafficked children” fantasy grew by exactly such misquotes. Its original source was a 2001 study by Richard Estes and Neil Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania which 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. Note that even if we accept the shaky methodology, 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). The paper is very revealing; if you peruse it you will see that Estes and Weiner rank types of “exploitation” by frequency, and that domestic and international “sex trafficking” are second and third from the bottom.
I can't vouch for McNeill's own numbers but she does make an interesting case. This looks just like an example Best would find familiar: numbers that are estimates to start with, misunderstood, simplified, and gradually exaggerated beyond their original purpose. McNeill has further issues with the definition of 'exploitation' used by the researchers, and the full article is worth a read. Very interesting indeed.

She mentions some confusion over the description of victims as being 'children', as 'child' is sometimes used in place of 'minor', meaning anyone under 18 years. I'm reminded of Professor Philip Jenkins, who has written about child abuse by Catholic clergy and media treatment of this issue. In 2010 I contacted Prof Jenkins for an article on the biological and psychological causes of paedophilia. In an email exchange Jenkins pointed out the very same confusion:
let me distinguish between pedophilia and improper sexual conduct with minors.,The age is everything in such matters. Homosexuality is not linked to pedophilia (see below). However a man who has sex with a male of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen or seventeen years is not a pedophile. What is he? Is he a homosexual? A pederast? English is lacking in terms for such behavior.
Further, Jenkins pointed me towards an article he had just written for The American Conservative, where he discussed a fascinating study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004, looking at all allegations and convictions of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy from 1950 to 2002:
A couple of points leap out about the allegations, particularly about the image of the “pedophile priest” pursuing his decades-long career of crime under the de facto protection of the Church. The John Jay study concluded that in this period, perhaps 4 percent of all U.S. priests had been plausibly accused of at least one act of sexual misconduct with a minor. But of the 4,392 accused priests, almost 56 percent faced only one misconduct allegation, and at least some of these would certainly vanish under detailed scrutiny.

Very few of the accused priests were pedophiles, in the sense of having abused a minor under the age of puberty, say 12 or 13 for a boy. In the U.S. at least, the great majority of cases of sexual misconduct by priests involve older boys, often aged between 15 and 17, or even older. This behavior is illegal, harmful, and sinful, but it is not pedophilia.
(My emphasis added.) I've heard social researchers refer to under-18 minors as children but this seems like risky language to use when most of us imagine tiny little pre-pubescent kids. In fact I can remember a member of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children who gave us classes when I was 15-16 in school, also referring to us as 'children'. We were not amused! By 16 we might have lacked the vote, and a lot of sense, but we were no longer children.

Anyway Jenkins's article is also worth a read. His and McNeill's points are good warning lights for misleading statistics. Like I said, I love statistics in social research, but one needs to be very, very careful.


  1. There is a lot of controversy over the numbers of adult woman who are forced sex slaves. The real factual answer is that no one knows. There is hard evidence that the sex slavery/sex trafficking issue continues to report false information and is greatly exaggerated by politicians, the media, and aid groups, feminist and religious organizations that receive funds from the government, The estimate of adult women who become new sex slaves ranges anywhere from 40 million a year to 5,000 per year all of which appear to be much too high. They have no evidence to back up these numbers, and no one questions them about it. Their sources have no sources, and are made up numbers. In fact if some of these numbers are to believed which have either not changed or have been increased each year for the past twenty years, all woman on earth would currently be sex slaves. Yet, very few real forced against their will sex slaves have been found.

    It is not easy for criminals to engage in this acitvity:

    Sex trafficking is illegal and the pentities are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well. They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police. This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare. These criminals would be breaking dozens of major laws not just one. Kidnapping itself is a serious crime. There are many laws against sex trafficking, sex slavery, kidnapping, sex abuse, rape, sexual harassment etc. If someone is behind it, they will be breaking many serious laws, be in big trouble, and will go to jail for many long years.

    The numbers and scale of this crime is exaggerated. The very nature of someone pulling off a kidnapping and forced sex for profit appears to be very difficult. Since it would be difficult this makes this crime rare.

    A key point is that on the sidelines the prostitutes themselves are not being listened to. They oppose laws against prostitution. But no one wants to listen to the prostitutes themselves. Only to the self appointed experts that make up numbers and stories many of which have never met a real forced sex slave or if they did it was only a few. The media and government never ask the prostitutes themselves what would help them in terms of laws.

  2. Thanks so much for that long and interesting response :)

  3. Sex Trafficking/Slavery is used by many groups as a attempt to outlaw all prostitution around the world by saying that all women are victims even if they do it willing. This hurts any real victims because it labels all sex workers as victims.

    This is done by the media, aid groups, NGO’s, feminists, politicians, and religious organizations that receive funds from the government. There are very strong groups who promote that all adult women who have sex are victims even if they are willing, enjoy it and go out of there way to get it. These groups try to get the public to believe that no adult women in their right mind would ever go into the sex business unless she was forced to do so, weather she knew it or not. They say that 100% of all sex workers are trafficking victims.

    They do this in order to label all men as sex offenders and wipe out all consensual prostitution. Which is what their real goal is. There is almost no one who challenges or questions them about their false beliefs. Therefore, the only voices you hear are of these extreme groups. These groups want to label all men as terrible sex offenders for seeing a willing adult woman. No one stands up to say this is foolish, the passive public says nothing.

    These groups even say that all men who marry foreign women are terrible sex predators who take advantage of these "helpless foreign women wives".

    These groups believe that two adults having consensual sex in private should be outlawed. Since they believe that it is impossible for a man to have sex with a woman without abusing the woman in the process.

    According to the media hype There was supposed to be hundreds of thousands of under age child sex slaves kidnapped and forced to have sex with super bowl fans. At the Dallas Super Bowl 2011. WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL OF THEM????????????

    It was all a big lie told by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, government officials, and various anti-prostitution groups: Traffick911, Not for Sale, A Future Not A Past, Polaris Project, Salvation Army, Women’s Funding Network, and the Dallas Women’s Foundation, which are anti-prostitution groups that tell lies in order to get grant money from the government and charities to pay their high salaries, and get huge amounts of money into their organizations.

    As proved in the link below:

    Top FBI agent in Dallas (Robert Casey Jr.) sees no evidence of expected spike in child sex trafficking:

    “Among those preparations was an initiative to prevent an expected rise in sex trafficking and child prostitution surrounding the Super Bowl. But Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, said he saw no evidence that the increase would happen, nor that it did.
    “In my opinion, the Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes,” he said. “The discussion gets very vague and general. People mixed up child prostitution with the term human trafficking, which are different things, and then there is just plain old prostitution.”

    This myth of thousands or millions of underage sex slaves tries to make every sports fan a sex criminal. No matter what the sport is, or in what country it is in.

    Here are some good websites about sex trafficking:

  4. There is a lot of controversy over the topics of sex trafficking, sex slavery, human trafficking and forced prostitution. Regarding what the definition is, the research methods used to find statistics, what the definition of a victim is, the number of child and adult victims involved, forced vs. unforced sex, how the actual prostitutes themselves feel about it, and legal vs. illegal prostitution.

    There is a growing number of well respected researchers, journalists, scientists, professors, that have concluded in their research that the sex trafficking, sex slavery concept is based on emotion, morals, and monetary funding rather than facts, evidence and proof. They state that very few kidnapped, forced against their will, physically abused, raped sex slave prostitutes for profit have been found throughout the world. Their research concludes that women who enter into this type of work do so of their own free will. They also state that there are many anti-prostitution groups who simply do not like the idea of consensual adult prostitution and have distorted the facts in order to push their agenda and receive funding and money into their organizations in the form of donations, grants and to change the laws about prostitution. They state that these anti-prostitution groups use made up child sex trafficking statistics which they have no proof or evidence of in order to gain public acceptance for their cause. Which they then pass on to the media as press releases.

    Here is a good website:

  5. Thanks for your comment! I'm familiar with Laura Agustin, in fact I'm sure I've posted about her here before :)


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