The underage sex trafficking panic was fueled by anything but science

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Where are the hundreds of thousands of teen prostitutes some advocates say are engaged in underage sex trafficking? Village Voice Media spent the past two months collecting arrest data for underage prostitution in 37 of America's largest cities. Reporters found the average number of arrests over the past decade for underage prostitution across America was 827 annually. In Denver and Aurora, the average number of arrests each year was nine. Click to read the full report on underage sex trafficking.

The New York Times, CNN, USA Today and celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore have used the "100,000 to 300,000" number to estimate how many American-born teens are sold for sex each year.

The figure is based on a study by two University of Pennsylvania professors, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, who cite that 100,000 to 300,000 children are "at-risk" for underage sex trafficking. But they admit it's not the number of children actually involved. And that's a big but.

Outside large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, the number of prostitution arrests for underage sex trafficking drops precipitously. In the Denver/Aurora area, the most arrests made in a single year in the past decade was fifteen, in 2001. In 2009, the last year for which data was collected, the number of arrests was seven.

While the media has been fooled by junk science about sex trafficking before, this report on underage sex trafficking shows the numbers are far less than what's been bouncing through the echo chamber -- and fueling multi-million-dollar anti-trafficking efforts.

More from our News archive: "Murder down, prostitution and child-porn busts up in 2010, says Denver Police Department."

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15 comments
Truth be Told
Truth be Told

Millions of USA American government tax dollars are being spent to fight a crime that is extremely rare. The United States (U.S.) government assumes that all prostitutes on Earth are sex trafficked slaves.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. Sex trafficking is illegal and the penalties 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. Anti-prostitution groups make up lies, and false statistics that no one bothers to check.  A big reason they do this is because it provides high paying jobs for them.  They get big donations, and grants from the government, charity, churches, etc.  to have these groups, and pay these high salaries of the anti prostitution workers.Here are some good websites about this:http://sextraffickingtruths.bl...http://sextraffickingvictims.b...http://the-myth-of-sex-traffic...http://bebopper76.wordpress.co...

Sari
Sari

Betty Page is on the right track.  The anti-trafficking industry has an existential interest in inflating the numbers. 

And it's all about money.  If the inflated numbers are big enough, the anti-trafficking industry can win more taxpayer money due to the sympathy factor.  And the lazy media wins, too:  high figures of trafficked girls means higher sales of their product.  And some media make out twice because they also sell sex ads...until the industry turns against them as is the case here.

The result is a lot of heat but also light.  When it is in the media's direct financial interest to do so, they will report the truth because, after all, reporting and investigating is in their blood.  The direct financial interest of the NGOs is to maintain their current levels of funding and then expand them.  And they will say anything to make that happen, even if it is a lie. 

Diane
Diane

What an unusual venue to read this story, given the millions of dollars Village Voice Media makes off prostitution ads. Stunning.

Strickls
Strickls

I would be interested to know whether the stats on arrests within this particular industry are anything like those about rape...a large majority of rape cases go unreported (forgive me for not having a citation for the exact figure). If there are 827 arrests for child prostitution, how many cases slip under the wire? Something tells me far more than are actually documented, but that's just my own speculation.

Betty Page
Betty Page

The point, which all of you miss is that there is huge federal funding for "rescuing" children out of sex work.  We all agree that ONE child is too many however, the numbers are exagerated in order to propogate a terror in people to justify the money. Your question should be: "what happens to victims of child sex exploitation?" Good question!  There are NO programs in Colorado to support the rehabilitation, rescue or restore of children.  They are sent to Children of the Night in LA if they want to go.  Other then that, what happens to them? Is all of the money spent on the rescue? Justifying law enforcement time and flying former traffikcing victims state to state to testify in favor of junk bills like SB 11-085? YOU HAVE BEEN LIED TO COLORADO!  The numbers were exagerated and you should be angry! Beht Klein, Senator Shaffer and law enforcement have lied to the people of Colorado, provided faulty research and testimony.

The Sex Workers Outreach Project Colorado does not support children working in sex work in any form and is against human trafficking.  As current or former sex workers, we know this environment better than any of you. In October, nation-wide stings aimed at rescuing children were enacted.  6 children (as reported by a federal officer) in Colorado were rescued. Again, 6 too many. In all of this, when children are prostituted, if they go to Children of the Night, who then becomes their pimp?  The government? COTN? They then become agents of the very agency that has "taken them in" to help them but they then become dependent on the agency for love, acceptance, housing, food, clothing, etc.  What's the difference? Isn't this victimization again?  Testify about the harms to you so we can help you!

There need to be viable treatment options for all sex workers (not just victims of child exploitation) of their own choice. Some people are very harmed by sex work.  Some are very empowered.  The PEOPLE who do not view their work as empowering are harmed "children" who need resources.

Support your local sex worker!

SWOP Colorado

Noanodyne
Noanodyne

So it's an awful, terrible thing that there will be more federal money to fight sex trafficking? Then you go on to make up scenarios to support your cover. There is no such thing as being empowered by "sex work" except in the minds of men who want to keep prostituting girls and women and the women who enable them (usually comfy suburban types would don't know shit about what actually goes on in "sex work"). No, you and Nick are on the wrong side of this issue and multiple paragraphs won't make your argument any more sound. The euphemism "sex work" is used by pimps and traffickers to hide their evil activities. And it is evil. All women and girls should be given every possible opportunity to get out of being prostituted, not merely "supported." We don't merely support victims of other crimes, we investigate, arrest, and punish everyone who perpetrates them. Women and girls who are prostituted are victims of a sick society and system that turn the other way while they are used for sex and thrown away like trash. It's long past time to have zero tolerance for people who prostitute women, either by pimping them or using them for sex. And if that takes more federal money and more illumination on people like you, Betty, all the better.

Betty Page
Betty Page

Oh really Noanodyne?  And what sort of opportunities are there for sex workers?  Give me some examples please because I used them all to include 3 college degrees with honors and I am still being stigmatized and ostracized by people like you who think sex work is bad. If there are opportunities, please let me know about them.  I doubt a 4th degree - PhD is going to make the difference. I still do not have equal opportunities as others and you say there is hope for sex workers!?  SHOW ME THE HOPE!  I work for free as an advocate...do you earn money with ur education?  Not if you work with sex workers.  Government funding is not available for agencies who support prostitution even if they are harm reduction oriented. However, your illumination will not silence or threaten me :)

Nick and I are right on with this issue and anyone NATION WIDE who knows about this issue knows we are right. Maybe you are on the other team who has lied to the people of Colorado and especially to Senate providing your junk science research as evidence.

Sex work is a sex worker rights term coined specifically to REMOVE the stigma of being labled a prostiture (whore), stripper, rent boy, etc.  Sex work is also coined to support sex work as a LEGITIMATE career choice deserving of all benefits awarded to all workers.

Sex work is a necessary service to the community and until we see the decriminalization of sex work, we will continue to find clusters of bodies of sex workers. Sex is a natural human function and hardly deserving of shame or criminal status. Some people do not have regular partners, may have a disability that does not afford them comfort, may seek a specific sex act that their partner is not willing to provide but consents to purchase, etc. However, is this debate really about sex work?  Sounds like it is not because for you, it is the root of all evil and Betty must be the debil right?

everydaychloed
everydaychloed

Hey, Nick. You're missing a point.Whether the number of children involved in sex trafficking is 827 or 100000 to 300000 or not, that's not important issue here.The problem is that there are children out there who are engaged in such a horrible crime.The number should be zero, not 827 or 100000 to 300000.You should think about how you can help these children instead of writing this proposterous article.

Kleforce
Kleforce

If anything your data supports what abolitionists and anti-trafficking nonprofits have been saying all along: sex trafficking in America and internationally is an extremely under reported crime and it is very difficult to prosecute and convict perpetrators. This is the 21st century, even if it is "just" 800 or so SEX SLAVES in America (although I can assure you it is not), that is already too many. How can you except those numbers?!? I work in anti-trafficking (enslavedinamerica.com), and for you to diminish the numbers of victims is not OK.

Liz
Liz

827 arrests for "underage prostitution" is 827 too many.  There should be ZERO arrests of child victims.  As anyone under the age of 18 induced to perform commercial sex acts is a trafficking VICTIM under Federal Law.  Arresting and criminally charging the victims is not the right thing to do. Perhaps there aren't more arrests - because police are finally starting to treat the children as victims, and not criminals.  Trying to measure how many victims of sex trafficking there are in the US by counting how many children have been arrested for "underage prostitution" is beyond ludicrous. 

Cifer
Cifer

I would add that that's for arrests only. If there are arrests at all, obviously there are dozens, if not hundreds more in each city that go unnoticed...

KrisInDenver
KrisInDenver

I don't think you're taking into account the amount of kids and teens involved in trafficking that are sold outside of the U.S.

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