By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Finn soon found herself facing a dilemma on the research front as well.
When Curtis and Dank put out the call for underage sex workers in New York, they were confident they'd be able to find space in an emergency shelter if they encountered an interview subject who appeared to be in immediate peril. Atlanta, on the other hand, was equipped with no emergency shelters for homeless youths. In the absence of any such backstop, Finn concluded, it would be unethical to go hunting for kids to interview.
So she went with Plan B: interviewing law-enforcement agents and social workers, examining arrest records, and mining a countywide database of child-sexual-abuse cases.
VILLAGE VOICE MEDIA ASKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT OF SENATE BILL 596
If there is not a tsunami of underage prostitutes in America, that is not to say that there are no children trapped in this world. Of course there are.
Yet, as we have pointed out in numerous stories, few resources have been devoted to sheltering the victims.
If you want to help children trapped in underage prostitution, there is something you can do.
U. S. Senate Bill 596 deserves your attention and your support. This legislation would, for the first time, provide federal funding for beds and assistance to underage victims of prostitution.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced SB 596 on March 16, 2011. The key component is six one-year grants of $2,000,000 to $2,500,000 for shelter and counseling.
As you can imagine, a child engaged in prostitution brings a difficult mix of issues to the table including, but not limited to, drug addiction, sexual abuse, and homelessness. These are problems that need sustained attention.
In an article published last June ("Real Men Get Their Facts Straight"), we cited the Bridge program in Seattle, which is one of the few efforts in the entire country devoted to housing underage prostitutes. (The Bridge is financed locally.)
"These children, as victims, need more trauma-recovery services, "director Melinda Giovengo told us. "There is evidence that a dedicated residential recovery program, with wraparound mental-health, chemical dependence, and educational and vocational services, provided by well-trained specialists, both on-site and in the community, can help young victims of commercial sexual exploitation in breaking free of the track."
There are fewer than 100 beds scattered across the nation dedicated to these children.
The $15 million proposal from Senators Cornyn and Wyden is a cold, hard number. A fact.
Facts are important if you want to address underage prostitution.
Since 1997 the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for religious groups, prohibitionists, and reformers all over the world to end human trafficking. Yet the proposed funds in SB 596 are the first dollars earmarked to put a roof over the head of victims in America.
By painting the sex-trafficking problem in this country as overwhelming, advocates may actually be hurting the children who truly need help.
Instead of helping victims, states are now passing legislation aimed at suppressing cabaret dancers. Instead of helping victims, prohibitionists are attacking pornography.
Facts are important because facts, not emotion, keep you focused.
HOW TO REACH SENATORS CORNYN AND WYDEN:
Sen. John Cornyn:
The Honorable John Cornyn
United States Senate
517 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4303
Email: Senator Cornyn doesn't have a direct email address, but you can send him an email if you fill out a contact form with name, address, etc.:
Sen. Ron Wyden
The Honorable Ron Wyden
United States Senator
223 Dirksen State Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3703
Despite the less-than-satisfactory secondary-source approach, Finn figured she'd have plenty of data to mine. After all, she'd seen breathless media reports of trafficking in Atlanta. "The overall market for sex with kids is booming in many parts of the U.S. In Atlanta—a thriving hotel and convention center with a sophisticated airport and ground transportation network—pimps and other lowlifes have tapped into that market bigtime," blared a 2006 New York Times story.
"I walked in thinking: This is going to be a huge priority for any agency that is dealing with at-risk youth. I mean, goodness, this must be at the top of their agenda for training, protocol—all of it."
On the contrary, Finn found that most organizations, whether nonprofit or government-run, were not systematically documenting cases of child prostitution. Apart from 31 juvenile arrests police had made over a four-year period, there were virtually no numbers for her to compile.
"It was almost like nobody wants to document their existence," Finn says. "Whether it's because they don't want to label the youth, or they don't want other agencies to know they're aware of them because then the call comes—'Well, what are you doing about it?'—I just don't know. It was very odd. The environment we were seeing in the media just looked so different from the environment we walked into."
In September 2008, just as Finn was preparing a summary of her scant findings, the Juvenile Justice Fund announced an ongoing statewide study based on "scientific probability methods," whose results to date pointed to "a significant number of adolescent girls being commercially sexually exploited in Georgia, likely ranging from 200 to 300 girls, on the streets, over the internet, through escort services, and in major hotels every month from August 2007 to May 2008."
Published in 2010, the final report was nearly as ambiguous, though there were more—and even bigger—numbers. According to the Justice Fund's "scientific research study," underwritten with money from the Anderson Family Foundation, each month in Georgia, 7,200 men pay underage girls for 8,700 sex acts, "with an average of 300 acts a day." The report's authors updated their 2008 stat, increasinging their underage-hooker count to 400.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution trumpeted the report's findings under the headline "City's shame remains; despite crackdowns, Atlanta is still a hub in selling children for sex."
The Journal-Constitution did not, however, inform its readers that the "scientific study" was undertaken not by researchers adhering to rigid academic standards, but by the Schapiro Group, an Atlanta public-relations firm hired by the Justice Fund.
Despite the claims to the contrary, there was nothing remotely "scientific" about the research. In order to gauge the number of men who pay for sex with underage girls, the PR firm observed activity at major hotels and on streets thought to be frequented by sex workers. Staffers also called escort services, posing as customers, to inquire into the possibility of hookups with adolescent girls. And they created online ads featuring photos of young-looking females and inviting prospective customers to call a phone number—a line answered by PR firm "operators" posing as pimps and madams. (For more about the Schapiro Group's dubious methods, see "Weird Science," written by Nick Pinto and published in the March 24 issue of Village Voice Media's newsweeklies. (http://www.citypages.com/2011-03-23/women-s-funding-network-sex-trafficking-study-is-junk-science)
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."
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."