Sex-trafficking stereotype demolished by new research

Alarmists nationwide in denial

And the potential pitfalls of the foster-care system:

"My mother died and I was placed in foster homes," said a girl who started hooking at age 15. "My foster father would touch me, and I ran away. I ended up coming to New York, and I was on the streets; nobody wanted to help me. And I ran into this girl, and she was like 38 when she passed away last year, but she taught me everything I know. She taught me how to do what I have to do—but not be stupid about it—to play it right, and be smart."

Not to mention youth homeless shelters:

Brian Stauffer
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.
Ashlie 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.

Details

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.

And funding.

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
Phone: 202-224-2934

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
Phone: 202-224-5244

"I've been raped at Covenant House three times," one young man stated. "It was by guys in the men's ward." (The three other youths interviewed for the study who spoke specifically about the New York-based nonprofit, whose mission is to care for kids in crisis, made no mention of sexual assault; they described the shelter as a place where kids shared knowledge about how to sell sex and/or characterized it as a popular place for pimps looking to recruit.)

One recurring theme is economic desperation:

"The fact that people think that I'm doing it because I want to—I mean, I get replies all the time on email, and they tell me, 'You know, why don't you just get a job?'" reported a boy with three years' experience selling sex. "Well no shit, Sherlock! Honestly! I don't know, I would like someone to be able to offer me something."

Law-enforcement personnel, the kids say, are not always helpful:

"One cop said, 'You're lucky I'm off duty, but you're gonna suck my dick or I'ma take you in,'" a transgender youth stated. "This has happened to me about eight times."

"Police raped me a couple a times in Queens," said a female who had worked as a prostitute for four years. "The last time that happened was a coupla months ago. But you don't tell anybody; you just deal wit' it."

Though many kids said they developed buddy-system strategies to stay safe and fed on the street, nearly all wanted a way out:

"I really wanna stop now, but I can't 'cause I have no source of income since I'm too young," said a girl who'd begun hooking at age 12. "So it's like that I have to do it, it's not like I wanna do it. As I say, I'm only 17, I got a two-year-old daughter, so that means I got pregnant real young. Didn't have no type of Medicaid.... Can't get a job, have no legal guardian, I don't have nobody to help me but [friends], so you know, we all in this together."

  

IN LATE 2009 the U.S. Department of Justice called on the Center for Court Innovation and John Jay professor Ric Curtis to expand their research to other cities nationwide, backing the project with a $1.275 million federal grant. Now Curtis and Jennifer Bryan, the center's principal research associate, direct six research teams across the U.S., employing the same in-the-trenches approach that worked in New York City: respondent-driven sampling, or RDS.

The method was developed in the 1990s by sociologist Doug Heckathorn, now on the faculty at Cornell University, who was seeking a way to count hidden populations. It has since been used in 15 countries to put a number on a variety of subcultures, from drug addicts to jazz musicians. Curtis and his research assistant, Meredith Dank, were the first to use RDS to count child prostitutes.

For the John Jay study, Curtis and Dank screened kids for two criteria: age (18 and under) and involvement in prostitution. All subjects who completed the study's full, confidential interview were paid $20. They were also given a stack of coded coupons to distribute to other potential subjects, and for each successful referral they were paid $10. And so on.

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, Ric 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."

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.

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