The problem is that the claim is based on a seriously flawed methodology -- the numbers presented to news outlets as hard statistics are actually based on guesses. The researchers look at photographs posted to online classifieds sites like Craigslist and Backpage and guess who looks under 18.
Beth Schapiro, president of The Schapiro Group, sent us a letter today defending her study. Here's her letter in its entirety:For 27 years, The Schapiro Group has been carefully and meticulously conducting strategic research for a variety of government, corporate, and non-profit clients - distinguished organizations that profoundly influence how communities work and thrive.
In a subject area where most research involves educated guesswork, The Schapiro Group has pioneered empirical, replicable research methodologies for studying the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).
The Schapiro Group's research has documented a major shift toward the Internet and escort services, and away from street solicitation, for procurement of underage girls. So it would come as no surprise that those with a commercial interest in this marketplace might seek to try and undermine the research.
As the article notes at the outset, "Certainly we have a stake in this discussion." The writer made that abundantly clear by beginning our interview openly expressing his "skepticism" toward the research. Any doubts about his objectivity were confirmed by the overwhelmingly negative tone of the article. With an intent to trash, not explain, the research, it's not surprising that the article is replete with "bogus," "fake," "junk," and other words that reveal his true agenda.We encourage any reporter with questions about whether or not children are prostituted on Internet classifieds websites to check with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The problem of prostituted children on Internet websites is well-documented fact.
"The Schapiro Group has done a good job of discussing responsibly the
inherent difficulties and the limitations of their method, and at each
step it looks like they have made reasonable assumptions in interpreting
and extrapolating from observations. I think their estimates are
Without firmer data, we have to make our best guesses and
reasonable assumptions and proceed from there. And I have no reason to
believe that their assumptions are skewed to try to inflate the
prevalence of exploited children.
The Schapiro Group's body of research is one of the best efforts I've seen to fill a gap - and they have used some creative methods to do so. Until a government or a foundation decides to invest in truly definitive, national research on the size and characteristics of the illegal commercial sex market, we are all left to piece together with less than ideal data an understanding of how many children and adults are selling sex, how much of commercial sex solicitation is online versus the streets, the proportion of the market indoors versus outdoors, and what proportion of those selling sex are compelled and/or minors, and thus victims of trafficking."
The Georgia House of Representatives just passed some of the most progressive legislation in the country on the subject. As award-winning journalist Ann Woolner recently noted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this legislation represents a major cultural shift in perceptions about the prostitution of teenagers.
For the record, as president of The Schapiro Group, I am very proud of the firm's contribution to this cultural shift. We stand fully behind our work - work which puts us on the front line of one of the most critical issues of our time. In finding a solution to some unusual research barriers, I'm proud that we're making an important contribution to addressing this very serious issue.
Beth Schapiro, PhD
The Schapiro Group, Inc.