Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Lost Boys: New Research Demolishes the Stereotype of the Underage Sex Worker 

Wednesday, Nov 2 2011
Comments

Page 4 of 6

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.

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 op-ed.

"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 stats, increasing 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 Mar. 24 issue of Village Voice Media's newsweeklies.)

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."

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:

"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 a popular place for pimps looking to recruit.)

About The Author

Kristen Hinman

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"