Women's Funding Network Sex Trafficking Study Is Junk Science

Schapiro Group data wasn't questioned by mainstream media.

McCullough initially maintained that she stands by the Schapiro Group study, in part because she has been told that "it is the same scientific methodology that science has been using for a long time to measure endangered species."

But when pressed on whether she really believes that counting Internet photos is reliable, she grants the sex-work industry isn't exactly the gold standard of truth in advertising.

"That's absolutely correct," she says. "That's part of how that business operates: It's a bait-and-switch."

Jesse Lenz
Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, says the Schapiro study is based on a logical fallacy.
Deanna Dent
Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, says the Schapiro study is based on a logical fallacy.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Village Voice Media, which owns this newspaper, owns the classified site Backpage.com. In addition to used cars, jobs, and couches, readers can also find adult ads on Backpage; for this reason, Women's Funding Network and their allies have often called attention to the site, sometimes going so far as to call for its closure.

Certainly we have a stake in this discussion. And we do not object to those who suggest an apparent conflict of interest. We sat quietly and did not respond as the WFN held symposiums across America—from Seattle to Miami—denouncing Backpage. Indeed, we were never asked for response.

But then we looked at the "science" and the media's willingness to regurgitate, without question, these incredible statistics. In the interest of a more informed discussion, we decided to write.

And given the tricky nature of the photographs, she admits that counting pictures isn't exactly a precise way to measure juvenile prostitutes.

"I can't guarantee that any picture that four of those six people said looked young—that may not be the girl that you'd get if you called up," she concedes.

Asked if she has any reason to believe that the six observers in the study have the identical 38 percent error rate as the 100 random citizens who were the initial test subjects, she allows that it might be worth revisiting that question.

The basic truth is that the study exists in service of the advocacy, and if news outlets present the Schapiro Group's numbers as gospel, it certainly doesn't hurt the advocates' cause.

Admitting that there isn't any authoritative scientific count of juvenile prostitution, as Finkelhor recommends, isn't an option in McCullough's book. She recalls an early presentation she made in Nebraska, when a politician gave her a piece of advice that stuck.

"He said, 'If you all as a movement don't start having numbers, you are going to lose the money,'" McCullough recalls. "'How can you justify millions of dollars when there are only hundreds of victims that you're actually serving?'"


EDITOR'S CONCLUSION: Last week, on March 16, the drumbeat continued in the U.S. Senate with a briefing on domestic minor sex trafficking that featured Hollywood actress Mira Sorvino and the startling statistic that 100,000 children are trafficked for sex annually in America.

Trafficking, in labor and sex, became a defining issue in the administration of President George W. Bush. But as an investigation by the Washington Post in 2007 revealed, victims in the sex trade were difficult to come by.

Today, advocates have shifted media attention to allegations of trafficking in children.

But facts to suggest a plague of underage perversion simply do not exist despite claims to the contrary.

In a deficit-obsessed Congress, there is a long line of those seeking tax dollars to raise awareness of trafficking: government agencies, nonprofits, religious groups, the well-intentioned, as well as abolitionists opposed to everything from pornography to adult services.

It is no surprise that some seek to use children as a wedge.

Responsible parties prosecute predators and rescue victims. Not everyone with a microphone is responsible.

The challenge of keeping children out of the hands of exploiters is real but solutions are not clear in an atmosphere of hyped hysteria.

For background articles go to: www.villagevoice.com/sex-trafficking

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S. Egretto
S. Egretto

There is a problem with big sex-trafficking statistics. Generally, people (often non-governmental organisations) or others with a vested interest inflate the figures. I can't comment upon this particular case, which clearly has an element of "guessing". Not very scientific. And how scientific is a sample of 100? My own observations would question these statistics  are are invalid. Consider checking    theamsterdamdiaries.net    for a balanced view.

Greg Collier
Greg Collier

Good luck with that.

Several days ago, I penned an open letter to my counterparts in the classified ad business, challenging them to follow me in imposing new policies to make their sites safer.

Not surprisingly, none of them has yet to respond to my letter. After all, the changes that I’m suggesting are not easy ones for the site owners to make. Ridding their sites of personal ads and other adult-oriented categories that run amok with criminal activity could impact their bottom lines. More...



I wonder how much Georgia's state government paid the Shapiro Group for that stupid study.


Sex workers and our allies have tried for years to get the media to question the hype surrounding this issue. Instead of listening to us, they insist on publishing the distortions, half truths and outright lies of the anti-prostitution abolitionists. This only harms all sex workers including those who really are 'victims.' The lives of thousands of adult men and women are destroyed - not by the work we do- but by the arbitrary and selective enforcement of bad laws.

Adult sex workers could do more to assist law enforcement in apprehending those who are involved in 'sex trafficking' in children or adults- if we were not criminals ourselves. It is our industry and we care what happens to those who are forced into it or who are victims of violence. Unfortunately, due to 'studies' like this, we are all considered 'victims' and the way to 'help' us, according to these people, is to arrest and incarcerate us. If we agree to be compliant 'victims' we can get out of being punished, but what are we being arrested and punished for in the first place?

And no, we do not want a policy which calls for the criminalization/ punishment of our non-violent, non abusive clients as some suggest that we follow the Swedish model regarding prostitution. Law enforcement is overwhelmed with domestic violence and spousal abuse cases as well as rape, and we believe that law enforcement should focus on those types of crimes. If prostitutes are no longer criminals (or 'victims') we can seek justice when we are the victims of crimes against us.