Village Voice: Hysterical Sex Trafficking “Study” Is Mostly Made Up

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The Village Voice posts a devastating debunking of a widely-cited report claiming that sites like Backpage.com are facilitating a spike in the sex trafficking of underage girls.

“An independent tracking study released today by the Women’s Funding Network shows that over the past six months, the number of underage girls trafficked online has risen exponentially in three diverse states,” Richardson claimed. “Michigan: a 39.2 percent increase; New York: a 20.7 percent increase; and Minnesota: a staggering 64.7 percent increase.”

In the wake of this bombshell revelation, Richardson’s disturbing figures found their way into some of the biggest newspapers in the country. USA Today, the Houston Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the Detroit Free Press all repeated the dire statistics as gospel.

The successful assault on Craigslist was followed by a cross-country tour by Richardson and the Women’s Funding Network.

None of the media that published Richardson’s astonishing numbers bothered to examine the study at the heart of her claim. If they had, they would have found what we did after asking independent experts to examine the research: It’s junk science.

After all, the numbers are all guesses.

The data are based merely on looking at photos on the Internet. There is no science.

The group based its estimates on guesses of the ages of women depicted in escort service ads on sites like Craigslist and Backpage.com. (Backpage is owned by Village Voice media, which has resisted pressure to shut down its adult services section). And that’s just how they got the raw numbers. They then magnified the error by applying those numbers in all sorts of misleading and statistically dubious ways. There wasn’t an academic or statistician among the group that authored the study. This was PR.

Nevertheless, the “study” spawned hysterical media reports, outrage from indignant attorneys general, and sweet government grants for groups like the Women’s Funding Network. Most astonishing is this admission from one peddler of sex panic:

“We pitch it the way we think you’re going to read it and pick up on it,” says Kaffie McCullough, the director of Atlanta-based anti-prostitution group A Future Not a Past. “If we give it to you with all the words and the stuff that is actually accurate—I mean, I’ve tried to do that with our PR firm, and they say, ‘They won’t read that much.'”

That about says it all.

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31 Responses to “Village Voice: Hysterical Sex Trafficking “Study” Is Mostly Made Up”

  1. #1 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    I find the photo completely appropriate.

  2. #2 |  ClubMedSux | 

    According to a study I just completed, Kaffie McCullough funnels tax-exempt donations away from legitimate charities so she can troll the internet for underage prostitutes, engaging her staff in a twisted parlor game called “How old, ho?”

    I’d give it to you with all the words and the stuff that is actually accurate, but you won’t read that much.

  3. #3 |  Mattocracy | 

    You just gotta say say that this bullshit is true just once, and it’ll be the grounds for passing god awful legislation. Regardless of how many times it’s debinked and proven false, said crappy legislatation will never be overturned.

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    That girl in that picture looks “young”. According to Schapiro, looking young is the same as being under age, although that’s not to say that under age is under the age of consent. In one study, Schapiro categorizes adolescence as being anything under age 22, which implies that you can now finish college before reaching puberty (not a bad accomplishment in a world where female sexual development is happening earlier even as the age of consent has been pushed out to later years).

    The bottom line for the anti-prostitution moral crusaders is that, while it’s ok to give it away at age 16, you best not be selling it. If you’re hungry and cold, tough shit.

    And if you’re selling it as an adult, you must be a victim of exploitation because no woman “sells her body” voluntarily (and if they say they are, then they are in denial).

    Is that crystal clear to everyone?

    You would be hard pressed to find a crusade as utterly devoid of ethics and integrity as the anti-prostitution movement. They’re a monument to the saying, “If their lips are moving’, they’re lying”. And the American public and the mainstream media swallow it and regurgitating it repeatedly, lending it credibility.

    Good for the Village Voice for resisting the mass hysteria and not joining the stampede of the idiots.

  5. #5 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Translations from the weasel:

    “We pitch it the way we think you’re going to read it and pick up on it,” says Kaffie McCullough, the director of Atlanta-based anti-prostitution group A Future Not a Past. “If we give it to you with all the words and the stuff that is actually accurate—I mean, I’ve tried to do that with our PR firm, and they say, ‘They won’t read that much.’”

    in honest English means;

    “If we told you the truth, you’d know we were trying to panic you over nothing, you wouldn’t give us power and money, and we might actually have to work for a living.”

  6. #6 |  Dana Gower | 

    http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/numerology/

    This column debunked the numbers a couple of months ago.

  7. #7 |  Ben | 

    Wow, reading the explanation from the people at the Shapiro group made my head hurt. Why can’t they just be honest like the woman at WFN did? “This group paid us to come up with a study that gives them scary-sounding numbers so they can defraud states of millions of dollars.”

  8. #8 |  Elliot | 

    Fake but accurate.

    Where’s Dan Rather?

  9. #9 |  CyniCAl | 

    By any means necessary. Fanatical.

  10. #10 |  Joe | 

    You had me with the photo.

    What were you talking about.

  11. #11 |  Jozef | 

    Nothing will stand in the way between me and the lobster girl. Not even this picture.

  12. #12 |  Brandon | 

    Self righteousness makes everything ok

  13. #13 |  Mario | 

    Backpages (and before that, Craigslist) allows these women to operate independently. They can screen their clients, choose their hours, set their fees, and so forth. How can driving them further underground be a good thing?

  14. #14 |  Charlie O | 

    This stuff is no different than the days of Andrea Dworkin shrieking that all pornography is rape. All intercourse is rape, etc. etc. etc. Hyperbole and bullshit.

  15. #15 |  Nate | 

    While very attractive, the photo lacks the charm of lobster girl. Also, that lobster looks underage.

  16. #16 |  J | 

    #13: IT’S FOR THE CHILDREN!

  17. #17 |  Jesse | 

    These days, the age of any young-ish woman, based on her appearance alone, has an error factor of at least +-5 years, maybe even 10.

    Danica Patrick (the race car driver) is 29 and she could pass for 19.

  18. #18 |  Jesse | 

    On the other hand, Selena Gomez is 18 and looks like she’s 12.

  19. #19 |  JT | 

    This adds a new twist to the story on Consumerist about Abercrombie & Fitch marketing and selling padded bras for 7-year old girls.

  20. #20 |  Ariel | 

    And this is but one vector among many to make bad and unnecessary laws. Never let hysteria go to waste…

  21. #21 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    #6: Thanks for the mention, Dana! I also looked at two of these bogus Schapiro Group studies in depth; if anyone’s interested the links are http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/as-young-as-possible/ and http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/wild-guessing-part-one/, and both columns contain links to PDFs of the studies so you can read them yourselves. Unlike real scientific papers they’re quite short so as not to exceed the attention span of the target audience.

  22. #22 |  J.S. | 

    The wonders of photoshop…

    They can’t control porn anymore thanks to the internet so they gotta stop any prostitution.

  23. #23 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Exponentially is quite misleading, it leads to VERY large numbers very quickly. Another hysterical falsehood to promote a specific agenda. Who gets to decide what is underage?Most of our elected do not have the maturity to responsibly lead this nation regardless of their ages. Why do they get to determine who can have sex and behave as adults?

  24. #24 |  Reginod | 

    Charlie O – except, of course, that never happened. Neither Dworkin nor MacKinnon, who is usually the one accused of saying all sex is rape, said that all sex is rape (or even that all heterosexual sex is rape). They also never said all pornography is rape. (They did say that all pornography violates the civil-rights of women, but that’s a different story, and they did say that some pornography is recorded rape, but that is also a different claim).

    I love how meta it is to respond to a story about people making up facts and how bad that is by repeating made-up facts as if they were true.

    P.S. Good well-sourced and extensive articles on this, written by a libritarian even, can be found at:
    http://radgeek.com/gt/2005/01/10/andrea_dworkin/
    and
    http://radgeek.com/gt/2006/02/19/misquotation_in/

  25. #25 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #6 Dana Gower

    http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/numerology/

    This column debunked the numbers a couple of months ago.

    I also blogged about Schapiro’s so-called scientific methods in a couple posts back in September of last year.

    Knowing the rescue industry, they will continue to tout the numbers in those studies regardless debunking. The anti-prostitution crusaders know that a lot more people will hear their side than the other because the mainstream media eats it up and repeats it daily.

  26. #26 |  Big A | 

    How’d they get an error rate of .38? I’m consistently told that I “don’t look a day over 16″. I’m 25. But I’m guilty of the same thing. Go to a high school or even college and see how many students look years younger than you know they must be. I think it has something to do with being proud that you’re older than them. (Remember in 3rd grade when all the 2nd graders were “babies”?) Or maybe something to do with older actors playing younger people on TV.

  27. #27 |  noseeum | 

    I need to know the model in the pic’s name so I can Google her and make sure she’s not underage.

  28. #28 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    I always knew those tales of human trafficking and underage prostitution were pure bullshit. But some people never let pesky things like facts get in the way of funding.

    Seriously: Women’s Funding Network? They couldn’t come up with a better name than that? Something that might at least imply an illusion of legitimacy?

    Can’t anyone tell the truth about anything in this country?

  29. #29 |  Stick | 

    Why are the ruling ‘elite’ of America so rabidly
    anti-sex/porn/prostitution/homosexuality?

  30. #30 |  noseeum | 

    @Stick: Because there’s a constituency that eats it up, and there’s no large or well funded enough constituency that’s willing to publicly support them.

    If every guy who ever hired a prostitute was for legalization, I’m sure it would be legal already. Unfortunately, too many Americans love to be puritan in their politics and “hell bound sinners” behind closed doors.

  31. #31 |  albatross | 

    These things work because media sources want a good story, and aren’t terribly concerned with truth getting in the way. Also, most reporters are utterly innumerate, no more capable of understanding the statistical claims of some interest group than they are of performing successful brain surgery.

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