Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. - H.L. Mencken
One year ago today I published “November Q & A”, in which I answered the questions “Would you like to do a science fiction anthology with sex work as a subject?”, “How were you able to get through anal rape without screaming?”, “Did a condom ever break inside you?” and “Doesn’t monogamy get kinda old for a sexually liberated woman like yourself?” But from an activist standpoint, the most important question was, “So if the average age at which a woman enters prostitution isn’t really 13, what age is it?” In retrospect, I probably should’ve given that question a column of its own or at least led off with it, because whenever I’ve referred back to that post I have to specify that it’s the second answer. So today, I plan to revisit the subject and recalculate the figure using excerpts from previous columns, thus bringing a few threads together in one easily-linked place.
If you’re arguing with someone who has bought into the trafficking mythology and won’t sit still for the recitation of figures, there’s a very simple reductio ad absurdum with which you can point out the impossibility of the claim: If the “average age” of a given group of people is 13, that means that (roughly speaking) for every 14-year-old in the group there is a 12-year-old, for every 17-year-old a 9-year-old, etc. In other words, if the “average age at which a girl enters prostitution” were really 13, for every woman who started at 25 there would be someone who started at 1. Obviously, this isn’t exact; one 40-year-old could also be balanced by nine 10-year-olds, but I honestly don’t think even the trafficking fanatics believe that kind of age imbalance could possibly exist. They simply don’t consider the implications of their bogus “statistics”; they merely parrot them without thought and therefore never recognize just how ludicrous they are. But who started this nonsense in the first place?
As so often happens, the bogus “fact” is based on a (possibly deliberate) distortion of a miscalculation in a deeply-flawed, badly-structured 2001 study by Richard Estes and Neil Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania entitled “The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U. S., Canada and Mexico”, which is also the source of the ubiquitous (and equally erroneous) claim that “100,000-300,000 American children are trafficked as sexual slaves”. Estes and Weiner claim that among the underage prostitutes they studied, “The age range of entry…for the boys…was somewhat younger than that of the girls, i.e., 11-13 years vs. 12-14 years, respectively.” In other words, they claimed that the “13 at entry” figure was only for underage prostitutes, not for all prostitutes, and even then it’s absurd as explained in the preceding paragraph. Without seeing Estes & Weiner’s data we can’t be sure exactly what statistical errors they made, but as Emi Koyama of Eminism explains, there’s a built-in error caused by using the artificial cutoff age of 18:
For the sake of discussion, let’s pretend that in a small town, six minors enter into prostitution each year, one individual each for ages 12-17. That means that there is one 12 year old, one 13 year old, one 14 year old, and so on. The average age of entry in this hypothetical town is the average of these six individuals, which is (12+13+14+15+16+17)/6 = 14.5. But when researchers arrive in this town, they don’t just survey these six minors: they will also survey others who have started prostitution in the years past. So for any given year when the research is conducted, there are one 12 year old (who entered at 12), two 13 year olds (entered at 12 and 13), three 14 year olds (entered at 12, 13, and 14), and so on. The average among all of these youth will be…13.7 – which is almost one year younger than the actual average age of entry. This discrepancy is caused by limiting the research subject to minors. [One] who entered into prostitution at age 12 has six years in which he or she might be surveyed…while [one] who entered at 17 has only one year, which artificially inflates the proportion of research participants who entered early. In short, we cannot know the actual “average age of entry” by simply averaging the age of entry reported by research participants.
Though Estes & Weiner didn’t share their data the charts provided by the anti-prostitute organization Shared Hope International (which seems to be the original source of the distortion from “the average underage prostitute” to “the average prostitute”) demonstrate (as Emi calculates) an average of 15.91, three years higher than their verbal claims and slightly higher than the average reported by the John Jay study, which was 15.15 for girls and 15.28 for boys. Incidentally, it also found that only 15% of teen hookers entered the trade at an age below 13, which absolutely demolishes any notion of 13 as “average”.
In last November’s essay I reported a study of 100 independent escorts which asked how old they were when they entered the trade; it generated the following results:
Younger than 15: 3%
Older than 32: 19%
A secondary poll of the “over 32” respondents revealed that the average age for that category was 42; we can estimate the average for the “under 15″ category as the fanatics’ beloved 13. Given these figures, the average age of entry into prostitution for American escorts is 26.46, which we’ll round down to 26. It’s difficult to know what percentage of all American prostitutes are escorts, but I would suspect 60% is a good guesstimate; with our standard 15% streetwalker estimate that would allow 25% in brothels and massage parlors.
At the time I wrote the previous article I had not yet made my study of the New Zealand figures and so was forced to err on the fanatics’ side regarding the number of streetwalkers who are underage. But based on that data, we can now make a much better estimate: there are roughly 16,000 underage female prostitutes in the U.S., of whom roughly 12,000 (75%) are streetwalkers. The total U.S. streetwalker population is approximately 70,000, therefore underage streetwalkers are about 17% of the total. Assuming that the average adult streetwalker starts about the same age as the average escort (which is probably a bit too high, but we’ll make it up on brothel girls in the next paragraph), and that the average underage streetwalker starts at 15 (the John Jay figure), we arrive at an average streetwalker entry age of 24.
There are about 443,000 prostitutes in the United States, of which we’ve estimated 25% (111,000) work in brothels or massage parlors. If we assume that the 25% of underage prostitutes who aren’t streetwalkers work in brothels (the percentage who are escorts is miniscule), that gives us 4000/111,000 = 3.6% of brothel workers who are underage, essentially equal to the total underage figure of 3.54%. I’m going to err on the fanatics’ side and assume that the average adult brothel worker begins at the overall streetwalker average of 24, and that the average underage brothel worker begins at the same age as the average underage streetwalker, namely 15; this gives us an average starting age for brothel workers of 23.68, which I’m going to round down to 23 to be on the safe side.
So let’s crunch the numbers: if 60% start at an average age of 26, 15% at an average age of 24 and 25% at an average age of 23, the average age at which American hookers enter the profession is 24.95, which we’ll round off to 25; I think everyone can agree that’s safely into the adult range.