The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold. – Aristotle
A few days ago regular reader Joyce sent me this article which had me shaking my head; it’s fairly typical trafficking hype with a celebrity mouthpiece, but it was different in one way which bears note:
…Ashley Judd reveals a moving story about a 14-year-old daughter of a friend of hers who was recently forced into prostitution in Atlanta, Georgia. “Who are these men who buy children for sex?” asks Judd. “They are our fathers, they are our brothers, our husbands, uncles, cousins, and friends…it is so common”…according to The Daily Beast, 100,000 – 300,000 children between the ages of 12 and 14 years old are victims of the child sex trade in this country.
Those of us who love men and hate seeing them maligned may be so angered by Judd’s evil rhetoric that they may miss the only important aspect of this propaganda piece; I can assure Miss Judd that no man I know and certainly not my father, brother, husband or any uncle or friend (and I doubt any cousins either) has ever “bought a child for sex” or any other purpose. Nobody I knew even had any basement, attic or shed where such a slave could have been kept, and normal modern men do NOT keep slaves except in the perverted sex fantasies of Judd and her fetishist friends. Now, I think it’s highly likely that what she really means when she says “buy children for sex” is “hire prostitutes whom they may not realize are under 18”, but it isn’t what she’s saying.
The biggest danger of such rhetoric is that it plays fast and loose with the facts and the tale grows in the telling. Girls who can’t be told from legal adults become “children”, hiring for a service becomes “buying for sex” as though they were carried home in a plain brown wrapper and stored in a drawer in the nightstand, and a rare event (only about 3.54% of all prostitutes are underage) becomes a “hidden epidemic” and normal, decent men are accused en masse. But we’ve seen all that before; what makes this article unique is that it affords us the rare opportunity to catch a lie in the actual process of growth. The author says “according to the Daily Beast, 100,000 – 300,000 children between the ages of 12 and 14 years old are victims of the child sex trade in this country” and helpfully provides us a link. But if you click on that link you’ll find that’s not what the article says at all; the actual quote is “Between 100,000 and 300,000 children—primarily girls between the ages of 12 and 14—are victims of the sex trade right here in the United States.” The new claim drops “primarily” and represents all of them as being in that age range.
The “300,000 trafficked children” fantasy grew by exactly such misquotes. Its original source was a 2001 study by Richard Estes and Neil Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania which guesstimated (by questionable methodology) that “as many as 100,000-300,000 children and youth [of both sexes] are at risk for sexual exploitation” of one kind or another. Note that even if we accept the shaky methodology, this guess is for BOTH sexes, for “children and youth” (not just children), and most importantly represents those at risk of some form of “exploitation”, not currently involved in one specific form (sex trafficking). The paper is very revealing; if you peruse it you will see that Estes and Weiner rank types of “exploitation” by frequency, and that domestic and international “sex trafficking” are second and third from the bottom. Even these highly biased and excitable gentlemen believed that “sex trafficking” affected only a tiny part of their “youth at risk”. The categories are, in order from most common to least common, sexual molestation by acquaintances, sexual molestation by family members, pornography (including, apparently, just looking at porn), gay sex, stripping, sexual contributions by girls to gangs, pimped prostitution (for girls) and entrepreneurial prostitution (for boys).
Reading the descriptions of these categories is a jaw-dropping experience; one wonders how the authors could possibly have been unaware of the flagrant exposure of their biases (of which there are quite a few). Just looking at porn is considered somehow exploitative and pederasty is automatically classed as exploitation even if voluntary. The inclusion of stripping in clubs and working for modeling agencies and escort services reveals that at least some of the “youth at risk” are of legal age to work in such venues, and we are told “Modeling, nude dancing, lap dancing and similar sexually provocative activities frequently are used to lure girls into prostitution; at a minimum, these activities serve as the basis for involving girls in pornography.” I’ll bet that comes as a surprise to all of my readers who have worked in strip clubs; how did I miss all those pimps hanging around “luring” girls into prostitution or porn acting? But the most telling example of bias is that, though entrepreneurial (i.e. voluntary) prostitution is listed as a category for boys, it is not for girls; Estes and Weiner automatically class all female prostitutes as involuntary, controlled and exploited!
To sum up, then, what this study actually says is “We can’t be sure because it’s really hard to count, but we think that up to 100,000 (and maybe, possibly as high as 300,000) people of both sexes from puberty until their late teens possibly may at some point come close to being sexually involved with people who are older than them, and this includes stumbling on internet porn, going to work in strip clubs to support themselves after 18, joining gangs and having older boyfriends. Of these possibilities trafficking is the least common. Oh, and we don’t accept that women can ever voluntarily engage in prostitution because they’re too stupid to be entrepreneurs; only guys are smart enough to do that.” But in the past ten years, this tale has grown considerably; the 100,000-300,000 is represented as a proper statistical estimate rather than a broad guess, and as the number currently “exploited” rather than merely “at risk”. The figure is usually said to represent only girls rather than both sexes and only “children” rather than “children, adolescents and 18-19 year old legal adults”. But worst of all, the least common of Estes and Weiner’s categories of “sexual exploitation” is represented as its entirety! The usual quote is something like “100,000-300,000 children are currently exploited by the sex trade in the United States”, which is a far cry from what the study actually says!
But it gets worse; this same study is also the source of the ubiquitous “the average age of entry into prostitution is 14” (or 13, or 12) myth which I exploded in my column of November 27th. What it actually says is that among underage street prostitutes (i.e. those who were under 18 when interviewed), “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.” However, the data published with the study does not support this conclusion; as explained in this mathematical analysis, if we assume that the study’s survey figures are reliable, the average age of entry for underage prostitutes (those of 18 or above being specifically excluded by the authors) is 15.91. The authors do not claim that most prostitutes start at 12-14, but that most underage ones do; furthermore, they don’t claim that most underage prostitutes are currently that age, only that most started at that age (and even that is incorrect). The widespread misuse is equivalent to the statement “most Americans learn to drive at 16” being warped into “most American drivers are 16.”
Combining all these distortions together finally gives us the Daily Beast’s claim, and though it would take weeks of research to pin down all the stages in the transformation (if we could find them at all), I do note that the combination of the age myth with the number myth is very recent; i.e. the claim that the victims are “primarily girls between the ages of 12 and 14” dates to this year. Finally, with the new permutation quoted at the top of this column the tall tale has attained wholly ludicrous proportions; since there are only about 5.8 million girls of 12-14 in the U.S., the fanatics are now claiming that about 5% of them are sex slaves, which I fancy is too big a whopper even for the terminally gullible who make up the bulk of the population.