One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow. – Charlie Chaplin
The only places in which any hard facts about prostitution can be uncovered are those in which our profession is entirely decriminalized, and there aren’t many of those; luckily, New Zealand took the trouble to study prostitution in depth in order to answer fanatics who predicted disaster when decriminalization was implemented there in 2003. In a survey done in 2005, researchers found that there were a total of 5932 prostitutes of all levels in New Zealand…given that this is the ONLY methodologically sound study available for any portion of the English-speaking world, it’s the best estimate we have for the United States or ever will have until and unless prostitution is fully decriminalized here and whores can therefore feel safe in answering such surveys. According to the 2006 census the population of New Zealand was 4,143,279, of whom approximately 2,082,049 were female; active, declared prostitutes (excluding part-timers, party girls, strippers, gold-diggers etc) were 5932 of those women or 0.285%. Since this jibes very closely with the standard 1% estimate of all women who prostitute themselves to one degree or another it seems very reasonable and we can therefore apply it to the American population as the best estimate we’re likely to get in the lifetime of anyone reading this. According to the most recent estimates (2009) there are about 155,600,000 women in the United States, which after applying the New Zealand estimate gives us a figure of 443,323 active, declared prostitutes in this country…
Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a way to cross-check that figure by extrapolating from any other study. But last Friday (April 15th) I read an article on A.K. Smith’s blog and encountered this sentence: “There were an estimated 70,000 prostitutes in the US in 2009, based on a long-term study that showed about 23 prostitutes per 100,000 population.” Obviously that number seemed far too low, but I still got very excited and followed the link to the study, where I found this explanation of methodology: “Potterat et al estimated the annual prevalence of full-time equivalent prostitutes in the United States to be 23 per 100,000 population based on a capture–recapture study of prostitutes found in Colorado Springs, CO, police and sexually transmitted diseases clinic records between 1970 and 1988.” Bingo! Like nearly all American studies, this one was heavily tilted toward streetwalkers by its reliance on police records and those of STD clinics. Since streetwalkers are arrested at an enormously higher rate than escorts, and since prostitutes desperate enough to work without protection are also disproportionately found among streetwalkers, what Potterat and company were actually doing was to estimate of the number of streetwalkers in the United States rather than the total number of prostitutes. Not all streetwalkers are arrested in a given year, nor do most of them contract an STD, but that is balanced by the small percentage of arrested or infected escorts so I think we can accept 70,000 as a reasonable rough estimate of the American streetwalker population.
Now, as I wrote in my very first daily post, “The National Task Force on Prostitution estimates that, of the entire female prostitute community in America, only five to twenty percent are street walkers (that’s an average estimate of 12.5%, so let’s be generous and say 15%).” The figures provided by several other studies, including the New Zealand report linked above, are similar, so I’ve always used 15% as my standard estimate. Therefore, if my estimate of 443,323 American prostitutes is correct and 15% of that number are streetwalkers, that gives us 66,498 streetwalkers, which is awfully close to Potterat’s 70,000. Indeed, considering that the figure must contain at least some escorts and massage girls, it looks like my estimate is almost dead on the money.
These results are extremely exciting to me because they support the premise that we can reasonably use the New Zealand figures to make estimates about prostitution in the United States, and that means my estimate of 15,694 underage prostitutes, drawn from the same data, is also valid. Interestingly, this tends to show the Estes and Weiner’s original figures aren’t as catastrophically high as their misuse would make it seem; if we use their low-end figure of 100,000 young people “at risk” of sexual exploitation, remember that they define all female prostitution as involuntary and consider that so-called “trafficking” is the least common of their categories, that puts my estimate as 15.694% of their “at risk youth”, which seems very reasonable.
Postscript: A.K. Smith’s article linked above goes in a very different direction from mine; she compares rates of prostitution arrests to rates of rapist arrests, with disturbing results that are well worth your consideration. Also, the study from which the “70,000 prostitutes” figure was drawn is one I’ve been trying to locate for a long time; it’s the study which disproves the nonsensical assertion that either estimates of male infidelity are too high or those of female infidelity too low by demonstrating that most male extramarital activity is conducted with whores rather than other men’s wives.