Child-sex-trafficking stereotypes demolished by new research

Life is life, and you gotta do what you gotta do. It's like everybody can't be a doctor, a teacher or have rich parents take care of us. And it's gonna teach us, like — when we get older, we're gonna be stronger, 'cause we know life experience and stuff like that. And we're gonna know what to do in certain situations because of what we've been through when we were younger. You gotta do what you gotta do to survive. — female, age sixteen

The first night that Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank went looking for child prostitutes in the Bronx, back in the summer of 2006, they arrived at Hunts Point with the windows of Curtis's peeling Oldsmobile, circa 1992, rolled down.

Curtis, who chairs the anthropology department at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, had done research on the neighborhood's junkies and was well acquainted with its reputation for prostitution (immortalized in several HBO documentaries). If the borough had a centralized stroll for hookers, he figured Hunts Point would be it.

Jennifer Bryan of the Center for Court Innovation is helping to expand the John Jay College study nationwide using the same methodology, which has generated reliable census data on a vast range of subcultures, from drug addicts to jazz musicians.
Caleb Ferguson
Jennifer Bryan of the Center for Court Innovation is helping to expand the John Jay College study nationwide using the same methodology, which has generated reliable census data on a vast range of subcultures, from drug addicts to jazz musicians.
"It was almost like nobody wants to document their existence": Georgia State University criminologist Mary Finn's research effort in Atlanta was thwarted by uncooperative advocacy groups, incomplete arrest data and a lack of shelter beds for juveniles in crisis.
Ashlie Quinones
"It was almost like nobody wants to document their existence": Georgia State University criminologist Mary Finn's research effort in Atlanta was thwarted by uncooperative advocacy groups, incomplete arrest data and a lack of shelter beds for juveniles in crisis.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Village Voice Media, which owns this publication, owns the classified site In addition to used cars, jobs and couches, readers can also find adult ads on Backpage; for this reason, certain activists and clergy members have 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 activists held symposiums across America—from Seattle to Miami—denouncing Backpage. Indeed, we were never asked for response.

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

But after spending several hours sweating in the muggy August air, the professor and his Ph.D. student decided to head home. They'd found a grand total of three hookers. Only two were underage, and all three were skittish about climbing into a car with two strangers and a tape recorder.

Dispirited though they may have been, the researchers had no intention of throwing in the towel. They were determined to achieve their goal: to conduct a census of New York City's child sex workers.

Even before they'd begun gearing up for the project two months prior, Curtis and Dank knew the magnitude of the challenge they had on their hands.

No research team before them had hit on a workable method of quantifying this elusive population. For decades, most law enforcement officials, social workers and activist groups had cited a vast range — anywhere from tens of thousands to three million — when crafting a sound bite pegging the population of underage hookers nationwide. But the range had been calculated with little or no direct input from the children themselves.

Over time, the dubious numbers became gospel.

In similar fashion, monetary outlays based on the veracity of those numbers began to multiply.

The $500,000 the federal government had allotted for this joint study by John Jay and New York's public-private Center for Court Innovation was chump change compared to the bounty amassed by a burgeoning assortment of nonprofit groups jockeying to liberate and rehabilitate the captive legions of exploited and abused children.

Now Ric Curtis intended to go the direct route in determining how many kids were out there hooking: He and Dank were going to locate them, make contact with them, and interview them one on one, one kid at a time. If they could round up and debrief 200 youths, the research team would be able to employ a set of statistically solid metrics to accurately extrapolate the total population.

It took two years of sleuthing, surveying and data-crunching, but in 2008, Curtis and Dank gave the feds their money's worth — and then some.

The results of the John Jay survey shattered the widely accepted stereotype of a child prostitute: a pre- or barely teenage girl whose every move was dictated by the wiliest of pimps.


After their first attempt flopped, the two researchers switched tacks. They printed a batch of coupons that could be redeemed for cash and that listed a toll-free number kids could call anonymously to volunteer for the survey. With a local non-profit agency that specialized in at-risk youth on board to distribute an initial set of the coupons, the researchers forwarded the 1-800 line to Dank's cell phone and waited.

It took almost a week, but the line finally lit up. Soon afterward, Dank met her first two subjects — one male, one female — at a cafe near Union Square. Both were too old to qualify for the study, and the man said he'd never engaged in sex for pay. But Dank decided to stay and interview them.

The woman said she had worked as a prostitute and that she was confident she could send underage kids Dank's way. The man said he was 23, just out of jail and homeless.

"Out of the two of them, I thought she would have been the catalyst," Dank says now. "But his was the magic coupon."

Within a day, her phone was "blowing up" with calls from kids who'd been referred by the homeless man. Almost as quickly, word got around that two professors were holding late-afternoon "office hours" at Stuyvesant Park and would pay half the going rate for oral sex in exchange for a brief interview. Before long, the researchers found themselves working long past dark, until they'd covered everyone in line or the rats got too feisty.

Nine months later, Dank and Curtis had far surpassed their goal, completing interviews with 249 underage prostitutes. From that data, they were able to put a number on the total population of New York's teen sex workers: 3,946.

Most astonishing to the researchers was the demographic profile teased out by the study. Published by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2008, Curtis and Dank's findings thoroughly obliterated long-held assumptions about underage prostitution:

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My Voice Nation Help

Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

Vonne Monai
Vonne Monai

I am a victim of child sex slavery trade. I was held captive most of my life and they still stalk me. My horrible criminal relatives did this to me out of jealousy and to cover up their theft of my assets.They kept me isolated from everyone with slander.Jealousy and lies of others is what makes it easy for all of the people that participate in this. They also have the NYPD as well as other union workers to help because they use the services of the underage or barely legal girls.


i of course forgot to mention Epstein's lovely friends in the hedge fund and investment banking world. they wouldn't think twice about blowing their nose with 15 million dollars.


jeffrey epstein's buddies run the DOJ, and run congress. thats why they dont want to look into it. you'd start turning up too many of your colleagues as 'johns'.

"she told me she was 18" would be the new "i didnt inhale"

"he told me he was 18" would be... i dont know. sounds like a free-marketer campaign slogan. theyd probably want to legalize this 'entrepeneurial endeavor' and get rid of 'regulations on business'.

Feminists tell lies
Feminists tell lies

Where are all the underage children kidnapped and forced against their will by a pimp to have sex with the genreal public for money?

How come we don’t see any of the forced victims themselves complaining about it? Why don’t the “millions of forced against their will child victims” talk about how they were kidnapped and forced against their will by a evil pimp to have sex for profit?

I would like to have a interview with the “millions of forced against their will raped kidnapped child victims” So I could hear their stories. Where are they?

Why do we only hear from the anti-prostitution groups that received money and grants from the government, and not the millions of victims themselves? If there are Millions of them, Shouldn't the police and public know where they are?

Shouldn't we hear the millions of victims speak? Instead, none are found.

Do all men really love paying money for raping children who are kicking, crying and screaming, with no one willing to help? Are all men really evil like the anti-prostitution groups say? Because according to the anti-prostitution groups 100% of men in the world are evil child rapists.

Because only women help children and only men abuse them….right?

Jeff Lewis
Jeff Lewis

Sex Trafficking/Slavery is used by many groups as a attempt to outlaw all prostitution around the world by saying that all women are victims even if they do it willing. This hurts any real victims because it labels all sex workers as victims.

This is done by the media, aid groups, NGO’s, feminists, politicians, and religious organizations that receive funds from the government. There are very strong groups who promote that all adult women who have sex are victims even if they are willing, enjoy it and go out of there way to get it. These groups try to get the public to believe that no adult women in their right mind would ever go into the sex business unless she was forced to do so, weather she knew it or not. They say that 100% of all sex workers are trafficking victims.

They do this in order to label all men as sex offenders and wipe out all consensual prostitution. Which is what their real goal is. There is almost no one who challenges or questions them about their false beliefs. Therefore, the only voices you hear are of these extreme groups. These groups want to label all men as terrible sex offenders for seeing a willing adult sex worker. No one stands up to say this is foolish, the passive public says nothing.

These groups even say that all men who marry foreign women are terrible sex predators who take advantage of these “helpless foreign women wives”.

These groups believe that two adults having consensual sex in private should be outlawed. Since they believe that it is impossible for a man to have sex with a woman without abusing the woman in the process.

Sex trafficking is illegal and the pentities are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well.They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police. This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare.

Here are some good websites about sex trafficking:





I find the money thrown at just doing research on this topic utterly reprehensible. As a former teenage male prostitute in NYC I can tell you that there is nothing in your article that is new to me. I was selling myself on the streets of New York in the early '70's so I could have told you that male prostitution is just as prevalent as female prostitution. No need for million dollar grants and studies to unearth a bunch of statistics. As was mentioned in the article, the need is for shelters and treatment options for these kids. I did not have a pimp. I voluntarily sold myself to pay for a drug habit. Maybe if someone had offered me real help instead of coupons I might have taken advantage of it. Just sayin.


Are you fucking kidding me?!?! This is the third article that Westword has done this year trying to minimize/muddle the issue of underage sex trafficking. The only reason that they are beating this drum is because their parent company (Village Voice) doesn't want restrictions on the Adult Services advertisements in it's Back Page section (as happened to craigslist). That's it. Child prostitutes are not good for the VV's bottom line so they want you to decide that it isn't an issue. How incredibly sleazy. This time they are going to use an article with research claiming that the number of child prostitutes is overblown and only 10% have pimps (read: so they really aren't being trafficked). Maybe the pimps weren't keen on having their kids giving interviews or maybe the kids are doing it of their own volition, but that really isn't the point that they are trying to make here. The point that they are trying to make is that they should be able to advertise for prostitutes because no one knows how many are kids doing it under duress.

I agree that there is a dire need for more research into the topic, I agree that craigslist and VV should be able to advertise for "adult services", but I don't agree with Westword/VV's strategy of trying to muddle the issue long enough to protect their revenue stream until better data comes out. It is disgusting that you will print articles on a weekly basis trying to paint a sympathetic portrait of people who committed heinous crimes as adults because bad things happened to them when they were children, but you will shield an industry that is doing bad things to children.


V V isn't trying to muddy the conversation, they have merely exposed how irresponsible the anti sex trafficking lobby is when it comes to spending money. Its the anti sex trafficking lobby that is responsible for conflating adult consensual prostitution with everything else and they do this because the anti sex trafficking lobby profits off the criminalization of prostitution. In fact, they rely on the criminalization of a whole force of workers for their salaries.For example, I know that: "That's at least $80 million doled out annually for law enforcement and social services that combine to rescue approximately 200 child prostitutes every year." is really code for prostitution sting operations whereby FBI agents pose naked as clients then everybody is arrested for prostitution no matter what age and goes to jail whereby everyone's civil rights are violated and offered the state sponsored shamed based sex negative 'diversion' program.Yet its the prostitution arrest themselves that becomes the basis for future discrimination in housing, employment, education, child custody.....Clearly its already a very muddy issue