Weird Science: Schapiro Group data on sex-trafficking study wasn't questioned by mainstream media

Attorneys representing Craigslist told Congress on September 15 that the ubiquitous Web classifieds site was closing its adult section.

Under intense scrutiny from the government and crusading advocacy groups, as well as state attorneys general, owner Craig Newmark memorably applied the label "Censored" in his classifieds where adult advertising once appeared.

During the same September hearing of a subcommittee of the House Judiciary, members of Congress listened to vivid and chilling accounts regarding underage prostitution.

Jesse Lenz
Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, says the Schapiro study is based on a logical fallacy.
Deanna Dent
Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, says the Schapiro study is based on a logical fallacy.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Village Voice Media, which owns this newspaper, owns the classified site Backpage.com. In addition to used cars, jobs, and couches, readers can also find adult ads on Backpage; for this reason, Women's Funding Network and their allies have often 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 the WFN held symposiums across America—from Seattle to Miami—denouncing Backpage. Indeed, we were never asked for response.

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

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The congressmen heard testimony from half a dozen nonprofit executives and law enforcement officials. But the most alarming words of the day came from Deborah Richardson, the chief program officer of the Women's Funding Network. She told legislators that juvenile prostitution is exploding at an astronomical rate.

"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 Richardson's 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 is based merely on looking at photos on the Internet. There is no science.

Eric Grodsky, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota who teaches about proper research construction, says that the study is fundamentally flawed.

"The method's not clean," Grodsky says. "You couldn't get this kind of thing into a peer-reviewed journal. There are just too many unanswered questions about their methodology."

Ric Curtis, the chairman of the Department of Anthropology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, led a Justice Department-funded study on juvenile prostitution in New York City in 2008. He's highly skeptical of the claims in the Women's Funding Network's study.

"I wouldn't trust those numbers," Curtis says. "This new study seems pretty bogus."

In fact, the group behind the study admits as much. It's now clear they used fake data to deceive the media and lie to Congress. And it was all done to score free publicity and a wealth of public funding.

"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.'"

A Future. Not a Past is a product of the Atlanta Women's Foundation, the Juvenile Justice Fund, and Harold and Kayrita Anderson's foundation. To measure the amount of juvenile prostitution in the state, the consortium hired the Schapiro Group, an Atlanta business-consulting operation.

The Schapiro Group members weren't academic researchers and had no prior experience studying prostitution. In fact, the group was best known for research paid for by the chamber of commerce. The study found — surprise — that membership in the chamber of commerce improves a business' image.

The consultants came up with a novel, if not very scientific, method for tabulating juvenile prostitutes: They counted pictures of young-looking women on online classified sites.

"That's one of the first problems right there," Grodsky says. "These advertisers are in the business of making sales, and there's a market for young-looking women. Why would you trust that the photographs are accurate?"

In other words, the ads, like the covers of women's magazines, are relentlessly promoting fantasy. Anyone who has tried online dating understands the inherent trouble with trusting photographs.

Even if the person placing the advertisement is the one in the picture, there's no telling how old the photo is, says David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

"How do you know when the pictures were taken?" Finkelhor asks. "It's not illegal for an eighteen-year-old who's selling sex to put up a picture of herself from when she was sixteen."

And if, for the sake of argument, the photos were an accurate portrayal, how do you train those viewing the photographs to guess the correct age?

In fact, you don't.

Before conducting its full study, the Schapiro Group tested the accuracy of its method in a sample of 100 observers. At one point, the 100 observers are described as a "random sample." Elsewhere, they are described as "balanced by race and gender."

These 100 adults were shown pictures of teenagers and young adults whose ages were known and were asked to guess whether they were younger than eighteen.

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12 comments
John
John

What was touted in the 70s as "Question Authority" I long ago transmuted in "Question Everybody." Activist groups of all stripes can often be found to bend definitions and data to unbelievable (to thinking people) lengths if it supports/promotes their viewpoints. And virtually all media (including RFT and the Village Voice) buy into it withoutn question if it suits their political/social point of view. From numbers of homeless to American children going to bed hungry to rape statistics to what actually constitutes poverty in America the numbers often make no sense. Hopefully VV Media and RFT will use this lesson to actually "run the numbers" before the run with them.

Jeff Lewis
Jeff Lewis

http://sextraffickingtruths.bl...

Sex Trafficking in Sports Events:

Super Bowl 2011:

According to the media hype There was supposed to be hundreds of thousands of under age child sex slaves kidnapped and forced to have sex with super bowl fans. At the Dallas Super Bowl 2011.

WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL OF THEM?????

WHERE ARE THE THOUSANDS OF SUPER BOWL KIDNAPPED FORCED CHILD SEX SLAVES???????

Politicians, women's groups, police and child advocates were predicting that up to 100,000 hookers would be shipped into Dallas for the Super Bowl.

It was all a big lie told by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, government officials, and various anti-prostitution groups: Traffick911, Not for Sale, Change-org, Polaris Project, and the Dallas Women’s Foundation, which are anti-prostitution groups that tell lies in order to get grant money from the government and charities to pay their high salaries, and get huge amounts of money into their organizations. As proved in the links below:

Top FBI agent in Dallas (Robert Casey Jr.) sees no evidence of expected spike in child sex trafficking:

“Among those preparations was an initiative to prevent an expected rise in sex trafficking and child prostitution surrounding the Super Bowl. But Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, said he saw no evidence that the increase would happen, nor that it did.“In my opinion, the Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes,” he said. “The discussion gets very vague and general. People mixed up child prostitution with the term human trafficking, which are different things, and then there is just plain old prostitution.”

http://www.dallasnews.com/spor...

This myth of thousands or millions of underage sex slaves tries to make every sports fan a sex criminal. No matter what the sport is, or in what country it is in.

Brian McCarthy isn't happy. He's a spokesman for the NFL. Every year he's forced to hear why his customers are adulterers and child molesters. Brian McCarthy says the sport/super bowl sex slave story is a urban legend, with no truth at all.

These anti-prostitution groups lobby the government in a big way, getting Politicians to truly believe their lies.

== World Cup 2006 ==Politicians, religious and aid groups, still repeat the media story that 40,000 prostitutes were trafficked into Germany for the 2006 world cup – long after leaked police documents revealed there was no truth at all in the tale. A baseless claim of 25,000 trafficking victims is still being quoted, recently, for example, by the Salvation Army in written evidence to the home affairs select committee, in which they added: "Other studies done by media have suggested much higher numbers.” Which has been proven by the German police to be completely false. Yet people still talk about these false numbers as if it were fact.==World Cup 2010 ==Again using the made up number of 40,000 prostitutes trafficked:The behavior of fans in South Africa has run contrary to what was predicted prior to the start of the tournament after David Bayever told World Cup organizers in March it was feared that up to 40,000 extra prostitutes could converge in the host nation to meet the expected demand. Bayever, deputy chairperson of South Africa's Central Drug Authority (CDA) that advises on drug abuse but also works with prostitutes, warned: "Forty-thousand new prostitutes. As if we do not have enough people of our own, we have to import them to ensure our visitors are entertained."

But the tournament in 2010, if anything, has seen the modern-day soccer fan attracted to art galleries and museums over brothels. A trend that has seen a drop in revenue across the board for the prostitution industry, which is illegal in South Africa. "Zobwa," the chairperson of Sisonke -- an action group representing around 70 street prostitutes in Johannesburg -- said business had been down over the last month. "The World Cup has been devastating. We thought it was going to be a cash cow but it's chased a lot of the business away. It's been the worst month in my company's history," the owner and founder of one of Johannesburg's most exclusive escort companies told CNN.

===The Vancouver Olympics 2010=======Again anti-prostitution groups lied and used the same figure of 40,000 or more sex slaves for the Vancouver Olympics. Again they were proved wrong. There were no sex slaves at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

In recent years, every time there has been a major international sporting event, a group of government officials, campaigning feminists, pliant journalists and NGOs have claimed that the movement of thousands of men to strange foreign countries where there will be lots of alcohol and horniness will result in the enslavement of women for the purposes of sexual pleasure. Obviously. And every time they have simply doubled the made-up scare figures from the last international sporting event, to make it look like this problem of sport/sex/slavery gets worse year on year. Yet each year it is proved false.

This myth tries to make every sports fan a sex criminal. No matter what the sport is, or in what country it is in. These anti-prostitution groups need to in invent a victim that does not exist in order to get press attention.

I do not like the idea of people getting the wrong information and believing lies, no matter what the topic is. The Sex trafficking, slavery issue is one of the biggest lies being told today. It is amazing to me how people will believe such lies so easily. The media is to blame for this. I wonder why they feel such a need to report wrong stats, numbers and information about this topic without doing proper research.

While this may happen in very rare limited situations, the media will say that millions of people are sex slaves without doing any real research on the topic. Only taking the word of special interest anti-prostitution groups which need to generate money in the form of huge government grants from taxpayers, and charities. These "non profit" group's employees make huge salaries, therefore they need to lobby the government, and inflate and invent victims in order to get more money into their organizations. If you look into how many real kidnapped forced against their will sex slaves there are, and not just take the anti-prostitution groups word for it. You will be very surprised. Where are all the forced sex slaves? I would like to meet the millions of sex slaves and see for myself if they were in fact kidnapped, and forced against their will.

These anti-prostitution groups lobby the government in a big way, getting Politicians to truly believe their lies.

This is an attempt to over inflate an issue in order to get more government money to these organizations. As a tax payer, voter, and resident I don’t want the government to mislead me.

I would like to see a news organization do a full report on the lies, myths and exaggerated numbers being told about sex trafficking slaves. But they won't do it because they are all sacred of the anti-prostitution groups, so the media continues to tell lies and only report what the anti-prostitution groups and politicians tell them to. The articles about the super bowl and sport sex slaves, has been proved wrong many times, but news organizations still report about it, as if it were fact.

Below are the few brave souls that told the truth in the media:Sex Trafficking in Sports Events links:

Dallas TV News show about super bowl sex slave myth:

http://www.wfaa.com/sports/foo...

Dallas Newspaper article:

http://www.dallasobserver.com/...http://www.dallasobserver.com/...http://www.dallasobserver.com/...

Official Lies About Sex-Trafficking Exposed: It's now clear that anti-prostitution groups used fake data to deceive the media and lie to Congress. And it was all done to score free publicity and a wealth of public funding

http://www.villagevoice.com/20...

http://bebopper76.wordpress.co...

The Sex Trafficking/Slavery idea is used to outlaw all adult consensual prostitution, and label all men as sex offenders and wipe out all consensual prostitution.

Nogo217
Nogo217

Holy BS Batman! As a not for profit employee and someone who knows how difficult it is to raise awareness and money to support a cause, this article truly made me feel like we are moving into the age of Mike Judge's Idiocracy. I am truly amazed at the way supposed mission driven work can turn into selling out and lying to the general public. F-ing Disgusting.

annon
annon

What you have to realize is that news organizations would never go out of their way to question these so called statistics. It is a lose-lose situation. Could you just imagine Channel 5 airing a cover story about how they investigated claims of sex slaves and under-age prostitution on Backpage and found little evidence of either. It will never happen because they would suffer more backlash from people wondering what their motives were for doing such a story. The moral majority(minority) is still a powerful group in this culture and media that relies on advertising dollars will succomb to them

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Dannybodin80
Dannybodin80

I wonder if they count the cops posing as teen ho's in their bogus statistics. Further evidence of the witch hunt can been seen in yesterday's Post Disgrace regarding a Clayton man who was sentenced to 10 years in the pokey (pun intended) for soliciting an underage prostitute on backpage. I've looked at those ads, but never seen any that advertise underage girls. So he answered an ad for an adult escort and they did the old bait and switch when he got there?

Bill Hannegan
Bill Hannegan

The press doesn't see questioning the basis such claims as part of its job anymore. When I debated the County smoking ban against Barb Fraser, she claimed that smoking bans were saving 500,000 lives nationally each year. That is more people than die from actual smoking! But the claim got printed without question. City Health Director Pam Walker claimed that working in bar that allows smoking 8 hours is the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes yourself. Again, no basis, yet no one followed up on the claim.

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