Lost Boys: New research demolishes the stereotype of the underage sex worker — and sparks an outbreak of denial among child-sex-trafficking alarmists nationwide

Lost Boys: New research demolishes the stereotype of the underage sex worker — and sparks an outbreak of denial among child-sex-trafficking alarmists nationwide
Illustration by Brian Stauffer

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 goin' to 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 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' 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.

Researchers Meredith Dank and Ric Curtis induced hundreds of New York's underage sex workers to open up about their "business." Their findings upended the conventional wisdom — and galled narrow-minded advocates.
Ashlie Quinone
Researchers Meredith Dank and Ric Curtis induced hundreds of New York's underage sex workers to open up about their "business." Their findings upended the conventional wisdom — and galled narrow-minded advocates.
Curtis and Dank relied upon a method of social networking that was anything but electronic: Interview subjects were given coupons to pass out to peers and collected $10 for each successful referral.
Ashlie Quinone
Curtis and Dank relied upon a method of social networking that was anything but electronic: Interview subjects were given coupons to pass out to peers and collected $10 for each successful referral.

Details

EDITOR'S NOTE: Village Voice Media, which owns this publication, 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, 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.

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But after spending several hours sweating in the muggy August air, the professor and his PhD 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 which listed a toll-free number that kids could call anonymously to volunteer for the survey. With a local nonprofit 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, the other female — at a café 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 the long-held core assumptions about underage prostitution:

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51 comments
guyguy666
guyguy666

most victims are told not to talk about their pimps. also they might view the pimps as good too. however, i think a lot of homeless people engage in survival sex anyways. 10% of hundreds of people is still a big number in my opinion, and it might be somewhat higher than 10% Clients often don't talk about the pimps until days, weeks, or months after coming to receive resources. 

babosoff30
babosoff30

Then the focus goes back on to the customer - who I would guess is a "respectable" white male. Given that half the prostitutes are underage males, you have the complicating factor of societal homophobia to deal with. Obviously, there are a lot of straight males engaging in sex with underage girls, but the gay community is still fighting to end the myth that every gay is out to seduce teenagers.

 

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Alessandra
Alessandra

Aimeeday1972: "All this is very interesting, but sometimes I wonder if instead of asking the children "why do you do this?" we shouldn't be asking the customers "why do you want to f*ck children?"

Ah, but then they just might find out that these people who want to abuse kids are liberals, homosexuals, in favor of gay rights, the type of people the VV caters to. And how they love to sweep this kind of information very much under the rug.

The majority of these kids are male? Now who likes to have sex with boys?

Aimeeday, I totally agree. Who are these people is THE question to be asked along with the ones about the kids.

Jeff Lewis
Jeff Lewis

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 slaves and see for myself if they were kidnapped and forced against their will.

These 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 your news organization do a full report on the lies, myths and exaggerated numbers being told about sex trafficking slaves. The articles about the super bowl sex slaves, has been proved wrong many times, but news organizations still report about it, as if it were fact.

Here is a good website about sex trafficking: http://bebopper76.wordpress.co...

Danielle Nickerson
Danielle Nickerson

I enjoy how some obviously didnt understand what the whole point of the article is about. the point is that the govt (our tax money) spends a shitload of money to fund groups, da's, criminal courts, special police teams aimed at targeting pimps, and skewed studies aimed at an evangelical victim. In the study produced by John Jay College points to the fact that there is only about 10% of underage prostitution victims which fall under a certain criteria and they also further push the sad sad image of a prostituted teen. This means that anywhere from 80-90% are being grossly under-represented by studies, advocacy groups govt etc. The image of a scantily clad caucasian teen girl being pimped out by a barbaric non white pimp is wrong and misrepresented only to have the evangelical america feel bad and to provide funding for such programs. meanwhile, many groups such as lgbt teens, straight teens, and teens without pimps are not being considered as an at risk population... nor are they being considered to be in immediate need compared to someones teen daughter who ran away or was "lured by some deviant off the internet" Another point is that most of these teens who are hypersexualized at an early age usually had some form of sexual abuse/trauma way before they turned to prostitution. the article provides the opposite of what child-sex trafficking advocates want to be publicized...its not the big bad wolf who is "taking our sweet children away" or are even the instigators of teen prostitution.. most often times it is a dyfunctional or neglectful family and a growing mainly unknown # of those happen to be male. its easy to point out that soemone is disappointed for only finding 3 participants initially, but a cookbook statistics class will inform you that a sample of 3 grossly misrepresents any type of educated researrch of this caliber. what is disappointing is that there are more who havent even been counted, not the researchers.

Strider01
Strider01

Poor, poor Village Voice. It gets accused of profiting from abuse, so it resorts to defending itself with conflict-of-interest pieces that undermine the veracity its attackers' data . . . so that we will ostensibly absolve the Voice of it's business practices! You know, no harm, no foul.

I have no doubt that the statistics used by the organizations named in this piece are faulty. I have no doubt that the Hollywood-charity-PR machine described is disingenuous and self-serving in its reliance on poor information. I have no doubt that the politics that produced this criticism of VVM are conservative indeed, and likely to encourage fear-mongering rather than addressing the underlying social causes of this problem, or offer true help for the victims. The Voice loves to present critical journalism of this kind, and some its writers are very good at it indeed.

However, there is such a thing as journalistic integrity. For the Voice to offer ANY pieces on this topic without addressing the obvious editorial bias at stake is likewise irresponsible, despicable, ridiculous, and reflects outlandishly poor judgment. That it thinks its readers will overlook this implies a disrespect for the intelligence of any one who can see how much VVM has to benefit (in term of its bottom line!) from editorial choices aimed at persuading its readership to consider this as a less-than-extreme problem.

Yes, there is such a thing as reactionary, dishonest fear-mongering around social issues. But the Village Voice editorship has shown us that when this happens you can always respond in as self-serving a way as possible, and thereby squander the legitimacy of any voice you have in the discourse.

Strider01
Strider01

Poor, poor Village Voice. It gets accused of profiting from abuse, so it resorts to defending itself with conflict-of-interest pieces that undermine the veracity its attackers' data . . . so that we will ostensibly absolve the Voice of it's business practices! You know, no harm, no foul.

I have no doubt that the statistics used by the organizations named in this piece are faulty. I have no doubt that the Hollywood-charity-PR machine described is disingenuous and self-serving in its reliance on poor information. I have no doubt that the politics that produced this criticism of VVM are conservative indeed, and likely to encourage fear-mongering rather than addressing the underlying social causes of this problem, or offer true help for the victims. The Voice loves to present critical journalism of this kind, and some its writers are very good at it indeed.

However, there is such a thing as journalistic integrity. For the Voice to offer ANY pieces on this topic without addressing the obvious editorial bias at stake is likewise irresponsible, despicable, ridiculous, and reflects outlandishly poor judgment. That it thinks its readers will overlook this implies a disrespect for the intelligence of any one who can see how much VVM has to benefit (in term of its bottom line!) from editorial choices aimed at persuading its readership to consider this as a less-than-extreme problem.

Yes, there is such a thing as reactionary, dishonest fear-mongering around social issues. But the Village Voice editorship has shown us that when this happens you can always respond in as self-serving a way as possible, and thereby squander the legitimacy of any voice you have in the discourse.

Aimeeday1972
Aimeeday1972

All this is very interesting, but sometimes I wonder if instead of asking the children "why do you do this?" we shouldn't be asking the customers "why do you want to f*ck children?"

Jessica
Jessica

Hmmmmm.... interesting that they changed the title from "Whore Stories:..." to "Lost Boys:..."

Jessica
Jessica

Besides some of the problems I find in their methodology, I strongly object to the term "child prostitute". A child does not and cannot consent to sex whether or not there is a financial profit. It isn't "child prostitution" it is child exploitation. These are victims, not sex workers.

ja-i-pan
ja-i-pan

oh when i read the link i thought it was talking about kim kardashian and maraih yeater.

The Myth of Sex Trafficking
The Myth of Sex Trafficking

Where are all the underage children kidnapped and forced against their will by a pimp to have sex with the general 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, and shouldn't we hear the millions of victims speak?

Instead, none are found.

Do all men really love raping children who are kicking, crying and screaming, with no one willing to help? Like the anti-prostitution groups say?

Here are some good websites about sex trafficking:

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

http://sextraffickingtruths.bl...

http://researchonhumantraffick...

http://sextraffickingvictims.b...

http://sextraffickingintheusa....

http://www.villagevoice.com/se...

http://www.melonfarmers.co.uk/...

Counselor
Counselor

If you don't know why the Riverfront Times runs these types of stories on the frontpage all the time--about how few underage girls are involved in prostitution--it's because their parent company, Village Voice Media, tells them to. These corporate guys are scared to death that one of their biggest moneymakers, the BackPage--where you can still find girls for sale for sex--will go the way of Craigslist's erotic section. It seems that the strongest argument among the public against prostitution is that it involves teenage heterosexual girls (nobody cares much about teenage homosexual boys), and the Village Voice wants to demolish that argument by showing that few underage girls are involved in this, the world's oldest profession. So instead of hardhitting exposes of fraud and waste, we now get yet another frontpage story about "don't worry about hookers....their almost all over the age of 18!" The more you know....

Geraldina
Geraldina

True, most women are whores.

LifeIsSweetBaby
LifeIsSweetBaby

Curious why @villagevoice changed the original title of this piece. "Whore Stories" is NOT what the author titled the piece. (Village voice owns this paper also) 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.

Curious why @villagevoice changed the name of this article. "Whore Stories" is NOT what the author titled it.

Ed Drain
Ed Drain

Backpage says the science is questionable, to which I say, your study is questionable. Backpage's ethics are not questionable -- they are just plain wrong. Anyone who makes a living selling children deserves new living quarters -- in prison. Any company, Backpage included, that continues to facilitate a market for the sale of children deserves condemnation, ridicule, legal actions against them and ultimately destruction of such companies. I call for public resistance to Backpage and EVERYTHING it sells. I call on everyone to have NO business with backpage at all. Make a moral decision not to support a company that knowingly lets children be sold via its webpage.

Ed Drain
Ed Drain

blah blah blah, more of the same. VV says: there is no problem. then: there is a problem but we are spending (out of the mother-load they are making CREATING the problem) all this money to mitagate it. Now VV shows that at least one adult can prostitute herself with a pen. Congratulations, Kristin Hinman, for a fine piece of prostitution!

Ted Haggard
Ted Haggard

Typical of American society we ignore the actual problem and focus time, energy and resources on manufactured problems, just so long as they make for sensationalized headlines. Not than anyone really wants to address the real problem of sexual abuse of minors, which eminates from the home and family, not from strangers lurking behind some bush. We'd rather conjure up some fictionalized pimp driving a big cadillac, wearing a mauve leisre suit and a fedora sporting a big feather than accept the fact that more than 90 % of abusers are parents, siblings, uncles/aunts and family friends. How much money is being spent on protecting those children?

No, we'd rather spend an average of $400,000 per pimped out kid on the street than tackle the real problems or spend hundreds of millions to pay cops to pretend they are kids and look for hookups on the internet instead of going after real problems of abuse. Are there really any kids on the internet looking for sex or is it just a bunch of cops and reporters looking to get their humiliation jollies?

No it's easier to just conjure up non-existent monsters or inflate problems rather than to correct the causes of abuse by looking at who is really starting the abusive cycle like the christian conservative republican judge in Texas who beats his disabled 16 year old daughter on Youtube for 8 minutes.

Susan Finley
Susan Finley

I guess it sells product to call the article "Whore Stories." Nice touch. Again, vast chasm between academics and the street. And the conclusion? Who wants to PAY for help for these kids? So there ya go. Not further exploration of a society where cops rape kids in their custody or adults pay for underage sex with impunity or the internet allows for new networks off the street or there are new attitudes about sex and money and what does that mean about morality. No, just who wants to pay to get these kids better? Figures...

Dave
Dave

Another problem is while police use the child issue as an excuse to bust in private consenting adult whose sexual services are legal and no big deal in almost all the world except the U.S. Millions of dollars to enforce laws with no victims other than certain peoples idea of "morality"

In one big FBI, local police action in many cities they arrested about 1000 women, and only about 10 were underaged!

The Supreme Court in Lawrence vs Texas protected sexual privacy and specifically stated that laws can not be based on morality. Lets spend the money going after real pimps and abuse not in private consenting adult sex workers.

Many adult women fund their college educations this way and many enjoy the "work"

Streetmeme
Streetmeme

Without being a statistician I find it difficult to tell who to believe on either side here but...come on...it's not a stretch of common sense or imagination to think a sizeable portion of these kids are males! It's not a stretch to think that a lot of them (boys and girls) are doing it by choice either. This leads me to believe that some of the people and organizations listed in this article lack common sense and have no imaginations. Par for the course.

Susannola3
Susannola3

RIP RFT.... You are wrong. Can't you all give it a rest... you are dead wrong on this and trying to defend that sexual abuse and trafficking aren't a huge and growing problem in the world is just plain pathetic. Your continual focus on this reminds me of a drunken belligerent idiot who everyone knows needs to shut their mouth, but they are oblivious to what is going on around them so they keep talking further putting their foot in their mouth and offending everyone in the process. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just admit you are wrong and shut up.

Tim Cowin
Tim Cowin

"But after spending several hours sweating in the muggy August air, the professor and his PhD 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."

Is the above quote a mistake? They found only 3 hookers,,,,,but "only" 2 were underage? Did they need 3 of 3 to be underage to cause concern? If One of three were underage, or 1/3 in this case, would that cause no concern?

i could not read past this opening phrase. Is the RFT really going this low? Ignoring the fact that underage girls, around the world, are sexually abused and enslaved into prostitution is a terrible blindness of the western world!

Nate
Nate

Did anyone stop and think that maybe the John Jay study's methods of gathering participants was more skewed towards older, more independent types. A young teenage girl getting pimped probably would be scared of participating in a study, or she wouldn't be able to find time to get away from her pimp.

Of course, as mentioned, the very idea of child-sex trafficking is itself a small industry, a job-creator if you will. Not for the children, but for all the advocacy "non-profits", academics studying the issue, etc Let's face it, there probably people getting paid very good money to ring the alarm bells of child-sex trafficking, and they need to look useful in order to keep getting that money, so of course they're going to pad their numbers.

jpinsfnow
jpinsfnow

@Alessandra You didn't get the whole piece about politics denying the reality of teen male prostitutes and teen female prostitutes with no pimp opting for prostitution. It's political and blind comments like yours that keep things from getting fixed. I'm a faggot and I don't have sex with kids. If there were no men left on the Earth, I wouldn't fcuk a kid, and I still wouldn't touch a dumb bitch like you. You're a conservative cnut.

Phoenix
Phoenix

You ignore the part where it's stated that the vast majority of customers are rich white men. You tell me who's much more likely to be rich, white, and sexually in the closet, "officially" straight yet seeking sex with males on the side? (Here are a few hints for you: George Rekers, Larry Craig, Paul Babeu...)

stev0205
stev0205

Yea and those morons used sources too! What the hell were they thinking, reporting the findings of a scientific study!?!?

Let's consider the common perception for why scientists would falsify the outcome of their own study: to get more grant money by sensationalizing the false findings.

So, you're telling me, these scientists are trying to further their own agenda, by proving that less money needs to be funded into their own studies? Thus lowering the chances of receive absurd amounts of grant money, and possibly putting themselves out of work.

I guess then they can become prostitutes and study themselves. Brilliant!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Your last name wouldn't happen to be Pot by chance, would it?

Bob
Bob

If you had taken the time to read the rest of the 8 page story you would have understood the statement. The previous "research" indicated that there are thousands, so to find 3 is disappointing. Also a researcher is not a rescuer on an individual level. The research is done so the problem can be analyzed and a solution can be created to address the problem, helping many not just one or two.

Arab
Arab

Yeah I don't get the "only 2" thing either. Looks like the RFT has abandoned journalistic standards and instead has just gone to be as inflammatory as possible. Hey, whatever gets the website hits, right?

JAHNEEL
JAHNEEL

I agree with you, except its not a small industry but a $32 million dollar industry.The fastes growing illegal crime worldwide. If you know any of these trafficked girls in Hunts Point, Buschwick, Queens plaza or even in 42nd street. Bring them to GEMS. its the only organization in New York that help these young girls.

Just remember these girls stories are real. It wasnt their choice to sell their body. Imagine coming from a broken home, abused all the time, with no where else to go. And then someone offers you a life full of hope. An opportunity most wouldn't give up, to be lead in a trap of sexual explotation. The average age of a prostitute is 13 !

spread the word and call GEMS

THHWr
THHWr

lol @ acting like the rft had standards to begin with

 
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