• "I can't get a job that would pay better than this."

• "I like the freedom this lifestyle affords me."

• "My friend was making a lot of money doing it and introduced me to 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.

• "I want money to buy a new cell phone."

Though the context is a different one, Dank and Curtis have, not unlike Byron Fassett, come to learn that their survey subjects' responses carry implications that are both daunting to address and tempting to deny or ignore.

For example, the John Jay study found that when asked what it would take to get them to give up prostitution, many kids expressed a desire for stable, long-term housing. But the widely accepted current social-service model — shelters that accommodate, at most, a 90-day stay — doesn't give youths enough time to get on their feet and instead pushes them back to the streets. The findings also point to a general need for more emphasis on targeted outreach, perhaps through peer-to-peer networks, as well as services of all kinds, from job training and placement to psychological therapy.

Regarding that last area of treatment, Curtis believes that kids who have made their own conscious decision to prostitute themselves might need more long-term help than those who are forced into the trade by someone else.

"Imagine if you take a kid off the street and put them in therapy," he says. "Which do you think is easier to deal with: the kid who's been enslaved by another human being, or the one who's been enslaved by him- or herself — who only have themselves to blame? In my view, healing those kids is a steeper hill than the one who can point to somebody and say, 'He did that to me, I'm not that kind of person,' and who can deflect the blame."

Which raises the question: Who's willing to pay the freight to guide kids up that hill?

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