"Pimps do exist," she says, "but they're a relatively rare phenomenon." The vast majority of hookers are willing, independent contractors.

Underage hookers are also "extremely rare," McNeill says. Over the years, she fielded a few hundred applications from ladies of the eve. Only one didn't pass a drivers license check.

Sure, there are exceptions. But McNeill doesn't think huge numbers of hookers are going anywhere. And they won't be heading to Dallas for a very simple reason: Sporting events suck for the sex trade.

The younger fans have already spent thousands on jacked-up hotel rates, airfare and scalped tickets, she says. They only have enough left to nurse Bud Lights and Jäger bombs.

The executive caste may have money to burn, but most bring their families along. "What do they say to their wives?" McNeill asks. "'Hey honey, I'm going to see a hooker now?'"

As for McNeill's experience during Super Bowl week in New Orleans: "I really saw no change whatsoever."

So how do these myths get started? Through good intentions, of course.

There's no way to quantify the number of hookers, since most women won't admit to their profession. Public confession only brings an audit from the IRS or a visit from child welfare workers.

That leaves the outside world to speculate—usually with stats only appreciated after eight beers near closing time. Professors pitch junk studies whereby every runaway girl is a potential prostitute.

Advocacy groups take those numbers and fan them by the thousands, buffing them with lurid anecdotes of "sex slaves" and "victims of human trafficking." The fervent simply can't believe that isolated cases are just that: isolated.

But it's hard to kindle interest in the world's oldest profession. So they latch onto the occasional news story or CNN special. After all, children in distress sell.

"Underage girls make better victims, better poster children," says McNeill, a former librarian with a master's from LSU. "I'm 44. What kind of believable victim would I make?"

The study by the Dallas Women's Foundation shows how the numbers are baked. It hired a company to gauge the percentage of juvenile hookers in Dallas. Its scientific method: Look at online escort ads and guess the ages of the women pictured!

Never mind that escort services often yank said photos from the Internet to put their most sultry visual forward. And never mind that such methodology wouldn't pass muster at Mert's Discount Community College & Small Engine Repair.

The company still decreed that 38 percent of Dallas hookers were underage!

(Disclosure: The Dallas Observer and Backpage.com are owned by the same parent company, Village Voice Media Holdings.)

Not ones to miss 30 seconds of free air time, that's when the politicians climb aboard. After all, what would you rather do? Be fitted for the role of child-rescuing hero at a congressional hearing or a press conference? Or sit down to the complex, painful task of addressing America's age-old runaway problem?

Of course, we in the media are equally culpable. We dutifully relay the fraud via our Patented Brand of Unquestioning Stenography, rarely bothering to check if it's remotely plausible.

And by this time, there's no going back. The fraud must be upheld. Charities have raised money to help the innocents. Politicians have brayed and task forces have been appointed. Editors and news directors have ordered five-part series. No one wants to look like a moron.

But the week after every Super Bowl, they all go quiet. Either the 100,000 hookers never showed, or they were in dastardly possession of super invisible powers.

Maybe it will be different in Dallas, with its all-hands-on-deck vigilance. Perhaps next week's dockets will be sagging with thousands of runaway middle-school volleyball stars. Perhaps the Shapiro Law Firm will be giving a bulk rate to the entire roster of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

Perhaps.

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