Women's Funding Network sex trafficking study is junk science

Schapiro Group data 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.

Details

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.

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 are 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 Anthropology Department 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 American Chamber of Commerce Executives. The study found—surprise—that membership in the Chamber of Commerce improves a business's 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 18-year-old who's selling sex to put up a picture of herself from when she was 16."

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 18.

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23 comments
DONTAAE
DONTAAE

After I browsed threw the conversation it is interesting how sex is the topic of an study because if you continually study somthing dealing with the humanity of life it could strategy the subject? Growing up as a southern gangster i have always found that if you actually take time to cherish the realism of sex an understand that your life eventually will mature with growth threw the relationships your in despite how your start was it can be a great outcome for thoose who honestly believe in good things happening for thoose who are richly keep regardless of possessions. HOly Bible NIV

MCA_2
MCA_2

This blog makes me realize the energy of words and pictures. As always your things are just gorgeous and I am grateful that you let us look in! Keep coming up with ideas merchant cash advance

whiplash compensation ireland
whiplash compensation ireland

One of the biggest problems when you make a claim for whiplash compensation is getting the negligent party to admit their liability. Motor insurance companies in particular advise their clients never to admit responsibility for any accidents they cause, and are equally keen to see whiplash compensation payments reduced to a minimum.

Football Fan
Football Fan

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

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, Future not a past, and the Dallas Women’s Foundation, which are anti-prostitution groups that tell lies in order to get grant money from the government

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.

Sex Trafficking in Sports Events links:

http://sextraffickingtruths.bl...

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

Dallas TV News show about super bowl sex slave myth:

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

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

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

0_o
0_o

Statistics are wrong? SKEWED, even?! Sociological bases are often created and not actual and fair representations of the matter addressed? An inexact and(quite fairly) ill-respected science produced yet another inexact and ill-respected report??

OMG IT WAS FOR MONEY!!?

*sniffles* The Easter Bunny really is dead and...and Christopher Robin isn't coming back!

cynical old bastard
cynical old bastard

It's interesting when you go to Guidestar and look up the 990s for these organizations. There are a number of $100,000 + compensated employees. Some of the payroll is hidden through affiliation with PEOs. More government funding makes for highly paid Chief Program Officers and CEOs. Barbara Mosacchio, CEO of the Atlanta Women's Foundation, was paid $183,460 in 2010. But you can't get the funding without stats.

justabil
justabil

It never occurs to the Atlanta Women's Foundation that perhaps the reason they can't get funding based on the facts is that it's not really that much of a problem, and they should spend their time doing something else. One of my co-workers was taken in by this scam during the superbowl, and spent the entire day fundrasing for this non-issue.

TimCov
TimCov

One of the most disturbing things about what this group has done is the harm to those who, in the future, will be seeking to do research on human trafficking and seek to stop the human trafficking that does occur.

Simplevaldez
Simplevaldez

Thanks for this real investigative journalism.

Bubbles Burbujas
Bubbles Burbujas

Thanks so much for the good, solid work on the hysteria surrounding "trafficking." I hope this piece of investigative reporting is spread far and wide.

Sanders Kaufman
Sanders Kaufman

The Superbowl thing was a put-up job by the XXXChurch.com ministry.

DallasNews.com and Examiner.com published their press releases, warning that hundreds or even thousands of illegal aliens were being brought into town as prostitutes.Then the ministry sent out fund-raising letters.

It was a pretty successful scam - and they even got celebrities to give.The only hitch was that it was all a put-up job by the Evangelical Republicans.Not one single case of human trafficking was reported throughout the build-up and run of the Superbowl.

NoName
NoName

Wow, so, like a Village Voice employee is monitoring these comments 24/7 to blunt any criticism and ensure a supporting comment of the story is at the top? Lame.

Sanders Kaufman
Sanders Kaufman

It's an all-cash, donations-based business - so it's easy for them to launder other money through this con.

Terence
Terence

Excellent job job of investigative reporting, COB, but should you use your skills for columns at your Village Voice-owned newspaper? And how you could let your employer, VVM, talking you into posting this drivel?

FakeTimCov
FakeTimCov

More disturbing are the efforts a media organization will go to to distort the truth to retain their sleazy revenues. Aren't you ashamed to work for them, TimCov?

sooveritz
sooveritz

What's really disturbing is the harm the Observer and its owners at Village Voice Media are doing to intentionally undermine the work being done to help victims. VVM publishes this story in its papers all across the country AND knowingly makes millions on ads that sell sex. Coincidence? Hmmmm. I smell a rat.

Jerryweeks
Jerryweeks

Bubba,

I suspect it will be spread far and wide based on your company's (i.e. Village Voice Media, parent of Dallas Observer) sustained effort to retweet the story and post comments under fake names. Your company's determination to retain its sex ad business is impressive.

0_o
0_o

Byproducts being more valuable...How does one go about getting a position among the interwebs espies, NN? Not that I would try at Village Voice so your job is assured, mind...

TimCov
TimCov

I really find it amusing how anyone who agrees with this article is automatically working for the paper or the company that owns it. So, are you feeling that your job creating fake statistics out of thin air for the Women's Funding Network is in jeopardy because of this article?How about instead of making baseless claims, you show the scientific methodology that you used to make these claims? Wait, your methodology has already been proven to be erroneous. Anybody with a bachelor's degree in either sociology or criminal justice could have told you that your methodology was flawed would not stand up to scrutiny.

Gary
Gary

Instead of sniffing, perhaps you should be reading the article again. This time, concentrate. And the sex ad non sequitur is tired. Gee, how VVM take ads for restaurants while simultaneously publishing critical restaurant reviews? If you are unable to distinguish the difference between the two, perhaps you should join Shapiro's band of idiots.

justabil
justabil

Are you saying that it's ok to scam people out of their time and money to fight something that doesn't really exist? I am happy that for whatever reason someone is motivated to tell the truth, particularly when it means a poke in the eye to the femocracy.

 
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