Over the last several months, reporters here and at some of our sister papers have published stories about the mythical child-sex-trafficking pandemic allegedly sweeping our nation. Prodded by activist researchers and research-adverse activists, the media has obsessively repeated bogus claims that hundreds of thousands of children are being held in bondage in the backs of vans and strip clubs right here in our cities. Bottom line: If you haven't spent the last several months gasping, you're not watching enough cable.
The reality is much less frightening. Law enforcement agencies local and national, including task forces devoted solely to this issue, turn up very few cases of child sex trafficking. According to our reporting, those agencies handle only 800 or so child-prostitution cases every year, less than 1 percent of the most conservative estimates parroted by activists and media, including The New York Times and CNN.
Of course, not every exploited child crosses paths with law enforcement, so the real number could be higher. Whatever it is, we can probably all agree it's too high. But it's not high enough to warrant the level of government spending being thrown at the problem -- hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when our governments are fiscally strapped.
But that story's much less sexy. And much-less-sexy will not win Amber Lyon an Emmy.
Lyon is the subject of a story you'll see in this week's Observer, penned by Village Voice Editor Tony Ortega. In it, Ortega demonstrates how Lyon has transitioned from reporter to activist and how she used obviously bogus stats to ambush Craigslist's admittedly meek and borderline-autistic founder, Craig Newmark, accusing his message board-style classifieds of aiding and abetting child-sex traffickers.
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SHOW ME HOW
That's where we come in. It wasn't only the fear-obsessed media who ambushed Craigslist; it was also several states' attorneys general, who, under pressure from conservative activists, strong-armed Craigslist into shutting down the adult-services portions of its websites. And when they were done with Craig, they turned their sights on Backpage.com, a similar classified-and-message-board website owned by Village Voice Media (which owns the Observer , the Voice and 11 other newspapers).
Now, our owners, two famously ornery Irishmen, have their issues, but meekness ain't one of them. So they picked a fight. They picked it with the activists, with the scientists, with the politicians and with Ashton Kutcher, and now they're picking one with Amber Lyon. They've been upfront about it, but anytime you unload on an issue in which you have an obvious stake, there's bound to be some PR recoil. So it goes, to borrow from another ornery bastard.
Read Tony's story, though. It's an interesting look at how a small group of activists can use the media to turn a nuanced, worthy story into something bigger and scarier and, most important, ready for the spotlight of sweeps week, awards season and, in the case of Lyon, $250-a-plate luncheons where she and her story are the star.
*Not counting Comedy Central.