If you’ve read much of the crap I’ve written, you probably know by now that I’m a stickler for accurate information. It’s a pretty precious commodity these days. Which is why this article from Village Voice was so refreshing. Go read it right now. I guarantee it’s more important than anything I’m going to say here.
The piece discusses an oft-quoted statistic discussing underage prostitution in America which states that there are somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 underage sex slaves in the United States today. A number which happens to be, it turns out, totally false. To sum up, the study the number comes from a bit more accurately discusses children who are “at risk” of becoming child prostitutes. Children who are “at risk” include runaways, 77% of whom are returned home safely within a week, female gang members, and kids who live near Mexican or Canadian borders. Suffice to say, those numbers are more than a bit inflated.
I couldn’t help while reading the piece, however, that inaccurate numbers, in this case, wouldn’t bother me necessarily. Not by themselves. It’s not like I’m suddenly ok with a nine year old girl being forced to give oral sex to strangers as long as there’s only a few hundred of them. One or one million, it’s heart breaking and wrong. In my experience however, inaccurate data almost always leads to unhelpful conclusions and inefficient solutions. So, I kept reading, waiting for the part where they bring it home. If you’re going through the article and wondering when they’ll get around to it, the answer is pages 4 and 5. But seriously read the whole thing.
The piece starts to bring it around by pointing out that stats like the 100k-300k number start by bringing attention and funding to issues like pornography that begin to run afoul of first amendment issues. Now, to be clear, if it came down to choosing between the existence of porn and the safety of underage girls (and boys), I’m choosing the safety of children every time. I am an American male, and no more sexually inert than the next guy, but I would never consider my own sexual gratification more important than the safety of another. That being said, the argument about whether or not pornography encourages child prostitution is a tenuous one at best and at worst, a distraction from the real issue.
What’s the real issue? That we have spent hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fight both pornography and child prostitution. This encompasses 45 different Justice Department task forces, 18 of which confirmed they’ve identified 248 children involved in sex trafficking over a period of time spanning January 2008 to June 2010. According to the information shared by Village Voice, the federal government was successful in identifying only 8 children a month over two and a half years.
But that’s not the worst of it, according to Village Voice.
While there’s quite a bit of money that goes towards prosecuting child prostitution, very little is done to actually help the victims of sex trafficking. According to Village Voice, Seattle has a facility devoted to aiding the victims of underage prostitution. This facility receives zero federal funding. There is currently legislation making its way through Congress that would provide federal funding to some rehabilitation facilities. It is the first of its kind to exist since the now-famous 100k-300k statistic was first published.
Is this one study to blame for misguided attempts to fix the problem? No. Of course not. However, it’s yet another example of improper or inaccurate information being used to sensationalize things that are already sensational and encourage rash action.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that most of the information I’m writing about here was taken directly from Village Voice. While I did a bit of Googling, it would take time I simply don’t have to research every single point. And that’s kind of the problem, isn’t it? We can’t all independently confirm every piece of information out there. We depend on research organizations to provide us with accurate information, and we depend on our politicians and charitable organization leadership to come up with proper and effective solutions to the problems we face.
Intellectual honesty is not an easy trait to come by. It’s a trait that requires you to ask “in spite of how I feel about this, is this true?” For example, while reading the Village Voice piece, I came across a section describing “transgender children”. This is a concept I was previously unfamiliar with and the reactions immediately started flowing: “Who’s letting kids get sex change operations?!”, “Why are people confusing kids more during puberty by indulging the idea that they were born the wrong gender?”, and “Wait, what the f-…?!”
Intellectual honesty is that principle that must allow yourself to ask, even in spite of what you may consider unquestionable assumptions, “Is this the truth?” Is it really true that pornography leads to child prostitution? Is it really true that more funding and larger task forces will reduce the number of children being abused in the U.S.? Is it really true that prosecution is more important than rehabilitation?
I’m not a guy that has all the answers. I don’t even really think I’m supposed to. But some folks, it’s their job to have the answers. Whether those answers are right or not. But I say this, without irony or sarcasm, with all the sincerity and compassion I can muster: please, everyone, for the sake of the children, stop using bullshit statistics to support your cause. Be honest with yourself if you really want to make a difference.