Women's Funding Network sex trafficking study is junk science

Schapiro Group data wasn't questioned by mainstream media.

"The study showed that any given 'young' looking girl who is selling sex has a 38 percent likelihood of being under age 18," reads a crucial passage in the explanation of methodology. "Put another way, for every 100 'young' looking girls selling sex, 38 are under 18 years of age. We would compute this by assigning a value of .38 to each of the 100 'young' girls we encounter, then summing the values together to achieve a reliable count."

This is dense gibberish posing as statistical analysis.

When the team went on to conduct its full statewide study, it simply treated this 38 percent success rate as a constant. Six new observers were then turned loose to count "young-looking" sex ads on online classifieds sites like Craigslist and Backpage.

Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, says the Schapiro study is based on a logical fallacy.
Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, says the Schapiro study is based on a logical fallacy.

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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.

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That total count was then multiplied by .38 to come up with a guesstimate of how many children were being trafficked.

"This is a logical fallacy," says Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, who reviewed the study at our request. "Consider this analogy: Imagine that 100 people were shown pictures of various automobiles and asked to identify the make, and that 38 percent of the time people misidentified Fords as Chevrolets. Using the Schapiro logic, this would mean that 38 percent of Fords on the street actually are Chevys."

But the Georgia sponsors were happy with the results—after all, the scary-sounding study agreed with what they were saying all along. So the Women's Funding Network paid Schapiro to dramatically expand the study to include Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Texas. (Georgia's Kayrita Anderson sits on the board of the Women's Funding Network)

The Women's Funding Network says it would ultimately like to have the study running in all 50 states.

The count of online classifieds featuring "young women" is repeated every three months to track how the numbers change over time. That's the source of the claim of a 64 percent increase in child prostitution in Minnesota in a matter of months.

But that's not how a scientific study is supposed to work, says Finkelhor.

"They don't tell you what the confidence intervals are, so these changes could just be noise," he says. "When the Minnesota count goes from 102 to 112, that's probably just random fluctuations."

There's a more fundamental issue, of course.

"The trend analysis is simply a function of the number of images on these sites," Finkelhor says. "It's not necessarily an indication that there's an increase in the number of juveniles involved."

Despite these flaws, the Women's Funding Network, which held rallies across the nation, has been flogging the results relentlessly through national press releases and local member organizations. In press releases, the group goes so far as to compare its conjured-up data to actual hard numbers for other social ills.

"Monthly domestic sex trafficking in Minnesota is more pervasive than the state's annually reported incidents of teen girls who died by suicide, homicide, and car accidents (29 instances combined); infants who died from SIDS (6 instances); or women of all ages murdered in one year (37 instances)," reads the study.

Of course, those other figures are rigorously compiled medical and law-enforcement records of actual documented incidents, so it's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.

The police who tally many of those actual statistics—as well as records of real face-to-face encounters with juvenile prostitutes—don't seem to be very impressed by the statistics put forward by the Women's Funding Network.

"The methodology that they used doesn't really show the numbers that back it up," says Sgt. John Bandemer, who heads the Vick Human Trafficking Task Force in St. Paul. "We take it with a grain of salt."

   

THE EXPERTS WE consulted all agreed the Schapiro Group's published methodology raises more questions than it answers. So we went to the Schapiro Group to ask them.

Beth Schapiro founded the Schapiro Group in 1984, starting out mostly with political consulting. The bulk of the group's work, Schapiro says, consists of public opinion research. In 2007, the group installed its own phone-banking center, and the group's website advertises services ranging from customer satisfaction surveys to "voter persuasion calls."

Counting hard-to-find exploitation victims wasn't exactly in the company's repertoire when it was asked by A Future Not a Past to devise a study on juvenile prostitution in 2007, but Schapiro jumped at the opportunity.

The Georgia studies included efforts to count juvenile prostitutes on the street, at hotels, and in escort services, but they also marked the debut of the problematic online classifieds study that would later be reproduced in other states.

In a phone call this month, Schapiro insisted that her study was the first effort ever to try to scientifically determine the number of juvenile prostitutes—a claim that would likely surprise the authors of dozens of previous studies, several of which are footnoted in her own report.

When we asked Schapiro and Rusty Parker, the leader of the classifieds study, to fill in some of the missing pieces in their methodology, they had a hard time coming up with straight answers. In fact, Parker couldn't remember key information about how he constructed the study. When asked where he got the sample pictures used to calibrate the all-important 38 percent error rate, he wasn't sure.

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28 comments
Charles Williams
Charles Williams

The abuse industry lies all the time in order to attract funding.

L Michele
L Michele

What in the hell incentive does anyone have - besides conservative religious zealots - to fabricate growing recognition for illegal sex trafficking? And furthermore, why is age and not consent the central issue in sex trafficking? So tired of hearing about who is in front of the camera, hardly any resources (aside from marketing and sales energy) goes towards analyzing the wankers on the other side and all of the societal "go-aheads" we endorse as a whole.

Football fan
Football fan

Super Bowl 2011:

According to the media hype There was supposed to be hundreds of thousands of under age child sex slaves kidnapped and forced to have sex with super bowl fans. At the Dallas Super Bowl 2011.

WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL OF THEM?????

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

Politicians, women's groups, police and child advocates were predicting that up to 100,000 hookers would be shipped into Dallas for the Super Bowl.

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, and the Dallas Women’s Foundation, which are anti-prostitution groups that tell lies in order to get grant money from the government and charities to pay their high salaries, and get huge amounts of money into their organizations. As proved in the links below:

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.

These anti-prostitution groups lobby the government in a big way, getting Politicians to truly believe their lies.

Below are the few brave souls that told the truth in the media:Sex Trafficking in Sports Events links:

Dallas TV News show about super bowl sex slave myth:

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

Dallas Newspaper article:

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

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

http://sextraffickingtruths.bl...

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

Washington post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

News night BBC video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Guardian newspaper:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2...

Nick Davies - About Truth in the Media:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

linbo4
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H_e_x
H_e_x

The irony is too much to handle. Conflict of interest anyone?

Freepresshouston
Freepresshouston

Houston Press white washes the sex trade because of it's implicit integral role. Funny.

Mookie von Zipper
Mookie von Zipper

barry bonds is currently on trial for lying to congress... perhaps the women's funding network is next...

bwl123
bwl123

Good Article.from:bangalorewithlove dot com(send gifts and flowers to Bangalore).

Roxychick85holla
Roxychick85holla

Typical typical Houston Press, so when do we draw the line? maybe these #'s arent perfectly correct, however i'm sure there close in numbers. Plus incase you didnt know we do live near a country whose goverment continues to push their ppl out therefore leaving girls and children vulnerable to drug lords and sex traffickers... i free speech too but when do ethics and commensense ever play a role?

Gerry
Gerry

There ought to be a law about fraudulent studies and non-profits, and the like. Come to think of it, RICO ought to work just fine.

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

Yes, the public will believe almost any study presented to them. They don't understand scientific methodology. I've always been quite skeptical of studies backed by the U.S. Government concerning recreational drugs.

Houstonian2008
Houstonian2008

The Houston Press and its sister publications wrote long cover stories about how their lucrative Backpage franchise was besmirched by a questionable study linking it to sex trafficking. Now that we know Village Voice Media is gravely concerned about proper academic research into the sex industry, I am certain they will want to commission other studies. Here are some suggestions:--percentage of Backpage adult ads which are for prostitution--how many of those prostitutes have sexually transmitted diseases and how many of those who do engage in risky sexual activity with Backpage customers--how many work for pimps--how many have been coerced, intimidated, or otherwise exploited by pimps--how many are under 18--how many are in the country illegally--how many of those here illegally were brought here under false pretenses--how many of those in the country illegally are working to pay off smuggling fees--how many of those working to pay off smuggling fees are doing so under threats to themselves and/or their families back home

But let's start with an easy one. How about a study analyzing how many of those utilizing Backpage abide by your stated terms, "I agree to report any illegal services or activities which violate the Terms of Use. I also agree to report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking to the appropriate authorities."

Who knows? Maybe that study would reveal that while the "mainstream media" was "duped" by this flawed study, you as the "alternative media" have been "duped" by all those who clicked on "I agree."

Or maybe you simply don't care, so long as those ads continue to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for your publications.

Dude!!!
Dude!!!

As a person who studies methodology, this type of stuff is prevalent and not really new in this country, and I'm even surprised y'all are even discussing this being that it's more frequent than researchers would like to admit. Both drug legalization lobbies and the US regularly make up numbers on amount of drugs trafficked to the US based on captures, which aren't a good measure of the metric tonnage of drugs illegally trafficked to the US. The Global Terrorism Database, a website I regularly use for research, documents many cases of "terror attacks" that may just be crimes against property and not a terrorist targeting property, because no one claims credit or people randomly assign credit. This is more common in Global South countries with limited information where newspapers conjecture over who started what.

Not exactly news, in my opinion.

peval
peval

A few sentences that come to my mind after reading this article:- lie, lie, lie, at some point it will stick- the best statistics are the ones that prove what I want to prove- if YOU have financial problems or some other problems form an NGO or foundation with a great sounding name and all YOUR problems will be solved.

I actually want to congratulate HP for making this kind of articles. Its the kind of journalistic work I cannot find in major newspapers except maybe for NY Times and Washing Post. The rest only pull cables and news-wires that I can read in the net about 12 hours before I get the newspaper from my doorstep.

lux.interior
lux.interior

What a joke. If I could only muster up the greed to falsify a study about some morally reprehensible act then maybe I wouldn't be two months behind on my mortgage. Advocacy for profit is just as disgusting as child sex trafficking, and probably more rampant as well.

Bevoer
Bevoer

The shame in this is the "cry wolf" effect. Legitimate efforts to end child prostitution (which IS a valiant cause) will suffer the way envoronmental efforts suffered when emails were published indicating greenhouse gas research had been fabricated. In the end, dollars will be pulled back. Dollars that could have actually prevented some sex trafficing. So, congrats to McCullough and now being responsible for an increase in sex trafficing.

HOHUM
HOHUM

This just in...water is wet.

Lgnu
Lgnu

This is shameful and laughable. Calling it junk science is guilding the lily. This is simply out and out fraud. The Schapiro group is simply telling lies to get funding from various organizations and they should be prosecuted.

Lgnu
Lgnu

If you just want to make up things to support your point of view and call it a study, that's what this is. The moon is made of green cheese comes to mind.

Lgnu
Lgnu

Not only do people on prostitution sites publish old pictures of themselves, women on legitimate dating sites and I presume men also post old pictures of themselves. I wouldn't attribute an ounce of credibility to such a study.

Amgeraldo
Amgeraldo

If we were smart, rather than religious, we would legalize prostitution. We could then regulate and tax it, ensure that STD's are at a minimum, and lessen the need for pimps and the abuses they engage in. And there would be no problem with advertising it either.What two consenting adults do sexually is nobody's business, for money or not.

Underage prostitution, however, is another story entirely.

dgwoxby
dgwoxby

There's lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Dude!!!
Dude!!!

It has nothing to do with religion. Sweden is the most secular country and prostitution isn't legal there. Drugs aren't legal there either, and the government has a monopoly on the production and distribution of alcohol. Legalized prostitution is actually being seen as a problem in Amsterdam because it attracts unsavory elements.

Governments have interests in prostitution other than a dubious religious argument or a need to legislate morality. Seedy enterprises such as drugs, prostitution, and strip clubs attract very shady elements. Strip clubs are legal in the US and organized crime runs them, so you don't take the seedy element out. They're also centers for illegal drug use and trafficking.

Using your argument, we should legalize dog and cockfighting because we can tax it and consenting adults engage in animal fighting. I worked at an animal shelter and they had to call in the ATF and DEA because of what they were associated with.

 
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