If you had to take a guess, how many teenage prostitutes would you estimate roam the streets of New York City – a metropolitan with almost 8.3 million inhabitants, a quarter of which are teenagers? How many of them do you think are girls? Boys? Transgender? How many of these kids have pimps and how many sell themselves? Do certain events or crowds draw in more prostitutes?
If you have no idea what the answer is, don’t worry – researchers are trying to find out for you. A study by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice estimates that in New York City 3,946 children ages 18 and under engage in the commercial sex trade. 53.5% of these kids are boys, 42% are girls, and 4.5% are transgender. Only 10% of study participants had pimps – most managed themselves. Meanwhile, a study performed by the Schapiro Group out of Atlanta looked at New York, Georgia, Minnesota, and Michigan in August of 2010. The firm estimated that in New York, there are 3,415 female teenagers who sell sexual services via the internet – more than double what the John Jay study estimated.
With its enormous and diverse population, New York is often the focal point of demographically-centered studies like those related to human trafficking. However, major sporting events like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, or the World Cup tend to draw in huge crowds from all over the country and the world. Politicians and city councils have claimed that cities that host the Super Bowl (and other major sporting events) have “tens of thousands” of women and children trafficked to meet the demand of sports fans.
It would seem that our questions about human trafficking ought to be pretty easily answered. After all, there are plenty of studies eager to report on the problem. The issue? Many of the studies conflict with one another, and almost all of the data comes from unreliable collection methods.
The John Jay study used a 250 person sample group to extrapolate population and demographic statistics based on interview questions; initial participants were enrolled through youth resource centers, but all subsequent interviewees were recruited by those initial participants and their friends in exchange for participation payment and finder’s fees, severely limiting the scope of the study and providing incentive for research subjects to lie for a quick buck.
The Schapiro Group’s methodology is even worse – they estimated the existence of child trafficking via the internet by having a small group of researchers count young-looking pictures of females on Craigslist.
As for the estimates of child prostitution during events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics, they are completely unfounded. Not a single academic study has actually been performed, and law enforcement officers of cities that have hosted major sporting events report that they see no increase in comparison to other times of the year.
We need more reliable information on human trafficking. The United States pours more than $80 million annually into combating the trafficking of minors, but they have no real direction in how to spend it without concrete evidence of where the problem is or its severity.