Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bogus study panics public, parents and politicians—again.

This one story is an illustration of American politics writ large. And the Village Voice deserves credit for exposing it. The unfortunate thing is that they don’t seem to understand that the story is repeated over and over under the guise of dozens and dozens of other “urgent” issues.

The “crisis” begins with an advocacy group, the Women’s Funding Network, and similar local groups, such as the Atlanta’s Women’s Foundation. These groups were convinced, based on what remains unclear, that there was a crisis of child prostitutes. And they wanted government funding to address the crisis they discovered.

The Atlanta group had approached the state of Georgia with their begging bowl out. They only got 20% of the funds they wanted. Kaffie McCullough, from the group, admitted: “We had no research, no nothing.” Apparently with nothing to back up their assertions they still managed to get one-fifth of the funds they wanted. Now they approached an organization named the Schapiro Group to produce a study that would find the crisis they were looking to solve.

Deborah Richardson, from the WNF, announced the results: “An independent tracking study heard released today by the Women’s Funding Network shows that over the past six months, the number of underage girls trafficked online has rise exponentially in three diverse states.” They had dramatic numbers, as you knew they would. In Michigan they claimed it increased by 39.2%, up 20.7% in New York, and up 64.7% in Minnesota.

The media spread the story, and the result, according to USA Today was a “growing movement of women’s groups, celebrities, human rights activists ad state officials.” Of course the politicians, like vultures looking for rotten bodies, come swooping in to show they are concerned, to buy votes from identifiable political interest groups, and to scare taxpayers in funding some new project “to save the children.” Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-CA, told Congress that these children “need specialized resources.” Richardson bragged, “We have more data and more momentum.”

And they had a new bogeyman—Craigslist and other on-line sites where individuals looking to “hook-up” with others would advertise. Loud-mouthed politicians like Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General for Connecticut, called these sites “online brothels” and began attacks to remove all adult ads.

As for the political interest groups, PIGs, promoting the “study,” they got oodles of cash taken from taxpayers, many of whom are having a hard time making ends meet. The Atlanta group was thrilled. They went to the legislature with the new "study" and came away with a bucket-load of greenbacks. McCullough said: “The research costs money, but we’ve been able to broker—I don’t know what it is now, I think it’s over $1.3, $1.6 million in funding that we never would have gotten.”

It wouldn’t be the first time, nor will it be the last, that a PIG has produced a bogus study in order to create a scare campaign in order to access millions of dollars in funding. Remember that the funds McCullough bragged about are only for her one group in Atlanta. It doesn’t reflect funding other groups got in other states using the same study.

The Schapiro Group came up with a unique method for determining the number of juvenile prostitutes, and it didn’t have anything to do with hard numbers, like arrests. Instead they looked at photos posted online of women who were seeking sexual partners. They then “guessed” the age of the women in the photos and noted that number, as if it were factual. This is the basis of the so-called study that set off a media sex frenzy, got Craigslist censored, had two-bit politicians fuming at the mouths and no doubt inspired many a sermon on the revival circuit.

To confirm their study, the Group did a back up “study.” Here is how Village Voice describes it:

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.

"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.

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

None of the “investigators” that Schapiro Group used were experts in research. None had ever studied the issue of prostitution in general, or juvenile prostitution in particular. And no one bothered to verify if the guesses corresponded with reality, or if the photos they viewed were either current, or actually the woman running the ad. Of course no prostitute would try to use an old photo in order to attract customers. And you would never get one who would run a completely unrelated photograph in order to solicit business.

The methodology used actually indicates that there were no real children involved in these ads. That the hired guns for the Group had to "guess" if the person was above or below the magic line of 18 years of age indicates that very few, perhaps none. of the advertising women were clearly below the age of 18. You might have a 16-year-old who passes as 19, or vice versa, but it is much less likely that you would have an 11-year-old who looks 19. The methodology used indicates that all of the participants appeared to be over 18 years of ago, who proves that none of them appeared to be under the age of 18.

Then Schapiro Group would come back later and run the same bogus study a second time proving that the number of child prostitutes had escalated. Thus the crisis was proven, funding flowed and greedy PIGs increased their take to solve a crisis that no one can show actually exists. And no one connected to the study can verify how the photos were found, how they knew the ages of the test samples, or whether any of the photos of “prostitutes” actually represented the women advertising services.

McCullough defends the study saying “it is the same scientific methodology that science has been using for a long time to measure endangered species.” Calling something “science” twice, just two words apart, doesn’t actually make it science. And, if the same sort of bogus methodology is used by other PIGs for their causes, it doesn’t prove the methodology is scientific, or correct, just that it is politically expedient.

Actual arrest statistics do not exactly bolster the fear campaign that the PIGs need to rip off the taxpayer. According to the FBI about 75% of all jurisdictions report their arrests. The number of arrests per 100,000 juveniles—defined as between 10 and 17 years of age—was 5. The FBI says that arrests of juveniles for prostitution and “commercialized vice,” in 2007, amounted to 1,500 cases.

Not every juvenile prostitute is arrested, but then some are arrested multiple times. We don't have hard numbers but there is no indication that we are talking about some significant percentage of teens, let along actual children. Ask yourself if you are worried about teenage “forgery” rings or counterfeiters. Perhaps you should be since a teen is twice as likely to be arrested for that as for prostitution. They are four times more likely to be arsonists. No one thinks those crimes “are out of control” among teens yet they are far more likely for teens than prostitution but they don't get millions in funding to solve the crisis. But then it doesn't include something as racy as sex, to attract attention.

The other thing to keep in mind is that most of the arrests are not 12-year-olds in mesh stockings. Most are teens above the age of 16. And most these teens are legally allowed to consent to sex, just not for cash.

How does this compare to adult prostitution? In 2007 there were 76,100 adults arrested for the same offense. Teenaged prostitutes were 1,500. I believe that translates in less than 2% of all prostitutes arrested are under the age of 18 at the time of the arrest. And even then most of them are legally above the age of consent and not actually children.

PIGs use children constantly to stir up emotions. When the Left wanted to create a gun crisis they talked about the number of children killed by guns. They didn’t tell people that “children” included 17-year-old gang members killed in turf wars over drug sales. They wanted the public to think of wide-eyed tykes playing with their puppies who accidental stumble across a gun and kill themselves, along with the poor little puppy as well.

Some years ago I first came across this sort of bogus fear campaign about “child” prostitution when another PIG member claimed that millions of children were regularly being prostituted at truck stops and street corners around the country. I tried to find how this number was generated. The piece I wrote on the matter has been lost, but I will reconstruct what I can remember.

The woman who manufactured the factoid was a feminist ideologue convinced that girls were being terribly exploited. She found a rabid Los Angeles police officer who was equally convinced that it was boys being prostituted by homosexuals. He had a gut hunch that some 100,000 boys were involved in this massive trade that he was intent on exposing. The feminist in question then took the “hunch” of the police officer and concluded that if that were the case of boys being prostituted, then the number of girls in the same boat had to be at least twice as large. So she doubled the number and added it to the original hunch.

But she wasn’t finished. She then claimed that if this new number was the number of child prostitute “we know about” then there were at least ten times as many out that we didn’t know about. That lead to 3 million child prostitutes being used as the figure of the day.

At the time this claim was made there were around 29 million children 10-17 years old in the country. Apparently one out of ten of them was out there prostituting for a living. Absurd!

At about this time there was a national panic about “stranger danger” and child abductions. The papers spoke of 2.5 million missing children per year. They didn’t tell people that the term was so widely defined that any kid who was away from home for a few hours, without the parents knowing his or her location was “missing.” They left out that over 90% of actual “abductions” were custody disputes with one parent taking the child with them against the consent of the other parent. In the end the actual number of stranger abductions was miniscule.

There was also a bogus panic about satanic child-molesting day care centers. Thousands of people were arrested across the country and hundreds of people were prosecuted and convicted using very dubious “interviewing” methods created by PIGs to promote their agenda.

Out of these panics came entire government departments such as the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Hundreds of millions of dollars were redistributed to the PIGs for their use to discover new problems and lobby for new laws. Out of those panics we also got the various sex offender registries and the laws to protect teens, laws that are now putting tens of thousands of teens on the offender registries for normal adolescent sexuality. We passed laws, based almost entirely on manufactured panics, which today are classifying teens, who take naughty pictures of themselves, as child pornographers.

Politics today relies upon manufactured panics. Take a problem, no matter how small, blow it out of proportion. Try to drag “children” into it anyway you can and then scream about protecting the children. Bolster your case with a bogus study, using dubious methods, and the media will beat a path to your door breathlessly telling paranoid parents of the newest threat to their children. Politicians will promise to solve the crisis provided they get more power and taxes are increased. The PIGs line up with their hands out, millions are doled out. In the end the PIGs are at the through happy and full, for the time being. The politicians are more powerful than ever. The parents feel parent, even though their children are no safer than before. Taxpayers have less money in their pockets and everyone is just a little less free than before the panic was created.

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