A friend and my favorite source of erudite-and-time-wasting article both independently directed me to the Village Voice’s dramatically titled “Women’s Funding Network Sex Trafficking Study Is Junk Science.”
When I first saw “Village Voice” and “Sex Trafficking” my thoughts flew to the Village Voice’s terrible record on preventing modern-day slavery on the craigslist-clone they own, Backpage. This was not the article’s topic; but we’ll return to that in a moment.
First, I should say: the Women’s Funding Network’s stats are much goofier than most I’ve seen in the anti-human trafficking movement. It is desperately difficult to accurately count the number of men, women, and children trafficked for sex and labor because pimps don’t file income-tax returns.
Some organizations in the anti-trafficking movement have great numbers. For example, I heard Mr Earnie Allen, President of the estimable National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, testify before Congress on the 100,000 to 300,000 children who are sex trafficked every year. He was upfront about the methodologies used to create those number, both in his testimony and on CMEC’s website. From the work of Dr Kevin Bales, Free the Slaves estimates that 27 million people are trafficked around the world.
The numbers from the Women’s Funding Network have neither the pedigree nor the strength of the numbers above. But they are also trying to solve a much more specific question: today, how many minors are being sold for sex on websites like Backpage.
Why focus on minors, other than our moral outrage? Because, according to the federal definition of human trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, any minor involved in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking.
Now you see the problem. The Village Voice devoted 3331 words to ripping apart an organization critical of one of their profit pots. Even slimier, they have devoted an entire series to what they call “The Truth Behind Sex Trafficking,” which they appear to think is that it doesn’t ever really happen. Yeah. Tell that to the hundreds of women whose stories are told here.
They do mention this rather glaring conflict of interest. On page 3. Of a 4 page article. In doing so, they use the most defensive and unprofessional tone I’ve ever seen in a conflict of interest statement:
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.
What is most troubling for me about this article is not their conflict of interest, or even their use of the “100,000 children” statistic. (The only source they cite for that, thoroughly vetted and widely accepted, number’s accuracy is “Hollywood actress Mira Sorvino“‘s testimony before the Senate. #JournalismFail).
What bothers me most is that the Village Voice could do much better at counting the number of minors sold for sex on their website than the Women’s Funding Network because they have access to ad posters and their credit card data.
In the next post are two methods the Village Voice could use to make a much stronger guess at the number of children trafficked for sex on Backpage.com, or the number of trafficked people on Backpage total. It will be wonkish and geeky, so if you like that kind of thing, here it is.
No matter the method, they can still be a error. Such is the burden of an organization which rips on other people’s numbers as not good enough while blithely profiting from human misery.
UPDATE: If you look in the comments, and scroll past the crazy, you will see that a Christine Pullman has decided to vent her internal demons onto the intertubes. As should be clear from my comments policy, as long as commenters stick to lies, bad research, misinformation and refrain from threats of physical violence or ad hominem attacks, I let them be. Remember people:
“Never act until you have clearly answered the question: ‘What happens if I do nothing?'”–Robert Brault