Beyond the Planned Parenthood Hoax -- Sex Trafficking As Wingnut Buzzword

The wingnut attack on Planned Parenthood has been pretty well discredited by now -- at least, for those who care about "credibility" in the first place.

But there is an element to the story that's been fascinating me since I heard about it.

The whole "sting" depends on the concept of "sex trafficking": the reason the scheme was supposed to be so damning to Planned Parenthood is that the PP workers would be caught out giving advice to "pimps" who run stables of underaged "prostitutes."

This is really the ideological fulcrum of the enterprise. Presumably, nobody would have been shocked that PP workers would be seen on surreptitiously-taken film giving advice to young women about abortions. They admit, after all, that they do this, fairly openly.

But to be giving advice to underaged girls controlled by pimps! That would be awful and perhaps even evidence of criminal conspiracy.

Just days after an explosive undercover video showed a Planned Parenthood manager in New Jersey coaching a purported pimp and his prostitute how to cover up their child sex trafficking operation, Live Action releases full footage from a Richmond, VA Planned Parenthood abortion center showing the clinic agreeing to help the pimp get secret abortions and cheap birth control for his trafficked girls. The new video is evidence of the endemic problem of Planned Parenthood’s willingness to aid and abet in the sexual exploitation of minors and young women.

That's the statement of Live Action, the group that ran the "sting." Go to their site; observe that they have "pimps" and "trafficked girls" on the brain.

Clinic manager Amy Woodruff, LPN, of Planned Parenthood Central New Jersey’s Perth Amboy center, warns the pimp and his prostitute to have their trafficked underage girls lie about their age to avoid mandatory reporting laws....

Well, OK then.

But let's stop here for a moment.

How serious a problem is "sex trafficking," the exploitation of underaged women on the part of older males who control them and sell them to other males for sex? How many underaged women are involved in this trade? Do they exist in sufficient numbers to drive the demand, as it were, for abortions generally -- as would seem to be a key Live Action assumption?

These are empirical questions, or are at least questions amenable to empirical enquiry, regardless of the obvious practical difficulties of answering them to a fare-thee-well. But it's not like competent social science ought to be utterly silent on the issue...

So let's investigate! This is not my area of expertise, to say the least (and yes, redsnouts, I do have areas, well, an area, of expertise, and it's hardly my fault it consistently fails to be relevant), but I do have standards, and so I won't turn right away to Wikipedia. So, to the Justice Department, which tells us that there is indeed a major international problem in regards to underage sex trafficking, which I believe, but is not relevant to the Planned Parenthood stuff. More germane is this:

Although comprehensive research to document the number of children engaged in prostitution in the United States is lacking, it is estimated that about 293,000 American youth are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S, Canada and Mexico, University of Pennsylvania, Executive Summary at 11-12 (2001). The majority of American victims of commercial sexual exploitation tend to be runaway or thrown away youth who live on the streets who become victims of prostitution. Id. at 11-12. These children generally come from homes where they have been abused, or from families that have abandoned them, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S, Canada and Mexico, University of Pennsylvania, at 3 (2001) [hereinafter Estes Report], and often become involved in prostitution as a way to support themselves financially or to get the things they want or need. Id....

Among children and teens living on the streets in the United States, involvement in commercial sex activity is a problem of epidemic proportion. Approximately 55% of street girls engage in formal prostitution. Estes Report, Executive Summary at 7. Of the girls engaged in formal prostitution, about 75% worked for a pimp. Id. Pimp-controlled commercial sexual exploitation of children is linked to escort and massage services, private dancing, drinking and photographic clubs, major sporting and recreational events, major cultural events, conventions, and tourist destinations. Id. About one-fifth of these children become entangled in nationally organized crime networks and are trafficked nationally. Id. at 8. They are transported around the United States by a variety of means – cars, buses, vans, trucks or planes, Id., and are often provided counterfeit identification to use in the event of arrest. Id. The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14. Estes Report at 92. It is not only the girls on the streets that are affected -- for boys and transgender youth, the average age of entry into prostitution is 11-13. Id.

All right then. There is a report -- Estes and Weiner.

But hang on, that is from 2001; it's a bit whiskery. More, it's the only one cited. Far more to be feared than the man who has read only one book is the federal agency that has read only one report. (Yes, another is referenced, but it is not about internal US "sex trafficking," which is suspicious in itself, as padding is thus suggested.) There's no date here, but this doesn't exactly look cutting edge, and frankly it looks like something that would be produced by a politicized, wingnutty Bushite department. I could, of course, be wrong about that. It's not what I'm after though, regardless.

A more relevant rat is the one I'd smell in the reference to underaged sex-trafficked persons being regularly transported to "major sporting and recreational events," because we've just been over this, in regards to the bizarre fantasia over the Phantom Hooker Army: a hundred thousand prostitutes were rumored to be about to descend on Dallas for the Super Bowl, remember, a story that turned out to be bullshit.

Now, if you follow that last link, you'll see that of the 100,000 hookers, roughly 38,000 of them were supposed to be underaged, as per the Dallas Women's Foundation, as reported by the Dallas Observer. But the Justice Department gives as the outside bound of all the possible underaged prostitutes (male and female) in the country, including those shipped in from abroad, paceEstes and Weiner, as 293,000. That would mean that about 13% of all underaged hookers in the country last week were flown or bussed into Dallas.

Shazam!

Oh, all right, that's not fair. But that does serve to make the point that the numbers that get tossed around on this subject are kind of, uh, freestyle. And the Dallas Women's Foundation's numbers are, well, potty. Here's the report, and while I am not a Social Scientist myself but a Literary Scholar, I am pretty sure the technical term for what they did was "make shit up," because, and I shit you not, this was their methodology for figuring out how many underaged girls (they focus on girls) are prostitutes in Texas:

The study is designed to count adolescent girls using scientific probability methods when they are encountered through two sources: ads on Internet classifieds websites and escort services. These are two of the main sources by which johns find girls to exploit sexually.

If I have to point out the methodological problems to you, well, you're hopeless.

But note something, though: where are the pimps, in this study?

And note another thing: how they say, "A thorough review of this research is beyond the scope of the current report, but is readily available in the work of Estes and Weiner."

But then actually go look at the Estes and Weiner study, and you'll notice this Cautionary Note:

The numbers presented in these exhibits do not, therefore, reflect the actual number of cases of the CSEC in the United States but, rather, what we estimate to be the number of children “at risk” of commercial sexual exploitation.

It seems that to be honest, the only thing we can safely say about "sex trafficking" of underaged girls (remember that this is in the Planned Parenthood context, so nevermind boys) is that we have no idea of the extent of the problem, and we sort of don't know very much about what's going on with it. Though we do, as some further Googling suggests, have a baseline:

There are also national estimates from law enforcement sources about the number of juveniles taken into custody because of prostitution and related crimes. For example, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data analyzed by Snyder and Sickmund (2006) shows that 1,400 juveniles were arrested nationally in 2003 for prostitution and commercialized vice.

1,400...?

Now, I'm perfectly willing to accept that the true number is higher.

But what's fascinating is that the Live Action crazies seem to believe that there exists a vast network across the nation of young women sold into sex slavery managed by hordes of pimps. Indeed, this appears to be a core hard-right wingnut belief. (A lot of this seems to be coming from these people in, of all places, Portland, Oregon. I shall merely note that social science research is not in what I have just linked, thought it I'm sure would make a fine prospectus, though of course that is merely a coincidence based upon my awful cynicism gosh what a bad fellow am I.)

Are there poor women controlled by pimps? Sure, likely. Is "sex trafficking" likely to be the scourge wingnuts seem to want it to be, desperately? Probably not. I'm going to trust a self-described whore on this one, because she seems to have done honest research on the question.

"Sex trafficking" is a wingnut buzzword; look out for it.

On the Planned Parenthood nonsense, it's fascinating to note that this was a "sting" based on a fantasy; this is probably why it fizzled -- sometimes only dogs hear the dog whistles. Of course, Chris Christie's a bitch...

Whiskey Fire / By Thers

Posted at February 12, 2011, 7:01am