03 December 2011

Adventures in the Law Enforcement Industrial Complex

It turns out that no one has every really tried to do a comprehensive census of child sex workers, and when researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted a census of those in New York City, they discovered that conventional wisdom on this problem is wrong:
  • Pimps are a very small (10%) part of the picture.
  • About half of the child prostitutes surveyed were male. (45%)
  • They were majority local (56%) and overwhelmingly US citizens(90+%).
  • A large majority (70%) had contacted social service agencies for help.
  • 95% said that they did this out of economic need.
The money quote here is, "In other words, the typical kid who is commercially exploited for sex in New York City is not a tween girl, has not been sold into sexual slavery, and is not held captive by a pimp."

How does this involve the "Law Enforcement Industrial Complex"?  Like this:
Curtis and Dank were amazed by what their research had revealed. But they were completely unprepared for the way law enforcement officials and child-advocacy groups reacted to John Jay's groundbreaking study.

"I remember going to a meeting in Manhattan where they had a lot of prosecutors whose job was to prosecute pimps," Curtis recalls. "They were sort of complaining about the fact that their offices were very well staffed but their workload was...not very daunting, let's say. They had a couple cases, and at every meeting you go to, they'd pull out the cherry-picked case of this pimp they had busted, and they'd tell the same story at every meeting. They, too, were bothered by the fact that they couldn't find any pimps, any girls.

"So I come along and say, 'I found 300 kids' — they're all perky — but then I say, 'I'm sorry, but only 10 percent had pimps.'

"It was like a fart in church. Because basically I was saying their office was a waste of time and money."
As to what this means in terms of policy, what does this mean>

Well, the obvious is that staffing DA's office on the basis of what you saw on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, is not a good policy.

What is also clear from this study is that these children need long term support, and not just transitional support:
For example, the John Jay study found that when asked what it would take to get them to give up prostitution, many kids expressed a desire for stable, long-term housing. But the widely accepted current social-service model — shelters that accommodate, at most, a ninety-day stay — doesn't give youths enough time to get on their feet, and instead pushes them back to the streets. The findings also point to a general need for more emphasis on targeted outreach, perhaps through peer-to-peer networks, as well as services of all kinds, from job training and placement to psychological therapy.
One interesting question here is whether the numbers are different, particularly with regards to foreign sex workers, in countries with stronger social safety nets, because it sounds like this is largely being driven by our general lack of a meaningful social safety net.

Of course, there are a lot of problems in the US that would be solved by a better social safety net.


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