This statement presents criteria for evaluating research and supplemental sources to ascertain credibility representative of the abolitionist movement, trafficking, and prostitution. Examples are provided. The goal is to anchor initiatives on science-based research as opposed to ideologically-based research.
While working at Demand Abolition during the summer of 2012 as a Harvard Divinity School Field Education placement, I was to evaluate, verify, and validate talking points for the pre-eminent leader in the Abolitionist movement. Demand Abolition is part of a constellation of human rights initiatives under Hunt Alternatives. The initiatives are innovative and breathtaking in scope, scale, and vision. I found that Demand Abolition, and any credible and worthy human rights initiative, could be stronger on offense and defense if it was anchored in credible research – not rhetorically and/or ideologically based. The former ought to lead the later.
It was for this reason that I developed criteria for credible research for the abolitionist movement. This was how I have been pursuing my studies since 2007 on this topic.
Criteria for sound research:
▪ Recent study/report: preferred within 6 years and further out casts concern about relevancy due to changing contexts.
▪ The report or journal article has recent traceable sources that support the assertion and are accurately represented.
▪ Examined report’s methodology is available for scrutiny and is scientifically sound.
▪ Authors have a track record of sound peer-reviewed research and demonstrate a curiosity in analysis and willingness for reconceptualizing past work in light of new evidence.
What is questionable research?
▪ ‘Dated’ 6 years plus. Case by case after 6 years.
▪ If ‘dated’ the data serves as historical context as contrast suggesting possible trends and must be presented in this compare/contrast context.
▪ A claim with untraceable source and/or the source is a challenge to retrieve or verify.
▪ This untraceable, unverifiable, or restricted access (unpublished paper) claim most often represents evasive, biased, or subversive research that cannot be foundational to any justice oriented initiative.
▪ The report/journal/source contains a misrepresented quote or passage taken out of context as ‘evidence’ within a subsequent study. This would suggest a biased methodology.
▪ Authors have a questionable reputation for unsound methodology and demonstrated predetermined conclusion in shaping research. Data, as context, is bent or spun to support ideology.
What to do with anecdotal ‘evidence’
Quotes from actors (judges, police, buyers, and women in prostitution, social workers etc.) must be reflective and complimentary to the data, as an example, and not be stand-alone entries as evidence. Extensive reliance on anecdotal ‘evidence,’ that is not sufficiently balanced by data, opens the research/journal article to claims of unsound methodology that is leaning on emotive response from the reader.
What to do with media as ‘evidence’
‘Media’ for this policy means social media, Cable/TV, Newspaper (on-line or print), Magazines and any short-hand on-line referencing that does not refer to a research or article in its entirety.
Media, in any form, does not represent sound research with verifiable methodology and data. It is not to be referred to as a source for any claim.
Media, in any form, represents the public narrative and can be referred to as ‘anecdotal’ that must be backed by credible sources and data. Caution as the media portrayals have inherent social bias especially with language and story-line emphasis. Sensationalism sells and trends of concern shift. Media can be useful in tracking trends of media attention to an issue for the public and tracing out the shaping of the public narrative.
EXAMPLE on a selected research topic:
“Average Age of Entry into Prostitution”
Examples of sound research: DOJ funded report prepared by John Jay. 249 juveniles interviewed in NYC
Document Title: Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City, Volume One: The CSEC Population in New York City: Size, Characteristics, and Needs
Author: Ric Curtis, Karen Terry, Meredith Dank, Kirk Dombrowski, and Bilal Khan; Document No.: 225083; Date Received: December 2008
▪ Data is under 6 years
▪ This report has verifiable methodology established by social scientists
▪ The pool of subjects was 249: a credible representation of a regionally based specific target.
▪ The report specifically asked and established that entry into street prostitution in NYC was the age of 15.
“Many of the professionals who offered guidance to the John Jay research team believed that the average age of entry for girls was much younger than for boys, but boys and girls differed only slightly in our sample. The average age of entry for females was 15.15 years and males 15.28 years, but a higher percentage of boys (19%) entered the market under the age of 13 than girls (15%).” (Curtis et al: 46)
Examples of Unsound research:
Entry from Prostitution Research and Education (PRE) by Melissa Farley:
“The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years (M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, “Victimization of street prostitutes, Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133) or 14 years (D.Kelly Weisberg, 1985, Children of the Night: A Study of Adolescent Prostitution, Lexington, Mass, Toronto). Most of these 13 or 14 year old girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution. Others were “traditional wives” without job skills who escaped from or were abandoned by abusive husbands and went into prostitution to support themselves and their children. (Denise Gamache and Evelina Giobbe, Prostitution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1990)”
Three sources examined by dividing the statement:
1. The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years (M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, “Victimization of street prostitutes, Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133)
▪ Dated study to 1982, 30 years ago.
▪ No page number given for this fact: difficult to verify
▪ The age of entry into prostitution is NOT stated in this study named
▪ The study states that all 200 girls/women entered prostitution as “juveniles.”
▪ The study also makes a distinction that PRE does not: STREET prostitution versus all types of prostitution (street, indoor, escort, high end call)
2. or 14 years (D.Kelly Weisberg, 1985, Children of the Night: A Study of Adolescent Prostitution, Lexington, Mass, Toronto).
▪ Dated to 1985, 27 years ago.
▪ No page number cited – difficult to verify.
▪ All data from the book is from averaging separate regionally based studies/reports: Midwest and San Francisco.
▪ The various studies had unique methodologies.
▪ Further reading on page 94: “Data are also scarce on the period between the initial act of prostitution and the time the juvenile began in regular (that is, full time) prostitution.”
3. Most of these 13 or 14 year old girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution. Others were “traditional wives” without job skills who escaped from or were abandoned by abusive husbands and went into prostitution to support themselves and their children. (Denise Gamache and Evelina Giobbe, Prostitution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1990)
▪ Dated to 1990, 22 years ago
▪ This reference was not retrievable for verification w/o extreme effort. It was not available on any of the Harvard University data base searches nor on Radcliffe data base. I spent a day combing through boxes of archival records of a feminist journal at Radcliffe, records supposedly affiliated to this article and came up empty handed.
▪ This unpublished reference was actually a “Discussion Paper” for a conference and a ‘throwaway’ insert to a welcome packet for a conference on Domestic Violence in MA in 1990.
▪ The ‘Discussion Paper’ was not a research paper yet did refer to 1985 book, Children of the Night (#2 above) and the page number (unlike PRE).
▪ The ‘Discussion Paper’ is not representative as an academic paper and makes factual statements without verification: ‘facts’ based on the authors experience as interventionists and DV shelter managers.
▪ Entry from ‘Discussion Paper’: “There are approximately one million adult prostitutes in the United States. (3) Most were recruited or coerced into prostitution before they reached the age of majority; studies indicate the average age of entry is fourteen years. (4) Others were “traditional wives” who escaped from or were abandoned by abusive husbands and forced into prostitution to support themselves and their children. Many have dependent children. Many are women of color. Women in prostitution have few resources. Most have not completed high school.”
Notes (4) D.Kelly Weisberg, Children of the night: A Study of Adolescent Prostitution, (Lexington, MA/Toronto, 1985):94.
Conclusion of fact checking “average age of entry into prostitution” with regard to PRE and Melissa Farley:
▪ Information from PRE is dated from 16 to 27 years respectively
▪ Sources on the website are often media based and also not accurate to the transcript of the source document.
▪ PRE’s sources were non-existent, methodologically unsound, or unpublished non-academic ‘discussion paper’
▪ Troubling prolific dissemination of PRE’s bold assertions as factual information that is not credible.
▪ Caution about abolitionist organizations as source for credible research or interpretation of other’s research.
▪ Due diligence has lost ground to ideology.
▪ John Jay report that “the average age of entry into (Street) prostitution” is not 13 but mid-15. This is the preferred source – refer to evaluation in first part of statement.