Beth Schapiro responds to story debunking her child prostitute study: "We stand fully behind our work"
The problem is that the claim is based on a seriously flawed methodology--the numbers presented to news outlets as hard statistics are actually based on guesses. The researchers look at photographs posted to online classifieds sites like Craigslist and Backpage and guess who looks under 18.
Beth Schapiro, president of the Schapiro Group, sent us a letter today defending her study. Here's her letter in its entirety:
For 27 years, The Schapiro Group has been carefully and meticulously conducting strategic research for a variety of government, corporate, and non-profit clients - distinguished organizations that profoundly influence how communities work and thrive.
In a subject area where most research involves educated guesswork, The Schapiro Group has pioneered empirical, replicable research methodologies for studying the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).
Beginning in 2007 with a first-of-its-kind statewide tracking study of CSEC victims in Georgia, The Schapiro Group has a track record of developing innovative, common sense methodologies to better understand this hard-to-measure social phenomenon. In an area with no proven methodology, The Schapiro Group developed a series of logical assumptions upon which to base an admittedly conservative count of the number of young females being prostituted. Findings from The Schapiro Group studies are providing policymakers, law enforcement, and social service agencies with important insights for combating the formidable CSEC problem.
The Schapiro Group's research has documented a major shift toward the Internet and escort services, and away from street solicitation, for procurement of underage girls. So it would come as no surprise that those with a commercial interest in this marketplace might seek to try and undermine the research.
This appears to be the case in the story published by Village Voice Media Holdings, the same company that owns Backpage.com. The Backpage website has an "Escorts" section that contains ads in which females use thinly-veiled language to advertise their sexual services and the rates for those services. Because Backpage charges a fee for and stands to profit from each posting, recent estimates are that Village Voice Media Holdings earns millions of dollars annually from all of these "escort" ads across the nation.
As the article notes at the outset, "Certainly we have a stake in this discussion." The writer made that abundantly clear by beginning our interview openly expressing his "skepticism" toward the research. Any doubts about his objectivity were confirmed by the overwhelmingly negative tone of the article. With an intent to trash, not explain, the research, it's not surprising that the article is replete with "bogus," "fake," "junk," and other words that reveal his true agenda.
We encourage any reporter with questions about whether or not children are prostituted on Internet classifieds websites to check with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The problem of prostituted children on Internet websites is well-documented fact.