Home / General / Nic Kristof: The King of the 21st Century White Slavery Scare

Nic Kristof: The King of the 21st Century White Slavery Scare


Even though Nic Kristof has been shown to be incredibly gullible about child prostitution, that hasn’t stopped the Times from letting him promote his insane horror rhetoric:

IF prostitution of children is illegal, why is it that we allow an estimated 100,000 underage girls and boys to be sold for sex in America each year — many on a single American website, Backpage.com?

That’s a reflection of law enforcement priorities, but several brave girls who allege that they were pimped on Backpage are trying to change them. They are fighting back in lawsuits that could have far-reaching implications for sex trafficking in America.

100,000 children. Really? Does anyone actually believe that? Because that number is insane. And it’s not like Kristof has any credibility on these issues at this point. He should have lost his column over his willingness to repeat lies about the Cambodian sex trade but it hasn’t fazed him at all.

And here’s the thing–it’s not like this issue is not a problem. It’s terrible. But Kristof does not help by repeating extremely absurd claims that lack evidence. He’s a joke and so are his claims. Anyone involved in the trade of children for sex is a horrible person. But exaggerating claims hurts these children rather than helping them. And that’s what Kristof has done time and time again, without accountability as to his embarrassing journalistic standards.

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  • Typo suggestion: replace “phased” with “fazed”. Otherwise, Yes.

    • efgoldman

      Loomis cares not for spelling or grammar, unless it involves condiments or heads on pikes.

      • Woodrowfan

        it’s just a faze he’s going through.

    • English is hard for me.

  • Vance Maverick

    Pretty sure ‘phased’ is an accepted alternate.

    • ChrisTS

      Um, no. As much as I like Erik, this is the wrong word – unless one relies on Urban Dictionary.

      • Vance Maverick

        Oxford gives the same opinion, but their own evidence suggests it’s a robust minority.

        Also, 100K is indeed a trifle alarmist.

        • Manju

          Well, Frank Bruni is indeed a truffle alarmist.

          • The Dark Avenger

            Brooks uses Bruni to find truffles in Central Park when Moral Hazard isn’t feeling well.

        • Which leads into jokes about a truck carrying sponge-cake colliding with another containing custard. But no charges were laid because the law is not concerned with trifles.

    • sanity clause

      Set fazers on ‘stun.’

      Nah, ‘faze’ and ‘phase’ aren’t interchangeable.

      • Warren Terra

        Well, being fazed is akin to being stunned …

      • Vance Maverick

        This logic makes no sense. Because in one context “phase” is correct, in another context “phase” cannot be correct?

    • cpinva

      “Pretty sure ‘phased’ is an accepted alternate.”

      no, it isn’t, the words mean two entirely different things, not even remotely similar, except in pronunciation. Chris, if the “Urban Dictionary” lists these two words as relatively interchangeable, it too is horribly mistaken.

  • Manju

    Wiki says “100,000-300,000” and “Concerned Women for America” say “100,000 to 2.4 million children”.



    Are these 2 sources ever wrong?

    • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste

      I of course have no idea whether the sources are very wrong, but we can do a scoping calculation.

      About four million children are born each year, so if we take a window of 10-15 (is this reasonable?) that would put 24 million into the vulnerable population.

      One in ten children being sold, each and every year, that strikes me as excessive.

      0.42%, or four per thousand at the lower end of the range, that also seems pretty high at first glance. But, that translates into four kids at the local high school being in the sex business – which sounds kind of high but not outrageously high.

      So, in the absence of further concrete data, this could stand as a starting point for discussion.

      • Protagoras

        If you count every girl who sleeps with someone who buys her something expensive, sure, you might get that high. 4 per high school working the streets or advertising on backpage, no way.

        • divadab

          You put your finger on the main problem with Kristof’s article – absolutism and lack of judgment rendering his conclusions meaningless. SOrt of like the CHeney doctrine or the current NSA approach to data – no item to small or insignificant to be excluded; no judgment applied or triage approach. Fucking dumbass alarmism based on casting the net so wide that everything is included.

          ANd isn’t Kristof part of the NYT propaganda apparatus? WHo cares what that pravda-ite writes? He’s just a mouthpiece for the complex.

          • cpinva

            kristof has been running this scam for the past 20 years, scaring the shit out of every middle-class parent in America, most of whom are too dumb to realize that just his raw numbers alone make no sense. since it’s also rare that he provides cites to hard analysis to support his claims, and the ones he does provide turn out to be mostly anecdotally based, I think it’s fair to conclude that mr. kristof is full of shit.

    • The CWFA report is excellent and worth reading esp. Appendix A which discusses the various estimates:

      In conclusion, the number of child victims of sex trafficking in the United States is still undetermined. Any numbers are estimates based on the information in this report.

      • The current estimates of “children at risk” for sexual exploitation range between 100,000 and 300,000.
      • Arrest data numbers average 1,117 arrests of minors for prostitution each year.
      • The Innocence Lost Initiative has rescued 1,600 children since 2003.
      • The HTRS reported 432 minor victims identified between 2007 and 2010.

      Many more children caught up in commercial sexual exploitation may go through the justice system on other charges, but the exact number is still anybody’s guess. All those who talk about doing things “for the children” and “making children’s well-being a priority” could start by making sure we have good data about the number of victims.

      The “at risk” number is *extremely* dubious given double counting and esp. the coding of “at risk”.

      Which…is maybe a good thing? I would be very happy to know that the number of victims was much smaller (though still unacceptable) than feared. The Appendix ends:

      We can only pray that the number of child victims is closer to the arrest data than to the guesstimates.

      • ema

        I don’t know enough about the topic under discussion but I do know that two of CWFA‘s stated goals are inequality for women, and opposition to science-based teaching. As such any CWFA data are suspect until thoroughly fact-checked.

        • MAJeff

          CWA is Beverly LaHaye’s baby. It’s a multitude of Phyllis Schlafley’s, instead of being a one-fuckwit show. There’s no reason to trust anything that comes from them.

        • Yeek. I had no idea.

          I don’t know that it invalidates the analysis but it certainly renders it suspect (and puts some of their policy prescriptions in a worse light.)

          • Ok, I’m shamed so will attempt some restitution.

            TThe CWFA report cites extensively this (from the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire; the funders don’t seem obviously nuts to me). E.g.,

            erhaps the most commonly used estimate of juvenile prostitution comes from Estes and Weiner (2001).    These authors concluded in a large, publicized report that about 326,000 children were “at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.”    However, there are several problems with treating this number as an estimate of juvenile prostitution.  First, although this is often cited as an estimate of juvenile prostitutes, even the authors call it something much more nebulous: youth “at risk” of commercial sexual exploitation.    “At risk” means it is compilation of youth in various categories (14 in total) – like runaway kids, female gang members – who could become or be involved in commercial sexual exploitation.    But the authors had no evidence of how many or what proportion of these youth actually were involved.

            Here’s a Health and Human Services report:

            The data and methodologies for estimating the prevalence of human trafficking globally and nationally are not well developed, and therefore estimates have varied widely and changed significantly over time. The U.S. State Department has estimated that approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims are trafficked annually across international borders worldwide and approximately half of these victims are younger than age 18 (U.S. Department of State, 2005, 2006, 2007). Additionally, the U.S. State Department has estimated that 80 percent of internationally trafficked victims are female and 70 percent are trafficked into the sex industry (U.S. Department of State, 2005). In comparison, the International Labor Organization has estimated that at any given time, 12.3 million people are in forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor, sexual servitude, and involuntary servitude (International Labor Organization, 2005). Other estimates of global labor exploitation range from 4 million to 27 million (U.S. Department of State, 2006, 2007).

            Initial estimates cited in the TVPA suggested that approximately 50,000 individuals were trafficked into the United States each year. This estimate was subsequently reduced to 18,000–20,000 in the U.S. Department of State’s June 2003 Trafficking in Persons Report, and in its 2005 and 2006 reports, altered again to an estimate of 14,500–17,500 individuals trafficked annually into the United States.

            To date, estimates of human trafficking have focused almost exclusively on international trafficking victims (Laczko & Gozdziak, 2005), and this holds true for the United States as well. Only a recent estimate of minors at risk for sexual exploitation comes close to estimating U.S. domestic trafficking. Between 244,000 and 325,000 American youth are considered at risk for sexual exploitation, and an estimated 199,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of minors occur each year in the United States (Estes & Weiner, 2001). These figures, however, are limited estimates of youth at risk for human trafficking and do not address adult U.S. citizens trafficked into the sex industry or American children and adults trafficked for labor. We can, however, turn to estimates of other at-risk populations, such as runaway/throwaway youth, youth exploited through prostitution, and child labor, to gain a better sense of the potential prevalence of domestic trafficking, or at least the numbers of people at high risk of trafficking.

            Given the correlations between runaway/throwaway youth and minors exploited through prostitution (Estes & Weiner, 2001), findings from the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children can offer additional information about the possible prevalence of minors trafficked or at risk of being trafficked domestically into the commercial sex industry (Hammer, Finkelhor, & Sedlak, 2002). For example, in 1999, 1,682,900 youth had a period of time in which they could be characterized as a runaway or throwaway youth; 71 percent of these youth were considered at risk for prostitution (Estes & Weiner, 2001).

            National juvenile arrest data provide another glimpse of the potential magnitude of the domestic trafficking of youth. Nationwide in 2003, 2,220,300 juveniles were arrested, 11 percent fewer than in 1999 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2004). During 2003, 1,400 youth were arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice. Of these youth, 69 percent were female and 14 percent were younger than age 15. Unlike overall juvenile arrest rates, these numbers increased 31 percent between 1994 and 2003.

            As with most other data related to human trafficking, there are huge gaps between estimates of “prevalence” or populations “at risk” and individuals actually identified as trafficking victims or enrolled in government programs. Better data and research are needed to begin distinguishing among possible reasons for the gaps between prevalence estimates and administrative data.

            They also discuss trafficing for labor:

            In addition to domestic sex trafficking, American minors and adults are likely trafficked for forced labor; however, children are generally preferred to adults in the labor world as they are more easily controlled, cheaper, and less likely to demand better working conditions (Herzfeld, 2002). Unfortunately, we know even less about labor trafficking, both into and within the United States, than we do about sex trafficking. There is evidence that forced child labor exists in the African and Latin American regions and also in more developed countries such as the United States (International Labor Organization, 2002). An International Labor Organization study indicated that girls are more likely to be trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic services, and boys tend to be trafficked for forced labor in commercial farming, petty crimes, and the drug trade.

            But, overall, it’s very hard to measure:

            Despite these various estimates, we are still uncertain about the actual prevalence of human trafficking into and within the United States for several reasons. First, given the covert character of the crime, accurate statistics on the nature, prevalence, and geography of human trafficking are difficult to calculate (Clawson, Layne, & Small, 2006). Trafficking victims are guarded closely by their captors, many victims lack accurate immigration documentation, trafficked domestic servants remain “invisible” in private homes, and private businesses often act as a front for a back-end trafficking operation. These factors make human trafficking a particularly difficult crime to identify and count. Additionally, available data are often non-comparable and contain duplicate counts, are limited to information on women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and not other forms of human trafficking, and are often inconsistently or inaccurately recorded due to differing definitions and beliefs among service providers and law enforcement about who is a victim of human trafficking (Clawson, Layne, & Small, 2006).

            • DocAmazing

              Important bit:

              Unfortunately, we know even less about labor trafficking, both into and within the United States, than we do about sex trafficking.

              There was a case in California’s Central Valley a few years back in which Central American kids had been brought across the border into something like indentured servitude and were forced into agricultural labor. As the story was literally less sexy than sex trafficking, it got little airplay. If I recall correctly, the child victims were slated to be deported after the trial.

              • Yeah, that kinda jumped out at me too.

              • MAJeff

                Last spring, some folks on our campus hosted a lecture by a local academic and anti-trafficking activists. One of her first, and biggest, busts involved Nepali’s who had been trafficked to work in underground mushroom farms.

                • DocAmazing

                  Nepalis in Massachusetts were probably there to visit Aimai.

            • cpinva

              Bijan, I think what all this tells us is that no one really has a good clue. everything seems to be estimates, based on little or no hard data. and this goes right back to the great harm that such as Kristof do: by creating fear based on wholly fictional numbers, when people find out that these claims are essentially well meant lies, they get turned off. they then lose interest, in an issue that actually is real.

              • and this goes right back to the great harm that such as Kristof do: by creating fear based on wholly fictional numbers, when people find out that these claims are essentially well meant lies, they get turned off. they then lose interest, in an issue that actually is real.

                Does this harm actually occur? I mean, is there evidence that overhyping like this causes a backlash?

                I mean, it pisses *me* off, but I’m hardly representative. I can think of many mechanisms that would prevent a backlash from happening, number 1 being that people never find out.

    • DrDick

      Those sources are frequently wrong. Given that the US State Department estimates about 600,000-800,000 people trafficked globally each year for all purposes (at minimum), this seems a bit high. This is especially true since trafficking is much lower in the US and Western Europe than in Asia and Latin America,

      • Manju

        Yeah, I know wiki is unreliable and I generally hold RWing groups like cwfa guilty until proven innocent.

        I posted the numbers just b/c I was curious where kristof got his from and that’s what the google spit out. And it was interesting that they both had 100K on the low end. (Kristof is the sanest of the insane!)

        “Are these 2 sources ever wrong” was sarcastic.

        • You totally suckered me ;)

          I recognized you being sarcastic but I thought it was for Wikipedia not for the insane people :)

          • Manju

            Sorry Bijan! Please don’t take it out the DW-Nominate peeps. They’re legit.

  • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste

    And here’s the thing–it’s not like this issue is not a problem. It’s terrible. But […] exaggerating claims hurts [the issues] rather than helping them.

    Here’s the thing. It’s bigger than Kristof, it’s bigger than this one issue of white slavery, it’s the whole of left activism as it actually exists today.

    One of my personal hobbyhorses is the intersection of genetically modified foods with the use of agricultural chemicals. I am a scientist, I have been studying the issue for years, and I would like to use my expertise to help out with the cause. But what I get is a corp of true believers carrying tales of cancerous rats and dead butterflies and bumblebee hekatombs, who insist on bundling it into a bed of mass death while screaming MONSANTO WANTS TO DRONE MURDER US IN OUR SLEEP! WITH RADIATION!

    So it’s not that they are completely and utterly wrong, but by conflating unrelated issues they do get quite a bit wrong. In so far as they use misdirection to cover up the weak parts of their argument, they spoil their aim at the real problems and magnify the probability of investing tremendous effort into projects that will accomplish nothing even if they succeed in attaining their stated objectives.

    So I have to remember Dr King, who has become such an icon that people are tempted to overlook what he did and how he did it. He was a hard man for a hard time, and he did not have the luxury of pooling a bunch of irrelevant gripes and proclaiming them the essence of White Racism.

    • shah8

      Nah, people like you always drive me nuts.

      Sorry, but this is a real pet peeve of mine.

      First, there will always be crazy people, on every side of the issue. They usually do not have power to set discourse and are typically harmless. Harmful phenomenon such as the anti-vaxxors are fundamentally the product of class dynamic/conflict and traditional purity trolling. They involve people with more power, sufficient to reach good microphones, with a harmful act that people can actually do, such as refuse to get their rugrats vaccinated.

      Hippie-punching the anti-GMO folks is just a fundamentally unserious activity. At the end of the day, enough of them (to deflate the movement) would be satisfied by labeling, which what the astroturf campaign to hippie-punch is about. And do you know what? It’s just not a big deal in the scheme of things to label, and it’s not as if other countries aren’t forcing the issue wrt labeling. You can hippie punch some woman at the nearby Whole Foods, but you can’t hippie punch China.

      As I rant on Mike the Mad Biologist blog on occasion, the actual and fundamental issue is that genetic modification is not a trivial activity. Most people would be totally fine with genetically modded fruits, veggies, whathaveyou, if they got a better value proposition out of it–that *they* care about, and not “golden rice” patronizing and neocolonialist bullshit. They’d be totally fine with genetically modded cassava, so as to resist nasty viruses. Or genetically modded cotton if that would produce cool effects. However, actually *creating* that gmo crop with a clear value proposition to farmers, marketers, and consumers and which fits within capitalist agriculture is very much an extremely difficult exercise. They still haven’t got golden rice to beta, for example (for productivity reasons). The Cassava disease resistance project is taking its sweet time getting results. This is why most currently profitable gmo products are things that encourage lock-in with other products. Moreover, the legal structure allows gmo corps to position themselves such that they can extract rent without offering that much value. That’s why they are having so much of a hissy fit about labeling. If people could choose, then yes, they’d choose non-gmo products until they get a gmo product that appeals to them. And it’s totally okay for that to happen! Progress won’t stop, it would just mean a different emphasis in research and lowered profits because they have to actually compete.

      • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste

        Wishing that people would stop relying on disinformation, so that we together could build a more effective movement is a form of hippie punching?

        Because it sounds like what you do is try to educate people so that they let go of mistaken ideas and replace them with better ideas. Which is exactly what I do, so the exact nature of your complaint is not obvious.

        In closing, Mike has good taste in links and may I will see you there.

        • JR

          von Hoehenheim,

          Love your handle! Thanks for posting ;-)

      • Gregor Sansa

        I think TBvHdS had some good points:

        -There is a scientific case to be made against GMO products as they currently exist.
        -Yet many anti-GMO activists use overstated claims.

        Shah8 responds:

        -Many anti-GMO activists would be satisfied by reasonable measures.
        -Pro-GMO propaganda relies on exaggerations and sleight of hand.
        -Pro-GMO propaganda also loves to hippie-punch by crowing about how unscientific the opposition is.
        -Therefore, TBvHdS is a hippie-puncher.

        I’d agree happily with shah8’s first three points, but balk at the fourth. In fact, I think that point 3 actually supports TBvHdS’s point, rather than undercutting it.

        Also, I really hope we can have a two-sided talk about GMO without accusing each other of bad faith. Certainly I think it should be easier than having the same discussion about child prostitution. Because even I, who have no love for Kristof and do love truth, have some part of me that sympathizes with his alarmism, because child prostitution is REALLY BAD AND HOW COULD YOU DEFEND THAT YOU MONSTER.

        • divadab

          IMHO nothing wrong per se with GMO technology – it’s the use to which it is put. It’s just a fundamentally wrong approach to anything on this living planet to base your agriculture on the model of killing everything that is not your monoculture crop. The Roundup culture of pissing death – it’s culturally pervasive and it’s evil.

          In the Pacific NW, huge swaths of uplands are clearcut, sprayed with 2,4-d and roundup, and then replanted with genetically-identical seedlings. WHat could go wrong? A culture that does this deserves to be destroyed.

          • SatanicPanic

            Easy for you to say. I’d rather we Round Up the hell outta the land, let people ride in air-conditioned tractors than see bent, broken old people out there sweating their asses off for minimum pay. But that’s just me.

            • Origami Isopod

              That’s me, too.

      • cpinva

        well Shah8, let me clue you in: people have been genetically modifying the food they eat, since the first humans decided to settle down and do a little farming and animal husbandrying. the corn-on-the-cob you enjoy looks/tastes/feels nothing like its ancestor. same with pretty nearly every food product, because they have been genetically altered, for a variety of reasons. what’s going on now is simply a logical progression of events, using the latest technology, much as our ancestors did before us.

        • DocAmazing

          That’s not the same thing as recombinant DNA technology by a very long shot. Hybridization and gene-splicing have almost nothing in common.

          I use a great many products that were manufactured using recombinant DNA technology–most notably vaccines and insulin. However, the genetically modified organisms responsible for the production of those things are in labs, in a very controlled environment. GMO crops are out in nature, cross-pollinating with wild plants and with non-GMO crops, and I’ve yet to see significant studies into the safety of this state of affairs–it’s presumed to be safe.

          Let’s get GMO corn back into a controlled setting and work the bugs out (sorry) before we allow Monsanto to start trying to gouge farmers because their crops have been pollinated by Roundup Ready corn.

          • John Revolta

            Hybridization and gene-splicing have almost nothing in common.

            Thank you. This can’t be said enough.

            I used to make the same argument as cpinva, with extra snark. Then I decided to find out what the hell I was talking about.

      • SatanicPanic

        Labeling is dumb if there’s no reason for people to be scared, which there isn’t.

        • John Revolta

          Whew! Well, that’s a load off my mind, then. Thanks a million!!

        • DocAmazing

          Eating non-kosher food is also harmless to your health, so we should oppose labelling kosher foods, right?

          Consent. It requires information.

          • djw

            Not really comparable, because there’s no government requirement for Kosher labeling. I’ll join with the anti-GMO people in opposing anti-labeling laws, as we saw in some states with laws against rGBH-free labels. I presume that’s not what we’re talking about here.

            • SatanicPanic

              Absolutely, if companies want to label it then great.

          • SatanicPanic

            Not the same thing


      I, for one, did not know this! It’s an extremely alarming fact that I will share with all of my acquaintance whom I do not wan to be drone radiation murdered in their sleep!

      If you have a newsletter, etc.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Monsanto is the nicest, bravest company I’ve ever been privileged to know.

        • OH NO! THERE ARE TWO SIDES!?!?!?

          • John Revolta

            Not any more!! Some guy upthread cleared all that up for us!!

            • Too Lazy; Didn’t Read!

              Sooo, which way should I be panicking?

              • Lee Rudolph

                Why choose just one?

                • Because I adhere to a bivalent panicking logic?

  • jeer9

    “No one cares about urban crime which victimizes minorities. We want to lead with break-ins, murder, and mayhem in the affluent suburbs. That’s where the ratings are.”

    Although it hardly breaks any news about media coverage of issues, Nightcrawler is a very funny, extremely dark satire of American pop psychology, the capitalist (read sociopathic) ethos, and the emptiness residing at the core of this culture’s view of “success.” While Kristof and his colleagues at the NYT op-ed page certainly possess more sophistication than Lou Bloom, their desire to fan the flames of hysteria scarcely seems more edifying than the coldly calculating machinations of a “bug” like Gyllenhaal’s. The final image of the film is a classic.

    • Murc

      I was going to go see Nightcrawler until I found out it wasn’t a new X-Men movie.

      • Manju

        They both sound like something you should rent in private.

      • DocAmazing

        It’s not about bass fishing?

        • cpinva

          kills it for me. although, in truth, it’s rare that I use live bait.

    • Lee Rudolph

      While Kristof and his colleagues at the NYT op-ed page certainly possess more sophistication than Lou Bloom

      I don’t know who Lou Bloom is, but if he’s less sophisticated than Dowd and Douthat (and Kristof and …), I think I’m just as happy not knowing. Or do you just mean they have larger vocabularies and the like, not that (for instance) their reasoning capacities are pathetically poor?

  • shah8

    Given that it’s a black market thingie and the inherent fuzziness of who we should count, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to particularly care whether the number is right or wrong.

    I am not inclined to think that the article is valid because…

    a) Most such child prostitutes probably do not have anyone really looking for them for a variety of reasons.

    b) One only has to be exposed to the nature of child sex tourism in places like the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia, Philippines, Thailand to guess that child prostitution is not easily and safely available where these (not rich/connected)guys live, including the US.

    c) The issue is probably more about Backpage’s suitability for drug transactions, not sex transactions (cynical!me imagines cops complaining about not being paid off to ignore). Remedies are about making it more transparent to “oversight”, much the same way as FBI complained about Apple auto-turning on encryption. I mean really, where’s the prosecution of the pimps or whoever, did that happen?

    Ah…the smell of bullshit before bed…

  • Lev

    Yeah, 100k people. So the equivalent of half of Boise, Idaho is gone now, and nobody noticed this but Kristof. Very likely.

    • That is an excellent way of putting it.

      • John Revolta

        Bah. If you took 1,000 dollars out of my bank account, I’d probably notice. If you took ten cents out of 10,000 peoples bank accounts…………………?

        I’m not saying that Kristof is making any kind of sense here. But neither is this.

    • cpinva

      these would be the very same people who failed to notice the two million times a year that guns are used, by civilians, in self-defense. you’d think someone would have noticed! and yet, they didn’t.

  • wetzel

    I don’t know. If you’ve ever worked for a company in a part of a big American city where the interstates converge on a catastrophe by the week motels, the pillhead homeless, pimps and truckers, it’s not too hard to imagine there being a few thousand underage prostitutes on average in every state. 100,000 may be a bit high, but not incredibly. What goes on out there will break your heart.

  • Warren Terra

    I assume that a very great portion of the problem here is with the world “sold”. If instead we take the word as “rented”, or agree on some archaic formulation such as saying their virtue has been sold, we might get closer to understanding how the number could be non-crazy. It then becomes an estimate of the number of sub-majority Americans who enter into prostitution every year. I have no idea what that number really is (even assuming “children” means anything up to 17-years-364-days-post-birth, to me one-hundred-thousand annually sounds like a lot), but I could imagine that number approaching five figures, while I just cannot imagine that each year tens of thousands of juvenile Americans are “sold” such that they enter the custody of and the ongoing control of their purchaser.

    • Yeah, I can see that. Are there 100,000 children engaging in sex in some form every year that is not entirely consensual? Quite possibly. But what does “sold” mean? What does “prostitution” mean? What is the age breakdown? These are all flattened for the sake of heightening the moral scare.

      • Atrios

        While I of course have no idea what the truth is, the idea that 100,000 <18 girls engage in prostitution at some point in a given year, and that some of that is highly coerced in one way or another, is not crazy. But Kristof's language is not helpful. "Sold" implies slavery, not prostitution, that these girls are either chained up in someone's basement or so controlled by a pimp that their free will is entirely gone. That's seems to be a bit nuts.

        • Lee Rudolph

          100,000 <18 girls

          As JL points out here from time to time, here “girls” should be expanded to include “boys” and transgender teenagers. (Not to distract from the other points.)

          • Atrios

            yes a good point

    • If you look at the Wikipedia link Manju gives above, it’s clearly 100k-300k “children engaged in prostitution”, not 100k *entering* into prostitution. The country by country numbers are shocking but not wildly implausible.

  • For some reason I am reminded of the Operating Cave, which never received quite as much moral panic as drink spiking.

  • sanity clause

    And that’s what Kristof has done time and time again, without accountability as to his embarrassing journalistic standards.

    Well hell, it’s not like ANY op-ed columnists are held to any journalistic standards.

    A couple years back, Richard Cohen made a crack (probably in a piece about teachers) about how pundits don’t have tenure. But he and Kristof and Will and most other op-ed pundits would have lost their jobs years ago if there were any sort of attempt by editorial page editors to replace mediocre pundits by better ones.

    Lord knows the Internet has produced scores of bloggers who are much better at this sort of thing than most of those who have their cushy tenured chairs in punditry at the New York Times or the Washington Post. At the WaPo, it seems that the only way off the op-ed page is to die, and even Broder speaks to us from beyond the grave through the pen of Ruth Marcus.

    • Jordan

      I mean, I’m all for giving smart bloggers more space.

      But I think the problem has a lot to do with the structure rather than (just) the bloviators. It’s *very* hard to write, what, three short columns a week that are interesting, original and correct! I think Coates declined a job on this very basis?

      In other words: the solution is to get rid of regular editorial page columnists, more than it is to find better ones.

      • DocAmazing

        What if editorial pages were to become aggregators of the best stuff published the preceding few days on the Toobz? Editors would have to work harder, but they’d be exposed to a lot more, and guys like Brooks would be out of work in short order.

        • Jordan

          Right, that is *exactly* what they should be doing (they should also commission/accept random editorials, as they do now).

          The regular op-ed page columnist thing boggles my mind, for the prices they are paying. But, apparently, some of them are actually worth it. So, you know.

      • Paul Krugman has dodged this problem by writing the same columns over and over again.

        • Lee Rudolph

          The Kurse of Kassandra!

  • Paul Campos

    Kristof’s claim that “100,000 girls and boys are sold for sex” in the US every year is too vague to even try to measure. This could mean everything from every year 100,000 children in America are kidnapped, and then forced to engage in sex for money while subjected to false imprisonment, to every year 100,000 Americans under the age of 18 engage in some sort of sex work at least once.

    The former claim sounds every bit as absurd as Erik suggests, while the latter isn’t completely implausible. Moral panics feed on this kind of ambiguity.

    Edit: I see Warren Terra made the same point already.

  • dmsilev

    Backpage also makes it hard to search for missing girls by allowing scrambled phone numbers in sex ads. If you sell a dog on Backpage in the pet section, you must post a numeric phone number; sell sex with a girl, and you can use a nonsearchable version — such as zero12-345-six78nine — that makes it more difficult for police or family members to locate a missing child with a simple Internet search.

    Firstly, if the “non searchable” technique is to replace some digits with spelled-out words, that’s not really very un-searchable. Secondly, and far more importantly, if the hypothetical missing child has been sold into sex slavery, presumably the pimp is not advertising her with the number of the cell phone that her parents gave her. So, what phone number are the parents searching for anyway?

  • If I wanted to be kind to Kristof I would guess that “sold for sex” is a linguistic flourish on prostitution. “They are selling their bodies” or some such. But when your job consists of writing three columns a week, you don’t have an excuse for sloppy writing.

    When the Times fired Bloody Bill, they should have more generally fired all their Kristo*.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Wait a minute. These are two separate people?

  • Tyro

    I have noticed this panic myself among my extended family where they believe that the country is much more dangerous for their kids now than it was when we were growing up because of the threat of human trafficking. In part this is due to people like Kristof, in part it’s due to conservatives who love a white slavery story, and in part it is because big money activitists love a cause that no one could rationally be against, and sex slavery is a “safe” cause to promote and pursue, so the public focus makes the problem look larger than it is while other problems get ignored because of the need to avoid nuance and controversy.

    • nixnutz

      Kind of a non sequitur but I’m reminded of a passage that struck me in Good Morning, Midnight.

      There is a bookshop next door, which advertises second-hand English novels. The assistant is a Hindu. I want a long, calm book about people with large incomes – a book like a flat green meadow and the sheep feeding in it. But he insists upon selling me lurid stories of the white-slave traffic. “This is a very good book, very beautiful, most true.”

    • RonC

      I see it all around. The interesting thing is, if anything life was more dangerous in the late 60s then now.

    • DocAmazing

      Most people don’t grasp relative risk. Your kids are at far greater risk being driven around in your car than they are running around in public while Nefarious Characters lurk.

      That said, there are arguably at least as many throwaway children today as there were fifty years ago, and they are the ones at greatest risk of all kinds of abuse and coercion.

  • DocAmazing
    • matt w

      Off-topic thought: the title-to-URL converter disappeared the word “sex.”

      • Either that was the original title, or they’re trying to avoid content filters (which tend to rank URL keywords higher than body text).

  • Origami Isopod

    Really late here, but this article, I think, is relevant.

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