Nymphet Nation—Not!

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Slate's Jack Shafer does a great job of deconstructing Newsweek's bogus story on the supposed increase in teen prostitution among (yikes!) middle-class girls (they need money to buy the newest clothes, dontcha know?).

Shafer points to the "wobbly nut-graf assertion" in which the author is supposed to lay out the story's basis and writes:

This paragraph, the fulcrum upon which the remainder of the article rests, doesn't convince. If law-enforcement officials say there is "a marked increase in teen prostitution," but "solid numbers are difficult to come by," what exactly are we to make of the "hundreds of thousands" figure that follows? Is Smalley saying that there are hundreds of thousands of teen prostitutes? Or that there are "hundreds of thousands" more teen prostitutes than there once were? If that's the case, how reliable is a study that advances such a vague number? Over what period was this "government-sponsored" population study of teen prostitutes conducted? And who conducted it? Smalley neglects to point her readers to her primary source.

This is media criticism at its best. Like many stories involving teens, sex, the Internet, drugs, and a few other topics, Newsweek's teen pro story manages to see print while dodging the sort of (er) smell test that zoning board stories are routinely subjected to.

Reason debunked Rolling Stone's recent iteration of another journalistic chestnut, "the new drug of choice story," a while back.

NEXT: Rising Concerns

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  1. luckily, msnbc manages to tie the entire problem back into hip hop lyrics.

  2. Gotta love the not-so-subble hint that Black music turns good White girls into sluts.

  3. but of course it does. bill o’reilly told me so.

    i am rather curious as to whether or not there actually has been a rise. younger girls dating older guys was always a big thing, even in high school. the older guys (16-20) had jobs and cars and whatnot.

    and who doesn’t like gifts?

    i like the subtle implication that these girls are somehow even worse off than people who hook for money and food because they’re choosing to do so.

  4. I’ve heard that in America, lots of women go on “dates” where they offer sex in exchange for dinner, movies and drinks.

  5. In my America, I went on dates where – in exchange for dinners, entertainment, and gifts – I considered the possibility that the date might one day be a sexual partner if he played his cards right.

    Good system.

  6. I blame the public education system. They should be teaching these girls to give it up for free as a service to society instead of making money off it. Capitolist pigs!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Aw, why do you guys have to ruin everything?

  8. RISE IN TEEN SEXUAL ACTIVITY COMES AS SURPRISE TO AREA TEEN
    “I just want to know: Where in the hell are all these millions of loose teenage girls?”

    Gotta love the ONION
    http://www.theonion.com/onion3931/rise_in_teen_sexual.html

  9. “I just want to know: Where in the hell are all these millions of loose teenage girls?”

    Umm, let’s see …

    – Hollywood Boulevard, CA
    – Bourbon Street, LA
    – Eighth Avenue, NY
    – Miami Beach, FL
    – Washington, DC (teeming there!)

    Wait! Don’t run yet! . . .

    Be sure to take your anti-syphilis mercury, your anti-bacterial soap, your anti-gonorrhea, your anti-crabs, and your anti-AIDS potions with you (if there even is such a thing for the latter.)

    You’re gonna need it.

  10. I blame it all on “Taxi Driver.”

  11. Adds Lisa Grahn, another Paul & Lisa counselor: “People say, ‘We’re not from the ghetto.’ The shame the parents feel is incredible.”

    Who is deathly afraid of being labeled “from the ghetto?” Give me a break.

  12. I don’t have any proof but I’ve read that in Japan there are a lot of girls who go on “dates” with older men in exchange for money and gifts. Of course, Japan has different attitudes toward sex.

  13. The recent “trend” towards increased child prostitution in the U.S. identified in this Newsweek article may be somewhat suspect, but the phenomena is all too real in Japan:

    http://www.japantoday.com/e/?content=shukan&id=187

    The increasing ubiquity of internet-capable cell phones seems to be a prime enabler.

  14. This has all the earmarks of bogus statistics. (1) It gives no sources for its numbers so they cannot be checked.
    (2) It purports to count something that is, essentially, impossible to count. This is fairly common with statistics on consensual crimes like drug use and prostitution. Since no-one reports the crimes there are no reliable statistics except for the unfortunate few who actually get caught (in this case a few hunderd, not hundreds of thousands). Obviously there are more, but there is no way to know how many. Whenever anyone gives you a number purporting to count something impossible to count, say the amount of cocaine that is not intercepted at the border, they are blowing smoke.
    (3) The range is so large as to be meaningless. “Hundreds of thousands” could be 200,000 or 999,000. So, translated this paragraph means “we have no idea how many there are but we think there are a lot; since ‘a lot’ does not sould very impressive, we will cite an impressive number.
    (4) It cites opinions from unreliable sources. “Advocacy groups” always think whatever problem they are addressing is the worst problem ever, and getting worse. Police always exagerate crime, except when they are being evaluated, when the understate it. Except for hard statistics. like numbers of crimes reported or number of arrests made (and not always then), police opinions are useless.

  15. Never let the facts get in the way of a nice little earner, as John Brignell calls them. Might have the makings for one, or it could just be a throw-away kind of Scare De Jeur – there is no classic scare story like teen girls and sex. It’s part of how drugs got illegalized in the first place, and how stigmas are continually placed upon them, such as with Ecstacy.

    Anything that sounds sexual is immediately tied to sex itself, and so the seemingly endless old-fogey fretting over short dresses, thongs, high-heels, makeup, pornography, and a cadre of others; recipe: start with two seemingly sensible positions and assertions, and then tie them together with vague insinuations, misdirection, leaps of logic, and abuses of statistics.

    Statistics, being by their very nature incapable of simple intuitive understanding (which is why Probability Theory, in part, such a damn long time to formulate, dissiminate, and take root), is naturally the tool of the trade if you want to get people upset about something which needn’t even exist in the first place (and this isn’t even a data dredge – go figure!).

    Of course, everyone’s favorite website applies here: http://www.numberwatch.co.uk

  16. Weird, I just heard a story on this on NPR which had many of the same features as this newsweek story.

    http://discover.npr.org/features/feature.jhtml?wfId=1393770

  17. These teen prostitutes certainly aren’t working East Colfax in Denver. The average age there must be on the high side of 40. 😛

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