The National Juvenile Prostitution Study is a two-phase study beginning with a telephone survey of a national sample of approximately 400 law enforcement agencies across the United States to determine the types of criminal cases seen by law enforcement agencies that involve the prostitution of and by youth under the age of 18.
Juvenile prostitution is not a new phenomena but it is an increasingly central component of the criminal justice system’s fight against child sexual exploitation. National estimates of juvenile prostitution vary widely, ranging from 100,000 to 3 million (ECPAT, 1996; Barnitz, 1998). A number of definitional, practical and ethical problems exist making it difficult to place any solid estimates on its incidence (Melrose, 2002). These include collecting crime reporting data that does not include the ages of the juveniles involved; the potential concentration of prostitution in certain areas of the country; having certain types of prostitution, like adults offering young children in exchange for money, treated as child sexual abuse cases, not prostitution cases; and the presence of the Internet and it’s potential role in the commission of these crimes. These issues highlight the importance of establishing base estimates of juvenile prostitution cases in the criminal justice system derived from sound methodology so a true representation of this problem can be established. What further complicates the problem is the dual status of victim and offender that juvenile prostitutes often have in the criminal justice system (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2004; Barnitz, 2001). Law enforcement agencies are inconsistent as to whether they treat juvenile prostitutes as offenders or victims, which contributes to the lack of reliable information due to the inconsistent recording of these cases in crime recording data systems.
Goals and Objectives
- Determine the types of criminal cases seen by law enforcement agencies that involve the prostitution of youth under the age of 18 or prostitution by such youth;
- Develop a typology of the kinds of cases in the criminal justice system that involve juvenile prostitution, including prostitution of youth by adults and by youth acting alone or in concert with other youth;
- Create a database of a national sample of law enforcement agencies that have handled cases involving arrests or detentions for involvement in juvenile prostitution, that will be used for in-depth study in phase two of the study;
- Develop an in-depth telephone survey to be used in phase two of this study that will gather detailed case material on specific cases gathered during this phase of the study.
Phase one of the project began with a telephone survey of approximately 400 law enforcement agencies across the United States including those covering all large cities and counties with a population of 250,000 or more residents, special units of federal agencies that investigate these crimes, any additional agencies known to investigate juvenile prostitution cases, and a random sample of local and county agencies serving smaller populations in order to capture different department procedures.
These agencies were identified through rental of a national database of all law enforcement agencies across the United States that provided contact information and details about the size of the population served.
Agencies known to investigate juvenile prostitution cases were identified through a previous study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania about commercial sexual exploitation of children (Estes & Weiner, 2001).
The telephone interviews were conducted by trained interviewers knowledgeable about law enforcement procedures. The telephone interviews took approximately 15 minutes to complete and were designed by the project staff to measure how juvenile prostitution cases were handled in the respondent’s agency. For example, questions determined whether juvenile prostitutes were typically treated as offenders or victims and whether a particular unit handled such cases. Telephone calls were initially directed toward the Chief of Police as that is the person identified in the national database. Interviewer followed procedures to identify the most knowledgeable person to talk to within each agency about juvenile prostitution cases. We created clear definitions of juvenile prostitution and appropriate questions that covered all key components of these cases. This was be done with the assistance of law enforcement personnel known the by CCRC staff through semi-structured interviews about police procedure in this area.
Next, a random national sample of approximately 3,000 local, county and state law enforcement agencies was created. The study also included special units of federal agencies known to investigate crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children.
The random sample of agencies for the mail survey was drawn from the national database and appropriate procedures were developed to assist data collection from agencies known to have a large number of juvenile prostitution cases. Agencies randomly selected for participation in the main study were sent a brief mail survey and cover letter explaining the study and was addressed to the Chief of Police for that particular agency.
If applicable, this individual was asked to forward the survey to the appropriate unit that handled prostitution cases for completion, such as a sexual exploitation or vice unit. The survey asked the respondent a few detailed questions aimed at identifying the number of cases involving the arrest or detention of any juvenile or adult for involvement in juvenile prostitution in the year beginning June 30, 2004. For identified cases, the respondent was asked to provide the case number, along with the name and contact information of the primary investigator on that case for a follow-up telephone interview (Phase two of this project).
Established mail survey methodology procedures were used to ensure a high response rate and included a series of 5 mailings including:
- An introductory letter explaining the study with a survey and postage-paid envelope;
- postcard reminder;
- A reminder letter with a survey and postage-paid envelope;
- A reminder with a survey and postage-paid envelope; and
- Telephone calls to agencies to complete the survey by telephone.
Barnitz, L.A. (1998). Children for sale: Youth involved in prostitution, pornography and sex trafficking. Youth Advocate Program International Report, 3(2) 1-3.
Barnitz, L. (2001). Effectively responding to the commercial sexual exploitation of children: A comprehensive approach to prevention, protection, and reintegration services. Child Welfare, 80, 597-610.
End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Exploitation (ECPAT). (1996). Europe and North America regional profile. Issued by the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Stockholm: Sweden.
Estes, R.J. & Weiner, N.A. (2001). The commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: PA.
Finkelhor, D. & Ormrod, R. (2004). Prostitution of juveniles: Patterns from NIBRS. Juvenile Justice Bulletin-NCJ203946 (pgs. 1-12). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Melrose, M. (2002). Labour pains: Some considerations on the difficulties of researching juvenile prostitution. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 5(4), 333-351.