Column: Methodology, Conclusions of Sex-Trafficking Study Flawed

By Chesney-Lind, Meda; Sharma, Nandita | Honolulu Star - Advertiser, October 18, 2018 | Go to article overview

Column: Methodology, Conclusions of Sex-Trafficking Study Flawed


Chesney-Lind, Meda, Sharma, Nandita, Honolulu Star - Advertiser


A recent study about sex trafficking in Hawaii, “Sex Trafficking in Hawai‘i Part 1: Exploring Online Sex Buyers,” has gotten a lot of attention. The report’s authors attempted to explore the demand for prostitution on Oahu and Hawaii island: They created and placed two “normative sex advertisements” on a website directed at the Hawaii “market” (a site now closed by the U.S. government).

According to the authors, this section of the website was a well-known, global site for advertisements sex selling.

The authors report that they received 407 “hits” from Oahu during a one-week period in March, and 206 “hits” from Hawaii island. They then used highly problematic methods (simply multiplying the number of responses to their ad by the number of all ads on the website) to come up with what they describe as an “astronomical” number of men seeking sex on line. Candidly, this methodology makes no sense whatsoever.

That said, their findings do not reveal a demand for prostitution in Hawaii that is surprising, particularly given our location, tourism and a large military presence. The authors argue their findings indicate “1 in 11 men in Hawaii is an online sex buyer.” Actually, in some respects, this number may be close to accurate. Recall that Alfred Kinsey shocked the nation with his 1948 finding that 69 percent of American men had paid for sex at some time in their life, though a more recent study puts the figure closer to 14 percent. The 1 in 11 percentage is 9 percent. So, the researchers’ numbers do not seem completely out of line, even as their methodology is flawed (and their study cannot be replicated since the site has been pulled down).

Candidly, though, we have long known that there is a robust “demand” for sex work. If there were not, and given all the penalties associated with being a sex worker, we would not have people engaging in it.

It is quite a leap to go from these findings, though, to the author’s assumption that “sex trafficking” takes place anytime there is a financial transaction for sex. …

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