The Schapiro Group Responds to Our Cover Story About Sex-Trafficking Study

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In our current cover story, Village Voice Media writer Nick Pinto called into question research done by a Georgia firm, The Schapiro Group, which was used by Womens Funding Network to make claims about the scope of underage sex trafficking in the U.S. Pinto's story called that research into question, documenting that The Schapiro Group had made estimates of underage prostitution simply by guessing the ages of women in online advertisements, and cited experts who called that method deeply flawed. We received today a response from the president of The Schapiro Group, Beth Schapiro, and are presenting it here 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.

Had the writer done his homework on The Schapiro Group, he might have learned of our legacy of solid, scientific studies performed by our highly talented team of applied social research experts. He also would have learned that we are not in the business of telling clients what they want to hear; rather, our clients and our interests are best served when we tell them where the data lead us. Researchers at The Schapiro Group use methodological rigor to reveal information our clients need to know - regardless of how that information aligns with what anyone presumes the findings will show. On this research topic specifically, we have documented both increases and decreases in the incidence of prostituted children both online and on the streets over the years.

Though given his name and contact information, the writer did not speak with nationally recognized CSEC expert Michael Shively, PhD, Senior Associate at Abt Associates Inc., a private research firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Bethesda, Maryland. After reviewing our research, Dr. Shively concluded:

"The Schapiro Group has done a good job of discussing responsibly the inherent difficulties and the limitations of their method, and at each step it looks like they have made reasonable assumptions in interpreting and extrapolating from observations. I think their estimates are conservative. Without firmer data, we have to make our best guesses and reasonable assumptions and proceed from there. And I have no reason to believe that their assumptions are skewed to try to inflate the prevalence of exploited children. The Schapiro Group's body of research is one of the best efforts I've seen to fill a gap - and they have used some creative methods to do so. Until a government or a foundation decides to invest in truly definitive, national research on the size and characteristics of the illegal commercial sex market, we are all left to piece together with less than ideal data an understanding of how many children and adults are selling sex, how much of commercial sex solicitation is online versus the streets, the proportion of the market indoors versus outdoors, and what proportion of those selling sex are compelled and/or minors, and thus victims of trafficking."

The Georgia House of Representatives just passed some of the most progressive legislation in the country on the subject. As award-winning journalist Ann Woolner recently noted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this legislation represents a major cultural shift in perceptions about the prostitution of teenagers.

For the record, as president of The Schapiro Group, I am very proud of the firm's contribution to this cultural shift. We stand fully behind our work - work which puts us on the front line of one of the most critical issues of our time. In finding a solution to some unusual research barriers, I'm proud that we're making an important contribution to addressing this very serious issue.

Sincerely,

Beth Schapiro, PhD
President
The Schapiro Group, Inc.


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17 comments
Slimsxybre
Slimsxybre

i find this creditable, i guess those who find the business of selling sex a wonderful idea will hate this article...so will all the pimps and prositutes posting shut up and get real jobs.

X. Dell
X. Dell

The first part of Dr. Shapiro's statements really doesn't discuss the problem at hand, which is the methodology.  She doesn't address any margin of error within the data collection process--and that seems obvious to most people.  While as a scholar I can appreciate the necessity of resorting to creative, and perhaps even problematic methodologies to expose something completely unfathomable, I believe that good scholarship wouldn't utilize a methodology with such obvious gaffes, espesially without severely qualifying the findings, and limiting their possible application. I also noted Dr. Shapiro's cheap shot at the Village Voice.  The Backpages are completely irrelevant to the discussion here, which again, isn't about the Village Voice, but the shoddy methodology used by her company in this case.  Later, Dr. Shapiro engages in an apples-to-oranges argument by citing the National Center for Missing and exploited children.  I would agree that childhood prostitution is a legitimate social concern, but that doesn't mean that it occurs the way this study is suggesting, or if there is really a provable increase--even if that increase is statistically insignificant.  This statement reeks of PR.  Frankly, I would have had more confidence in The Schapiro Group had they admitted an error in this case (and only this case), and promised to do better in the future. 

Fkbryce
Fkbryce

I'm sadly reminded of the late Patricia Pulling, who became unreasonably convinced her son Bink committed suicide due to a D&D game, then proceeded to go around the country on a witch hunt based on lies and false statistics.

"...we have to make our best guesses and reasonable assumptions...they have used some creative methods..."

This is the best you can do for a defense?

When you have nothing good to say about yourself, time to attack the other guy. Thanks for claiming that Village Voice supports child prostitution. It just shows what a drunken idiot you are.

"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."

And obviously, most or all of those millions come from children buying ad space, and obviously the people who run Village Voice Media Holdings have no ethics or accountability whatsoever.

Beth - how many martinis did you have at lunch before you wrote this ridiculous letter that only makes the Schapiro Group look like a bunch of idiots?

So the Georgia legislature passed some legislation. This proves your research is valid? Seriously, this is how you defend your research? What is the causal relationship between your study and that legislation? Was the law based on another study that confirmed yours, or are you just beating your chest about how terribly important your guesswork and flawed assumptions are? I mean, it's not like you can fool the Georgia House of Representatives on anything about science - every one of those elected officials is a credentialed research scientist in their own right, don't you know?

Guest
Guest

Ms. Schapiro, you indicate that the Schapiro Group has developed pioneering methods by which policy-influencing decisions can be made. Not once in your rebuttal to the Village Voice did you use the term "scientific." Doing so would have required you to publish your methods to the scientific community at large, where, per the tenets of science, others should be able to repeat your objective methods and arrive at the same results and conclusions the Schapiro Group did in order to validate your methodology and your conclusions.

Yes, you have conducted research using creative methods. A six-year old can do that sort of creative research -- but a six-year old does not attempt to sway the Government by the results of that research. While many readers of your rebuttal may not realize the absence of the term, I for one am grateful that you did not insult the scientific research profession by claiming that your research was scientific.

That said, don't you think it is unethical to present "findings" based on unquestioned and unvalidated research methodologies to influence people who have a perhaps naive expectation that you are a professional and have used scientific methods to arrive at your findings? Such lack of ethics should prompt you to terminate the operations of the Schapiro Group, or at least lead others to file suit against your blatant disregard for proper use of tax-payer money.

Richard Robertson
Richard Robertson

What is your degree in? Social Sciences? What precisely is your training in mathematics and statistics? I'm reminded of an interesting study back from the 1980's showing frequently social scientists often had a poor understanding of statistics and data collection methods.I ever remember a college student going into the social sciences because,by her own words, she "sucked at math", and that the math requirements for those degrees was so much lower. I've done basic statistical work in population modeling and I've even been published, but I'm not given to such arrogant, overdrawn conclusions as you seem to be. Your study lacks any definite correlative argument between data sets, yet you report the existence of such. Interestingly enough that was the very issue that was reported as prevalent among social scientist back in the 1980s. While obviously I'm going so far as making my own overdrawn conclusions that that would automatically apply to you merely on a single event, your conduct in the field would certain support the claim that your training and critical thinking skills are deficient in this area. Why don't you show, as other respondents in this forum have asked, definitive evidence to support the overall quality of your general work? Personally, other than your inflated direct response to the original article in this publication, I doubt you are even following the responses to it. I suspect, given the tone of your past writing that you are smugly self-satisfied at the quality of your posting and don't consider any further attention by any other party as being worth your attention.

wavydavy
wavydavy

Shorter Beth Schapiro --

If you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit.

@varmintito --

Well done. I teach/train for a living, and if it were my class, I would give you at least an A, if not an A+, in Propaganda Studies.

James Peron
James Peron

What they do is toot their own horn and tell everyone how wonderful they are, without actually proving their dubious methodology has any validity at all. All they show is that they are happy to prostitute themselves to the groups that want to pick the pockets of taxpayers by manufacturing a bogus scare campaign.

Schapiro disgraces PhDs
Schapiro disgraces PhDs

Dear Beth Schapiro-

Your letter is purely subjective fluff ("We are a respected organization! The Village Voice is biased!").

Your entire letter ignores the fact that your research methods for the Craigslist Study were completely flawed.

Instead, you post a bunch of straw-man arguments intended to detract from the fact that you are an unscientific group who presented subjective, flawed research as scientific testimony in court. You are a very sad woman and a pathetic organization.

varmintito
varmintito

Wow. I took a psychology course in HS, and one of the most fascinating topics was propaganda and persuasion. It identified a wide range of classic techniques, from ad hominem, to appeal to authority, to puffery. No kidding, the test for that unit was to read a statement, identify the propaganda technique used, and explain why you thought so. This letter would have made excellent raw material. Let's recap:

Puffery: "carefully and meticulously conducting strategic research" "our legacy of solid, scientific studies performed by our highly talented team of applied social research experts" "providing policymakers, law enforcement, and social service agencies with important insights"

Ipse Dixit (literally "because I say so"): "pioneered empirical, replicable research methodologies" "a track record of developing innovative, common sense methodologies" "developed a series of logical assumptions upon which to base an admittedly conservative count" "Researchers at The Schapiro Group use methodological rigor" -- if so, why not identify your methodology, assumptions, etc. and explain why they are valid?

Assuming the point to be proven: "the formidable CSEC problem" "one of the most critical issues of our time" " this very serious issue"

Appeal to authority: "nationally recognized CSEC expert Michael Shively, PhD" "award-winning journalist Ann Woolner"

Straw man: "We encourage any reporter with questions about whether or not children are prostituted on Internet classifieds websites" -- the Voice disputed the claim that there is a huge amount of child trafficking, but did not dispute whether is ANY child trafficking.

Ad hominem: " 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." -- sorry, but the Voice reported actually discussed WHY your methodology is flawed, instead of simply attacking you. Moreover, the Voice isn't the only publication of observer that found your methodology wanting.

Bottom line: Ms. Schapiro does not explain, in any manner, why her company's methodology is sound. It is worth recalling, however, the essence of that methodology:

1. Assume that the woman portrayed in the escort ad is the actual person who will show up if you call. I bet the Schapiro Group's highly talented team of applied social science research expert had their minds blown when they saw the same stock photos in the escort ads in the Voice, Washington City Paper, Philly Weekly, Phoenix New Times, etc. "Hey Beth, you're not gonna believe this! Somewhere a woman gave birth to octuplets! Who all decided to run away to a different city! And all got trafficked! And all were forced to wear the same purple garter belt! And get the same hair style! And be photographed in the same pose! We need to tell the highly progressive Georgia House of Representatives about this right away!"

2. Assume that the woman portrayed in the escort ad did nothing to change her apparent age in any way (i.e., attempt to appear younger via makeup, HS cheeleader uniform, pigtails, etc.). Because it is a well-documented fact that the sale of high school cheerleader uniforms is carefully controlled, and only actual high school cheerleaders are allowed to own or even wear it. Consequently, it is an infallible indicator that the escort service uses only trafficked child prostitutes.

3. Assuming that the photograph of the woman in the escort ad is completely unretouched, because nobody in the porn business has ever heard of photoshop.

4. Looking at the women portrayed in escort ads, and guessing their age.

5. Because the woman portrayed in the escort ad is the actual person who will appear at your hotel room door if you call, this means that only one woman works for the escort service (unless more than one appears in the accompanying photograph). This means that the number of escorts is the same as the number of escort ads. Why, this means that there are at least 70 prostitutes in New York City! And according to our methodolgy, 27 +/- 3 look suspiciously young! It's a crisis! And what the hell is wrong with the parents of those octuplets?

6. Dammit Beth, the number needs to be higher. We are a big time outfit here. We profoundly influence how communities work and thrive. Our work puts on the front line of one of the most critical issues of our times. I don't care if the highly progressive Georgia House of Representatives wants reassurance that this is a minor issue! That's only because they are instinctively averse to bloviation and grandstanding! But we are not in the business of telling clients what they want to hear!

7. Let's see . . . take the number of hits to the Voice web site . . . multiply by the square root of the hypotenuse . . . round up to the nearest million . . . divide pi by four and give me the big piece. Mmmmmmm, strawberry rhubard, my favorite. What's that you say? A scoop of homemade ice cream on top? You read my mind! And mind reading is hard! Because it is magic! Which makes it harder than pioneering empirical, replicable research methodologies for studying the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Which means there are countless trafficked children living in Greenwich Village. Because counting makes my brain hurt.

8. I cannot emphasize enough that there is no proven methodology in this field, which proves that our methodology is empirical and replicable. Indeed, a person with a Ph.D. is quick to endorse "the inherent difficulties and the limitations of [our] method." Our guesswork is not ordinary guesswork, oh no no no no, it is educated guesswork because, like Michael Shively, I also have a Ph.D.

9. The Voice is wrong because they are pedophiles and not nearly so progressive as the Georgia House of Representatives. And Nick Pinto does not have a Ph.D. because he did not do his homework, or even call Michael Shively, who think's I'm the bee's knees and also has a Ph.D., even though we gave him the number, so neener neener.

10. In conclusion, children working for escort services in the United States is one of the most critical issues of our time, and I am on the front line.

LanceSmith
LanceSmith

So...nothing but ad hominem and a single, non-academic researcher - whose background it not provided? There were a lot of points that were provided in that original cover story article (including the fact that this Beth person waffled when asked simple questions). Why no refutation of those points? Instead, we get more band aids on junk science. Then we're told to go to NCMEC which certainly has a stake in inflated numbers since this group probably gets grants and donations based on there being a real problem to solve.

I should also add that as a pro-freedom individual, I couldn't care less what consenting adults advertise on Craigslist et al. Victimless "crimes" are just that: victimless. No matter what some ideologue would like you to believe. But I digress...

JonB
JonB

"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."

Ms. Schapiro has a problem right there - she apparently can't discriminate between specifics and generalities, even when she is defending her research.

Personally - I'm against classified systems that are 'open' having adult setcions. Still, questionable research and statistics generated by think tanks (of ALL persuasions) are the bane of informed discussion

dstatton
dstatton

That's s lot of writing to say nothing. Bragging about your meticulous methods & quoting other people praising your work. And the Georgia House of Representives as a source? Are you kidding?

JohnAdams
JohnAdams

"The Schapiro Group's body of research is one of the best efforts I've seen to fill a gap - and they have used some creative methods to do so."

What garbage. If you don't have solid data, STFU.

Bugus
Bugus

But wait a minute, your research is still bogus. Why can't you just admit it?

Guest23
Guest23

If you find the shapiro group credible, you are a moron plain and simple.

I think the selling of sex should be legal. Do I want my wife, sister, mother doing it... for the most part no. And I have once been married to a women that took up stripping to make good money. But each persons feeling on the subject shouldn't bring about laws limiting it for those that want to. And from the evidence of so many that speak out against pay for play, extramarital and homosexual affairs and then get caught doing exactly what they are against, it is a sign that it is a subject like drug legalization that can't be discussed rationally in public and political circles without false propaganda flying about and ostracizing anyone that is a public figure that would say that pay for play and drugs should be legalized since making the acts criminal has obviously never stopped such activities and more often than not cause more criminal actions than if such practices were legalized.

Susie Bright
Susie Bright

You are hilarious and so spot on. Can I quote you all the time?

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