White Men Alleged to Support Forced Under-aged Prostitution
This prominent article in the NZ Herald told us that “social researcher” Natalie Thorburn “released disturbing findings” such as that “Girls just 12 years old were often groomed by boyfriends who eventually forced them into a situation where they had no option but to sell their bodies”.
Ms Thorburn also claimed that “A 9-year-old girl was tied to her bed by her mother and forced to have sex with men” and that the youngsters had told her about being forced to submit to sex.
She asserted “It’s definitely a problem” even though “…it was impossible to gauge the extent of the problem because it was secretive and hidden”.
Oh yes, and the typical customers of the adolescent prostitutes were middle-class white men. White men really are a problem, huh?
Ms Thorburn’s media drive appears aimed at making the most of New Zealand’s first ever such case which is currently before the Court. It’s a great opportunity to exaggerate the extent of the problem and to encourage a bit more hatred towards men.
The sensationalized news stories on Ms Thorburn’s ‘findings’ all failed to provide most of the basic information about the research methods. No research paper has been produced so we are unable to evaluate her claims. This is a typical feminist propaganda trick: go to white-knight media with scaremongering ‘findings’ of ‘research’ that has not yet been published so can’t be evaluated. When the research paper is then completed at some later time, the earlier claims have already become entrenched as public belief and any critique of the research and its ‘findings’ will have little impact.
A TVNZ account tells us that Ms Thorburn had ‘spoken to dozens of young kiwi women forced into prostitution’. It also tells us that the tale about the 9-year-old tied to the bed was something she heard from someone else who ‘knew of’ the girl. Ms Thorburn worked for CYFS when aged 20, she was now registered to provide contracted work for ACC with sexual abuse cases, and she worked with Ecpat whose mission and funding rely on beliefs of rampant child prostitution. Possibly commendable activities, but she’s hardly an impartial researcher.
The Auckland University web site described previous research by Ms Thorburn for a thesis as part of a Master in Social Work. This involved her distributing flyers offering $40 worth of vouchers and a promise of anonymity to young people to tell her they were forced into prostitution. She then interviewed 9 women and 1 man aged between 16 and 20. The interviews took place in various places including McDonalds, her car, a local park and at one woman’s flat. The interviewees duly provided accounts blaming their families or boyfriends for forcing them into prostitution when they were aged between 12 and 16. Oh, and this was associated with them going out at night to smoke methamphetamine with their mates but there was no mention of them being forced to do that or how else they might have obtained the money for it.
Ms Thorburn’s more recent work discovered that the under-aged prostitutes had all or mostly been forced into the trade. Helping agencies didn’t provide help well enough and this also somehow forced the girls back into prostitution.
$40 stories from 10 or even the more recent ‘dozens’ of prostitutes do not justify the conclusion that 12yo girls are ‘often’ being forced into prostitution by their boyfriends. Exactly how many prostitutes claimed this, Ms Thorburn?
The typical method of feminist researchers is to use ‘semi-structured interviews’, essentially a guided conversation allowing the interviewer to use suggestion, leading questions, to repeat questions when the first answer wasn’t what the interviewer wanted, to follow up and encourage any responses in line with the interviewer’s desired outcome while ignoring and discouraging anything that was not, and so forth. It’s essentially a method for manufacturing propaganda.
Ms Thorburn did not appear to conduct any validity check regarding the data. That may be a challenge, but otherwise all we have is a small number of people said to have claimed, in return for $40, that they had worked as under-aged prostitutes and they blamed this on other people.
Anonymity meant that nobody else can check the claims for accuracy or even ascertain that anyone was interviewed at all. Social Work is not a scientific discipline but even so, does it benefit our society to be fed unreliable information based on such poor methods? Should our university ethics committees be allowed to authorize ‘advocacy research’ using methods clearly designed to come up only with the desired results and that involve no realistic method to assess and ensure validity or reliability of the results, and no prospect of anyone checking this later?
Even if there had been any truth in the $40 stories, it was unclear whether Ms Thorburn had considered the very real possibility that some or all of her subjects had simply decided to take up this easy way of making big money, enough to buy more methamphetamine and alcohol to party with their mates. It was unclear whether Ms Thorburn had considered the possibility, no, the likelihood that her subjects would claim dishonestly that they were forced into it. With the semi-structured interview method, it was likely that they were actively led to redirect blame in that way.
It was also unclear whether the under-aged prostitutes had presented themselves as being older than they were in order to be able to ply their trade without risk of the authorities being alerted. That is, whether the white men were tricked into believing their purchases were lawful.
Readers’ comments in a blog about Ms Thorburn’s ‘research’ showed some wise skepticism. When one reader questioned the worth of qualitative research based on people being paid to give desired stories, Ms Thorburn herself replied:
“Indeed – luckily, I’ve worked in the sector for long enough to recognise the dynamics of legitimate narratives compared to those aimed at eliciting a reward, so there’s some pretty stringent pre-assessment before interviews to check out on that…”
Well, isn’t it reassuring to know that her lie detection talents ensured that everything her teenage delinquents told her must be true?
It’s important that we have laws to discourage adolescent girls from working as prostitutes, and even more important to discourage and punish those who might force girls into this and/or profit from it. However, Ms Thorburn’s ‘findings’ provided no worthwhile evidence regarding this and only served to mislead the public.