Sex-Trafficked Girls: What’s the Story in N.Y., Mich. and Minn.?

My article “Jailing Girls for Men’s Crimes” in the summer issue of Ms. cited a study revealing that hundreds of girls aged 17 and younger are sold for sex each month in Georgia. Well, the numbers are just in from a study of three other states: New York, Michigan and Minnesota. Sponsored by the Women’s Funding Network, the report documents high and increasing rates of commercial sexual exploitation of adolescent girls. The study tracked the sale of girls on the Internet and through escort services (although girls are also sold on the street and at hotels, which the study did not track).

Here are the numbers of sex-trafficked girls in May 2010 in these three states, and the increase over February 2010:

These numbers are shocking. To put them in perspective, the study compares the domestic sex trafficking of minors with other social problems such as teen suicide and cutting, breast cancer deaths and car accidents. Here are some sample comparisons:

  • In New York, more girls are commercially sexually exploited in one month (3,213) than the number of teens who committed suicide (54) or were hospitalized for self-inflicted injury (1,222) in one year or the number of women of all ages who died of breast cancer in a year (2,715).
  • In Michigan, more girls are commercially sexually exploited in one month (141) than there are women and girls under age 25 who were killed in car accidents in one year (106).
  • In Minnesota, more girls are commercially sexually exploited in one month (102) than there are teen girls who died by suicide, homicide and accidents combined in one year (29).

Other points of note in the study:

  • There is strong evidence that Native American girls are commercially sexually exploited at high rates in Minnesota.
  • On Super Bowl Sunday 2010, there were 80 percent more paid sex ads on Craigslist in New York than on the typical Sunday (and remember, the Super Bowl was in Miami).

But there’s some good news in the study as well: The rate of commercial sexual exploitation of girls in Georgia is down from 492 in February to 373 in May, a 24 percent decrease. Perhaps all the incredible activism in Georgia is paying off (get the new issue of Ms. to read more about that!).

This study is an important step toward gathering data to build a national picture of the scope of the commercial sexual exploitation of girls in the United States. The problem is clearly big and growing, but activism is growing too. Get involved.

About

Carrie N. Baker is Professor and Director of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. Her 2007 book The Women's Movement Against Sexual Harassment won the National Women’s Studies Association Sara A. Whaley Book Prize. Her second book, Fighting the US Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race and Politics, tells the story of activism against youth involvement in the sex trade in the United States between 1970 and 2015.