Posted on September 17, 2007 at Bound, Not Gagged:
By Barbara Brents
I read Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada, Making the Connections by Melissa Farley this weekend. From the statements of others on the back cover, this report is being read as an academic study on the extent of trafficking in Nevada. However, I have to conclude that Dr. Farley must not have intended this particular report to be the main presentation of scientific research findings. She presents none of the elements contained in social scientific peer reviewed research. There is no systematic explanation of research methods, a rather unclear set of research questions, and it is difficult to generalize from the data presented here to the findings. For example, the report offers no empirical evidence to support the existence of sex trafficking in Nevada outside of that provided in newspaper articles. Instead she broadly defines trafficking as any movement of prostitutes across borders, and starts with the assumption that prostitutes do not consent. With that definition, all prostitution is trafficking.
She has conducted 45 interviews with women in legal brothels, but for the most part she discounts their comments saying, “I knew that they would minimize how bad it was” (p. 22) and “Most of our data offer a conservative perspective on the dangers of prostitution” (p. 23). She explains that her data did not fully support her conclusions for several reasons: managers were listening through devices to interviews, women are likely “ignore bad things or they pretended that unpleasantness will go away, or they call the degrading abuse of prostitution by another name that sounds better” (p. 22).
Most researchers would then turn to other research methods if they determine their interviews were so flawed. The goal of scientific research is to make sure there is no evidence out there that might disprove one’s hypothesis. Instead, in the chapter on Nevada brothels, she reports findings from interviews in tables without systematically stating what the survey questions were, or how surveys were administered. And she runs regression with an N of 45. There is no statement of the sampling techniques. And for most of that chapter on brothels, she selectively uses quotes that do support her belief that prostitution is degrading while ignoring those that don’t support it.
She also relies very heavily on secondary sources to support her arguments. In a careful reading of many of her footnotes in the chapter on legal brothels, I found that she takes quotes out of context, without stating the overall conclusions of the sources. For example, of the seven of 10 or so sources that I was able to find where she drew quotes on Nevada specifically, five concluded their research with recommendations against an abolitionist approach to prostitution and with qualified support for legalization. The two who did not included a book written in the mid 1980s by a journalist and a documentary. She also draws several times on an unpublished paper written by a student at UNLV’s law school. I have not seen that paper yet.
Farley’s report also relies extensively on research on other countries’ prostitution without establishing empirically that this is true for Nevada. For example one of her primary findings she states that “Prostitution and sex trafficking are linked in Nevada as elsewhere: sex trafficking happens when and where there is a demand for prostitution and a context for impunity for its customers.” And further on, “The links between legal and illegal prostitution in Nevada and the profound harms caused by prostitution to all women are much like those in other countries where legal prostitution exists” (Farley p. 12-15). (Bold is mine.) The evidence she draws on to support this in other places in the book quite frequently describe not the case of Nevada, but research results from other countries. Unless one carefully reads the footnotes one might miss this.
Finally, her non-profit organization, Prostitution Research and Education received research funding from Grant #2074-610001 from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons of the U.S. State Department. (Farley p. vi) to “better understand the predatory, survivalish nature of prostitution and trafficking in Nevada” (Farley p. 5). Prostitution Research and Education is organized primarily to advocate. The endnote to that section details the purpose of her organization “to abolish the institution of prostitution while at the same time advocating for alternatives to trafficking and prostitution- including emotional and physical healthcare for women in prostitution. The root of the problem of trafficking for prostitution is men’s demand for prostitution,” (Farley p. 220). Findings about prostitution and its solution are stated in the organization’s purpose. That they could conduct objective research where the methods allow findings that potentially disprove this conclusion is highly unlikely.
Thus I conclude that Dr. Farley could not have intended this particular document to be presented as scientific research. Rather this report must be read as a series of essays drawing on facts as they support her organizations goals and positions. Should Dr. Farley choose to publish scientific work from her findings, I will look forward to seeing these in other peer-reviewed venues.