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An independent study commissioned by the Women’s Funding Network has garnered a lot of attention in recent weeks. The study, which tracks sex trafficking in online classifieds, claims that incidences of child prostitution have risen in some states by as much as 67.4% in a matter of months.

There’s just one problem: it’s a total fiction.

The precision of these numbers – a 67.4% increase in Minnesota, a 39.2% increase in Michigan – belies the almost comically unscientific methods of the study. You’ll find more scientific rigor in the Pepsi Challenge.

Nevertheless, the claims of the study have been echoed by a number of major news outlets in the US and subsequently triggered a large influx of money for the Women’s Funding Network.

When questioned about their bogus methodology the authors of the study appeal to the righteousness of their cause in order to justify these logical leaps. They point to the increases in funding as reason enough for their dire yet unfounded claims.

Unfortunately, there are consequences for studies like these that masquerade as science. The realm of public attention, and public funding, is highly competitive. There are many other important causes and organizations that need support.

This is not to suggest that child prostitution is not an important issue – it is. But, contrary to the inflated numbers of this study, the best statistics seem to indicate that the actual number of victims is much lower than people think. Thus, precious funding has now gone to combat a largely imagined crisis.

Such exaggerated claims, especially regarding children’s safety online, are often used to justify censorship and other violations of internet rights.

For more on the subject, see this video.

The importance of rigorous, scientific research for understanding sexuality online cannot be overstated. APC’s EroTICS project has found that much of the sexual content online is not pornographic or exploitative, but in fact serves a vital role in sexual education and information regarding sexuality and LGBT rights.

Photo by By Mr Tickle – Wachoo Wachoo Tribe Congressman. Used with permission under Creative Commons license 2.0