On October 25, 2021 Patrick Joel Taylor, 35, of Duncannon, PA, was federally indicted for Attempted Enticement of a Minor as a result of an FBI sting operation. Taylor has admitted to responding to an ad on an internet site called “Skip the Games,” where he allegedly arranged to meet with who he believed to be a 13-year-old girl, whom he planned to pay to perform sex acts on him. Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey MacArthur’s motion contains copies of purported text messages between Taylor and an undercover FBI employee posing as the fictional 13-year-old’s mother. The document alleges that the text messages included an agreement where Taylor was offered the ability to purchase 1 hour of sex acts from the 13-year-old girl for $200, or half an hour of sex acts for $120, with a stipulation of no anal penetration permitted. Upon arrival at the agreed upon scene Taylor was arrested. Taylor remains in police custody while he awaits trial.
While the alleged facts of this case are horrendous, the way in which the story has been reported is a display of journalistic negligence. News of Taylor’s dispute over whether he should be detained pretrial was reported by Penn Live on December 29, 2021, in an article titled “Perry County man charged in a child prostitution sting to remain in jail for now.” According to the Society of Professional Journalists, journalists owe an ethical duty to the public to, among other duties, “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work, verify information before releasing it, to take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story, and to gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.”
In the above-mentioned Penn Live article, the use of the term “child prostitution sting” is wholly inaccurate. Legally, a person cannot be charged with engaging in “child prostitution.” Buying or attempting to buy sex from children is to commit sex trafficking of children, as enumerated federally in 18 U.S.C. §1591. 18 U.S.C. §1591 “makes it a federal offense to knowingly recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain a minor (defined as someone under 18 years of age) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the victim is a minor and would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act.” It is crucial that journalists recognize this distinction in the law before they incorrectly report on cases involving sex trafficking, as they owe it to the public to educate themselves on how to use accurate language. Readers do not always understand the complexity of legal issues, and rely on journalists to accurately report on such issues. Additionally, the Associated Press Stylebook, which is a writing style guide for journalists, recommends that writers “avoid using the word ‘prostitute’ when referring to a child or teenager because it implies that the child is ‘voluntarily trading sex for money.” Reporters must be clear in their writing that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, only victims and survivors of child rape.
Further, it is crucial that journalists understand why false and/or misleading reporting is harmful and the impact that such practices have on readers. It is particularly important for journalists to accurately report on sex trafficking, because the topic of sex trafficking has historically been falsely depicted and generally misunderstood by the American public. Particularly over the past two years, conspiracy theories regarding child sex trafficking have been circulated by the masses on social media. This spread of misinformation coupled with false imagery is detrimental to the identification of real victims and the efforts to target real perpetrators. Sensationalized imagery and rhetoric lead to the spread of damaging misinformation coupled with harmful falsities about sex trafficking. It is necessary that accurate public awareness campaigns, along with journalists reporting on sex trafficking, use credible information from legitimate anti-trafficking organizations, and that stories reporting on sex trafficking use correct legal terms rooted in statute. The CSE Institute urges media outlets to use accurate language in all reporting, and especially when reporting on instances of sex trafficking.