Do Men Who Buy Sex Really Commit More Crime?

If you were researching the effects of sleeping with sex workers, would you let an anti-prostitution activist run the show? Melissa Farley, who fits that description, recently headed such a study for the non-profit group Prostitution Research & Education, which openly aims to “abolish the institution of prostitution.”

Farley’s researchers worked with two groups of volunteers — men who buy sex and men who don’t — that responded to an ad in a Boston-area newspaper. The study concluded that men who pay for sex are more likely to have committed felonies and misdemeanors than the men who don’t buy sex.

But here’s the rub: Imagine you buy sex but exhibit the distinguishing characteristic of volunteering for this study. How is it possible that a group of 100 or so sex-buying men who volunteered their participation are automatically typical of all men who sleep with sex workers? And what if men who typically commit felonies and misdemeanors tend to look to sex for comfort? Might that comfort actually prevent them from pursuing more serious crimes?

The questions were written by researchers with an agenda of their own — they knew just what they wanted to find.