Saving girls from prostitution is a noble and worthy cause, as well as a bandwagon that many nonprofit groups and politicians are happy to ride. Unfortunately, the statistics offered by various groups are often self-contradictory and unsupported by research. Using unverified, contradictory and exaggerated numbers is a disservice to the cause of combating juvenile prostitution and human trafficking.
Take the most-frequently-cited statistic: “The FBI says Minneapolis is the thirteenth-largest city for child prostitution.” What does this mean? Does Minneapolis have the thirteenth-largest number of child prostitutes? Or the thirteenth-largest percentage? And what year or years are covered by this statement?
The only place I could find something close to the “thirteenth largest” statistic was on the FBI Minneapolis Division website under the heading “What We Investigate.” So I started by calling the FBI Minneapolis Media Coordinator. He couldn’t tell me where the number came from and couldn’t say whether it was accurate, but referred me to the national FBI Office of Public Affairs. They said they couldn’t answer, and referred me to the Criminal Justice Uniform Reporting Center. They also couldn’t answer, but referred me to the FBI CJIS Division, which would only accept email queries. Here’s the email I sent:
From: editor.tcdailyplanet <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Fischer, Stephen G. Jr.
Sent: Thu Aug 16 14:56:19 2012
Subject: Verify Minneapolis child prostitution statistic
I am fact-checking an article about child prostitution and the Minnesota Girls Are Not For Sale campaign. One of the frequently-quoted statements is “The FBI says Minneapolis is the thirteenth-largest city for child prostitution.”
I have been unable to find a specific statistic to support this. The closest is a Minneapolis FBI web page which, far down the page, has this paragraph:
“Street gangs are also becoming very involved in promoting child prostitution. In a larger effort to address this problem, the Department of Justice launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative in June 2003. The Minneapolis Division was identified as one of 13 cities with a large concentration of child prostitution enterprises. The Division created the Minnesota Child Prostitution Initiative to aggressively target criminal enterprises that promote this activity. This effort includes FBI agents, officers from the Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments, and agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, all of whom work together to identify, disrupt, and dismantle criminal enterprises engaged in child prostitution.”
If Minneapolis is a hub of child prostitution, I’d like to know that. But I’d also like to know that this statement is based on some FBI data – and I’d like to know whether that is current data, or ten-year-old data.
Can you help?
I hope you are the right person to answer this question – I have just spent half an hour on the phone with FBI and DOJ information offices, who bounced me from one person to another. The final bounce was to you …
And here’s the reply that I got:
For Uniform Crime Reporting Program purposes, arrest statistics are only collected for prostitution by age, sex, and race. The data are received by agency but the FBI does not perform any type of ranking.
Stephen G. Fischer Jr.
FBI CJIS Division
In short: the FBI does not stand behind this number.
Other, contradictory statistics were offered in a single press release from the city of Minneapolis:
- “Over a three year period ending in 2008, service providers identified 731 sex trafficking victims.”
On an annual basis, that would be 244 victims per year, or about 20 per month.
- “124 girls were sold on the Internet in Aug. 2010 alone, which is a 55 percent increase since Feb. 2010.”
On an annual basis, that would be about 2,928 per year.
- “According to one service provider, 8,000 to 12,000 people are estimated to be involved in prostitution/sex trafficking in Minnesota every day[year?].”
That would be about 750-1000 per month.
So which number is it? Are there 244 or 2,928 or 12,000 sex trafficking victims per year in Minnesota?
Sex trafficking is a serious issue. Does throwing around “gee-ain’t-it-awful” statistics really help?
For me, the mind-numbing flood of contradictory statistics is less convincing than a single horrific, verifiable number — there are only four homeless shelter beds in the Twin Cities that offer services to children escaping this life. Lots of Minnesota people, politicians and organizations are talking about the numbers of children who are victims of human trafficking. Who is actually opening shelters and providing services?
AND AN UPDATE: The Washington Post fact-checked “The fishy claim that ‘100,000 children’ in the United States are in the sex trade” Verdict: false.
“Allen says he came up with the figure about a decade ago because of a pressing need: ‘With any social issue, if you can’t quantify it, it must not be a problem in the view of policymakers.’
“In other words, lawmakers need a number they can cite in order to call attention to a problem. In 2010 Allen told Congress the number was ’empirically sound and defensible,’ but Allen acknowledges now that ‘there was no scientific empirical data’ about the number of children in the sex trade.”