Editorial Claims Houston Prosecutors Are Pushing Through Nearly 1,000 Sex Trafficking Indictments Every Day
from the do-you-even-math dept
Editorials written in support of legislation are prone to conjuring up hysterical situations/numbers in order to drive the point home. You can’t motivate the average reader if there’s no hook. But the editorial writer should at least make sure the numbers being used don’t immediately prompt incredulous laughter from any reader with a couple of functioning brain cells.
The editorial board for the Dallas Morning News recently issued a regrettable opinion piece supporting the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which was introduced last week. In the writer’s hurry to portray human trafficking as a terrible blight on humanity, credibility went right out the window.
Two Texas Republicans, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Ted Poe of the Houston area, are co-sponsoring a bill that would impose stiff penalties on these adult victimizers of up to life in prison. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which has bipartisan support in both houses, would supplement an existing law that focuses primarily on punishing sex-trafficking organizations abroad.
Poe and Cornyn estimate that one-quarter of U.S. sex-trafficking victims have Texas roots. Poe says our state’s proximity to Mexico and high immigrant population give the state a particularly high profile. In Houston alone, about 300,000 sex trafficking cases are prosecuted each year. Tighter border controls and reduced profit margins from the drug trade are pushing organized crime groups to turn increasingly to sex trafficking, law enforcers say.
That ridiculous figure, which posits that Houston prosecutes nearly 900 sex traffickers a day (if working 365 days a year), has since been removed by the editorial squad at Dallas Morning News. The update line notes that “inaccurate numbers” had been used and have since been deleted. (The original version can be found here towards the middle of the page.)
This amazing claim was completely debunked by Houston criminal defense attorney Mark Bennett, who broke down actual prosecution stats and the possible rationale behind the Dallas News’ decision to run with the 300,000/year claim.
Nobody seems to know where that 300,000 number comes from. (Maggie McNeill suggests a plausible genesis here and here.) It’s a couple of orders of magnitude less obviously wrong than the same number attributed to Houston, but still glaringly obviously wrong—if the wrongness of “300,000 sex-trafficking cases in Houston” were equivalent to getting smacked upside the head with a 2X4, “300,000 sex-trafficking cases in the United States” would be getting poked in the arm with a fork.
That’s the hype. Here are the numbers.
In Harris County, according to Texas Office of Court Administration statistics, 36,862 new felony cases were filed and 68,142 new misdemeanor cases were filed in 2012. So the total of all new cases filed in Harris County is nowhere near the 300,000 sex trafficking cases asserted by the Dallas Morning News.
Bennett speculates the DMN may have just misquoted Rep. Ted Poe, one of the sponsors of the bill.
Poe, a Republican from Humble, said sex trafficking rings prey on the large number of immigrant women and girls living in the Houston area and across Texas, accounting for a disproportionate share of the estimated 300,000 sex trafficking cases prosecuted each year.
As Bennett points out, there aren’t even 300,000 federal prosecutions nationwide per year. 2010’s report shows only 91,047 people being prosecuted in federal courts, so even Poe’s nationwide claim is demonstrably false. Even more damning are these numbers.
Federally funded human trafficking task forces opened 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking for investigation between January 2008 and June 2010.
Now, it’s bad enough that one of the bill’s sponsors would throw out an unresearched “statistic” like this while pushing legislation. But that’s somewhat expected from our politicians, especially when they’ve got a horse in the race. But it’s even worse when a journalistic entity not only takes this stat at face value, but makes it comically worse by severely reducing its scope from national to local.
Mistakes will be made occasionally. I understand that. But this one should never have made it past the first round of editing. Certainly Rep. Poe is partially to blame for this, but the paper’s editorial team should know that presenting patently untrue claims as fact severely weakens its stance on the issue. Of course, coming out in favor of punishing sex traffickers is hardly a controversial stance, so it’s likely the editorial didn’t receive a thorough vetting before publication.
But letting this slip through compromises the paper’s credibility and accepting Rep. Poe’s “statistics” as fact indicates DMN is in possession of a faulty BS-detector, something no serious journalistic entity should ever let fall into disrepair.