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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    PlagueSD (profile), Nov 25th, 2013 @ 2:45pm

    Everyone knows everything is bigger in Texas...Including numbers!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Ima Fish (profile), Nov 25th, 2013 @ 3:01pm

    Let's assume that it's true that 300,000 people are being prosecuted each year for human trafficking. If that is true, then why the heck do we need new legislation?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 3:04pm

    What worries me about all this frenzy is not that real sex traffickers will got to jail or suffer some form of punishment but what is exactly the definition of a sex trafficker and how you identify those by means of the law.

    Here is an hypothetical, to make sure that they can get the allegedly bad guys they lower the bar and make associating with the criminal equal to being the criminal, seems ok right after all who would associate with a know criminal?

    The problem is when the criminal is not known for it, then everyone who has been seen talking to that individual will also be labeled a sex trafficker.

    Further this could end up like "for the children laws" where now people who piss at night anywhere where children frequent could be labeled a sex offender without ever directly abusing or sexually assaulting a child or the definition off a child by the justice department.

    Maybe willfully spreading false numbers should be considered a crime too, I can think of at least one way this could be harmful for sex trafficking victims.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger (profile), Nov 25th, 2013 @ 4:01pm


    My guess is that there are still one or two citizens wandering around outside of prison. Can't have those little goody two-shoes evading their "Three Felonies A Day".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 4:57pm

    "You can't motivate the average reader if there's no hook."

    That appears to be the TD mantra !!!!
    It's a shame TD believes that so much, in fact the average reader would prefer facts and articles based in fact, and from the original source, and not a copy/paste from some other writer who did all the work..

    TD you can do better, possibly..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 5:01pm

    Considering that John Cornyn is involved, the inaccuracies are not surprising.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 5:07pm

    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.

    On the contrary, they absolutely should have presented the claim. Followed immediately by the obvious debunking of that claim. Simply deleting a ridiculous claim by a government official is really letting them off the hook.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 5:24pm

    Tim - Not to sound like I'm supporting the (unsupportable) claim of 300K prosecutions a year (of any kind) in Houston, but the comparison to federal prosecutions doesn't mean anything. Sure, there are fewer than 100K federal prosecutions a year (and fraction of those relate to sex trafficking). But as surprising as it may seem, way more crime is prosecuted in the states than at the federal level. So it's certainly possible that a single state, or even a single city/county, could prosecute 3 times as many of a particular kind of case as the entire federal system. It's just that, in this case, they don't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 5:37pm


    You are not the average reader.

    Hell, even a half-bitten cheese sandwich has a better grasp of English and Math than you do. For fuck's sake, darryl, you're a solar panel engineer from Australia. Act like it.

    Oh, wait. You can't, because you're a complete tard who likes raping the corpses of dead grandmothers with no Internet connection because the RIAA claimed she downloaded pornography.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 9:16pm

    300K? That's one hell of an orgy, babe pack your shit we're moving to Texas, yes now!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 9:28pm

    Houston has a population of about 2.1 million. If 300,000 cases are prosecuted per year, apparently the entire population of Houston gets indicted for this once every 7 years.

    On the other hand, we all know how prosecutors like to tack on charges. Maybe it's just one guy who they charged with 300,000 counts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Michael, Nov 26th, 2013 @ 5:24am

    a bill that would impose stiff penalties on these adult victimizers

    EXACTLY what should happen to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), Nov 26th, 2013 @ 10:55am

    Every statistic you read about sex crimes is overstated on purpose by groups trying to fight the traffickers. They know they are wrong but do not care.

    So basically it is 1,257 per year in the entire US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Chris Deslone (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 9:03am

    trafficking facts

    Here are some facts regarding human trafficking: the victims are not all children, and not always female, and the perps are not always male. Deceit in the pursuit of a worthy goal is still deceit, and it can misdirect an otherwise worthy effort.

    "NGOs have figured out that they can appeal to the public, donors and funders ***if they emphasize sex trafficking of girls.*** These organizations have a vested interest in defining the problem in one way over the other. Using the term women and girls frequently has a very clear purpose in attracting government funding, public and media attention but boys who are victimized are being ignored because most
    of the resources are devoted to girls,"[1]

    In many (most/all?) countries there are more male teenage prostitutes than female teenage prostitutes. No one seems to know or care[2]

    A study by John Jay College found that 50% of the ommercially sexually exploited children in New York City are boys. The study's results, however, led to little change. The results were ignored, and boys continued to find few resources to help him. [3]

    When it comes to prostitution, LEOs are more likely to arrest underage boys than girls[4]; girls are sent to social services. [5]

    Human traffickers are mostly women, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology.[6]

    "There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in
    trafficking for prostitution." [7]

    The Sex Workers Project, notes that the unique focus on human sex trafficking during major sport events distracts from real issues surrounding large sporting events that do deserve our attention and are often under-reported,[8]

    [1]http://www.alternet.org/gender/demystifying-commercial-sexual-exploitation-boys -our-forgotten-victims


    [3] http://toysoldier.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/and-boys-too/

    [4] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/203946.pdf (page 2)

    [5] http://www.reddit.com/r/MensRights/comments/1whtvk/a_network_of_a_halfdozen_or_so_girls_courts/

    [6] http://www.smh.com.au/national/human-traffickers-are-mostly-women-australian-institute-of-criminolog y-report-finds-20131128-2yclp.html

    [7] http://www.salon.com/2014/01/30/the_super_bowl_trafficking_myth/

    [8] http://sexworkersproject.org/?utm_content=buffer2e23f

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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