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.

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Filed Under: congress, dallas morning news, exaggeration, laws, sex trafficking, ted poe


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

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

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