11212017Headline:

100,000 Children Are Trafficked Every Year… Maybe

Trapped Woman

100,000 children are reportedly trafficked in the US every year.

But it could be up to 300,000. Or a lot more. Or a lot less. Actually, maybe it’s only a couple hundred. We’re not really sure.

But everybody repeats the “100,000 children” statistic:

Polaris Project, the “Everybody’s Kids, Everybody Gives” campaign, Congressional reports, the US Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, CNN, Huffington Post, and countless local and state-based organizations (The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has some great sources listed for their facts, but I can’t dig up the report they listed from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).

I read that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children used that number, but I couldn’t find where they did it.

I seem to remember several organizations citing a UN report for the number, but I if that’s true, I can’t find the report. (More on the UN below.)

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Challenging the number

Repeating the “100,000 children” statistic seems generally accepted in the anti-trafficking community. Although it’s not easy to trace the number back to its original source, so this number is easily challenged.

A 2011 article in the Village Voice, which is still relevant to the topic, has said:

“There are not 100,000 to 300,000 children in America turning to prostitution every year. The statistic was hatched without regard to science. It is a bogeyman . . . .

“The ‘100,000 to 300,000’ figure . . . . the same number that’s found its way into dozens of reputable newspapers—came from two University of Pennsylvania professors, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner.”

(Estes and Weiner have said their research indicates how many children are AT RISK of being trafficked, as opposed to actual victims.)

The Village Voice has a point.

Or do they?

They also have an interest in the argument. Village Voice Media used to operate Backpage.com, where a lot of adult ads are run. Some of the ads are sex workers touting their trade, but others are for girls who are being forcibly pimped. Can’t always tell which is which.

VVM no longer operates Backpage, but they still publish pieces that decry “the myth of sex trafficking.”

For example, in the “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight” article, they use the number of children actually arrested for prostitution as a counter to the 100,000 stat.

Does that strike anyone else as equally faulty, if not more so, than repeating the 100,000 number?

How many “underage prostitutes” (who are actually victims, not prostitutes) are arrested? Those numbers are lower—in the realm of hundreds, not thousands—and definitely not hundreds of thousands.

But I don’t think we should be using underage arrest records as evidence that human trafficking isn’t a big problem. First of all, victims shouldn’t be arrested. Second, what percentage of victims are actually located?

 

1 victim out of 100?

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline reports that out of 72,543 tips between 2008 and 2012, 9,298 turned out to be trafficking-related.

It’s said that only 1 victim out of every 100 is actually recovered. (Another questionable stat . . .)

So if we multiply the 9,298 number by 100, we get 929,800 potential cases of trafficking. Way over 100,000. But now we’re not only talking about child trafficking anymore—this would be for adults, too.

Am I claiming that’s a more accurate number? No. The whole point of this article is that accurate numbers are impossible to come by, so waiting for accurate numbers before taking action is lame.

 

Get your facts straight

Challengers to the 100,000 number like telling people to “get their facts straight.”

But it’s impossible to get facts straight.

There is simply no accurate data about how many humans are trafficked every year.

The same story goes for drugs trafficking. We just can’t get accurate, across-the-board statistics because of the underground, illicit nature of the industry.

It’s hard to get accurate stats for victims of rape, too. Largely because victims often don’t want to identify themselves (which is also true for trafficking victims). RAINN estimates that 60% of rapes go unreported to police, and that out of every 100 rapes, only 10 rapists are arrested. Does that mean we say rape only happened in 10 cases? No.

The UN estimates that internationally, 2.5 million people are trafficked. But they also note that could be the tip of the iceberg, and say it could actually be 12.3 million. According to Free the Slaves, the number could be as high as 27 million. That’s kind of a large margin of error, there.

To say there should be accurate data about human trafficking before we take action strikes me as a combative argument made by people who want to believe the prevalence of trafficking is a myth.

 

So what can we do about reporting the numbers?

Towards the end of the “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight” article, Village Voice does admit that it’s all but impossible to actually get the facts straight. And that, whether the numbers of trafficking victims are low or high, it’s still a heinous crime that needs to be stopped.

They also quote Maggie Neilson, a charity consultant who researches trafficking:

“All of the core data we use gets attacked all the time,” she says. “The challenge is, it’s that or nothing, right? And I don’t frankly care if the number is 200,000, 500,000, or a million, or 100,000—it needs to be addressed. While I absolutely agree there’s a need for better data, the people who want to spend all day bitching about the methodologies used I’m not very interested in.”

They quote her in a derisive way, but I happen to agree with her.

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L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.

© L. Marrick 2014. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.


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