Sex Trafficking

Sex-Trafficking Stat Check: How 45 Toledo Teens Become '1,000 Child Sex-Trafficking Victims'

Officials claim that more than 1,000 Ohio children are "trafficked into the sex trade each year." Here's why they're wrong.

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Every year some 1,000 new children are trafficked for sex in Ohio, while an additional 3,000 remain "at risk" of being trafficked, according to U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty.

The Ohio Democrat was one of four federal lawmakers gathered Wednesday to talk about the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), a 2015 measure that they claim isn't getting enough respect from the Department of Justice (DOJ). For instance, the DOJ has not provided lawmakers with data that JVTA mandated concerning human-trafficking arrests and convictions. "We do need accurate data on this," said Republican Rep. Ann Wagner (Mo.) Wednesday. So, in the spirit of accurate data, I asked Rep. Beatty where her child sex-trafficking statistics came from.

I was told they came from a report commissioned by the Ohio Attorney General's office. The only such report comes from 2010 and was prepared by the Ohio Trafficking in Persons Study Commission, a group commissioned by then-Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray and comprised of two professors, the U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and representatives from city and county law-enforcement units, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the nonprofit Not for Sale. And it is, to put it mildly, a mess.

"To identify the number of [Ohio] youth … who are at-risk for child sex trafficking and have become victims in the sex trade, the research team identified risk factors that included" homelessness, running away from home, and other "vulnerability factors," the committee states in an executive summary. By youth, minoradolescent, or child sex trafficking victims, the committee means "those between the ages of 12 and 17" who "traded sex for money, items, drugs, food, or a place to stay." Ultimately, the committee arrived at the very specific-sounding estimates of 2,879 American-born adolescents "at-risk" for sex trafficking each year in Ohio and "1,078 youth [who] have been trafficked into the sex trade over the course of a year."

Let's start by examining the latter figure, which is often presented—by lawmakers like Beatty and local media—as a reliable accounting of actual victims in Ohio. At the root is an FBI-led operation that took place in Toledo and its surrounding county between 2005 and 2009, called "Operation Innocence Lost."

A precursor to today's expanded "Operation Cross Country," Operation Innocence Lost was established "in 14 cities with the highest incidence of child prostitution," according to an 2005 FBI press release. The city of Toledo, located in Lucas County, was one of them. It's also a city with a decaying economy and one of the highest crime rates in the region. According to 2013 FBI crime data, it's the ninth-most dangerous metropolitan area in the Midwest, number one in Ohio, and 49th in the entire United States. 

In the course of Operation Innocence Lost, agents from the FBI, the Toledo Police Department, and the Lucas County Sheriff's Office identified "60 minor victims of sex trafficking." Forty-five—an average of 15 per year—came from Lucas County. It's this number from which the committee extrapolated for all of Ohio. Using Lucas County population data, the researchers arrive at the conclusion that 15 per 24,965 Ohio girls ages 12 through 17—or 0.0006 percent—are "successfully recruited into the sex trade from Ohio each year."

With 337,961 Ohio girls in this age group overall, that 0.06 percent rate yields an estimate of… 202 per year. How do we get from there to 1,078 victims—especially considering that Toledo has (according to the FBI's own data) more violent-crime and underage-prostitution problems than almost anywhere else in Ohio? Simple: Rather than acknowledge that extrapolating from Toledo might yield an inflated statewide estimate, the committee multiplies the Toledo number by five.

The basis for this decision was a study from the University of Toledo of Lucas County minors engaged in prostitution. That study claims that every minor talked to by researchers knew an average of 5 more underage minors "that were not known to law enforcement, but who were engaging in the sex trade." From the committee report (emphasis mine): 

Because of the underground social networks, many girls involved know each other by their street names or nick names. In actuality, they may be unaware of which girls are engaging the Innocence Lost Task Force and not engaging the Task Force. But because other communities in Ohio do not have a focused Innocence Lost Task Force, the team decided the estimates provided by the victims may be an accurate measure for other communities throughout Ohio. Therefore, in using this as a measure for Ohio, we find that there may be over 1,000 girls per year in Ohio that are involved in the sex trade.

For estimating the number of 12- to 17-year-old Ohio boys, the committee uses a somewhat different (and even sloppier) method. Because being gay, transgender, or a runaway are "risk factors" for male sex-trade involvement, and because three to five percent of the overall U.S. population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, the committee decides that three to five percent of male runaways who go missing for more than two weeks probably become trafficking victims. This gives us an estimated 63 underage male victims, for a total estimate of 1,078 trafficked adolescents in the state. 

If you can believe it, the committee's method for estimating "at risk" Ohio youth gets even less scientific and relies on even more half-baked assumptions. 

Remember, the state claims that 2,879 American-born adolescents in Ohio are "at-risk" of becoming trafficking victims each year. To arrive at this conclusion, committee members "relied heavily" on the methodology from a 2001 study on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the United States.

That study, conducted by Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, has since been widely discredited. The respected Crimes Against Children Research Center implored people to please stop citing its numbers. Its conclusions have been debunked by outlets such as The Washington Post. The study's own author, Estes, no longer stands by the research. And even the Ohio committee that relies heavily on it admits, in the same report, that the study is plagued by "many shortcomings and obvious flaws." 

To arrive at a nationwide estimate of "at risk" youth, Estes and Weiner came up with 14 factors they said increased the chances of an adolescent entering or being forced into the sex trade. These included things such as involvement with child protective services or the foster care system, a personal history of depression, a recurrent illness in the family, being a member of a sexual minority, female gang involvement, living in communities where "pre-existing prostitution markets existed" or "a large number of street youths gather," and living in the presence of "sexually unattached and transient males including military personnel, truckers, conventioneers, and tourists."

Based on the estimated prevalence of these risk factors, Estes and Weiner claim that one quarter of one percent of all American youth are "at risk." With 675,922 minors between the ages of 12 and 17 in Ohio, a 0.25 percent risk rate yields an estimated 1,690 "at risk" Ohio adolescents. 

But the committee doesn't stop there. Following in Estes' and Weiner's footsteps, they add to this number two separate (and equally dubious) estimates. Remember, the 0.25 percent risk rate was for all adolescents. Risk is higher, claimed the researchers, for homeless youth and runaways. How much higher? Estes and Weiner had declared that 35 percent of "endangered runaways"—defined as youth who leave home without permission and stay away overnight—risk commercial sexual exploitation if they are gone for more than one week. Using numbers on endangered runaways from Ohio, the committee gets an estimated number of 1,070 at-risk runaways. 

They then turn to homeless youth. A 2001 study of 455 homeless youth in Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas found that around 20 percent said they had traded sexual favors for a place to stay. Applying this 20 percent calculation not to the number of homeless youth in Ohio but to the number of adolescents who went missing for two weeks or longer ("for the period of time the youth is gone, they are technically homeless," states the Ohio report) the committee concludes that 1,261 homeless Ohio minors are at risk. 

To arrive at a final number, the committee combined these various estimates, for a total of 4,021. Because two of these figures were derived from the same population (runaways missing for more than two weeks), and the other from all Ohio adolescents, the committee admits there might be some overlap in their estimates. For no precise reason, they decide that 25 percent may be duplicates, and reduce the 4,021 estimate by a quarter. From here, they arrive at the conclusion that some 2,879 Ohio 12- to 17-year-olds are "at risk" of being victimized by sex traffickers each year. 

Ohio Rep. Beatty is far from the only one to quote these figures, which appear routinely in Ohio media—including major city newspapers such as The Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the Dayton Daily News—and government statements as hard facts (i.e., "1,000 children are trafficked in Ohio each year"). But as someone leading an effort for better federal data on sex trafficking, Beatty might want to look a bit more closely at the data she herself cites, and demand better data from her home state. 

The Dispatch and other outlets also claim that among these alleged 1,000 children who "fall victim to human sex trafficking" each year in Ohio, the average age is 12 or 13 years old. In fact, 12 was the very youngest age included in the Ohio Attorney General's study, and the youngest (and most rare) age of any minor recovered nationally throughout Operation Innocence Lost. A report from the Ohio Human Trafficking Commission that looked at identified, not theoretical, victims from Ohio in 2015 found a total of 203 alleged victims throughout the state. Around three percent were age 13 or younger, 11 percent 14- or 15-years-old, 15 percent 16- or 17-years-old, and 71 percent adults.

NEXT: Brickbat: That's Real Abuse

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  1. 3,000 remain “at risk” of being trafficked

    Excuse me. We are *all* potential victims.

    1. Don’t be silly, if you’re posting here, you’re an offender.

      1. Of course we are *all* offenders. But probably not trafficking offenders.

  2. To arrive at a final number, the committee combined these various estimates, for a total of 4,021. Because two of these figures were derived from the same population (runaways missing for more than two weeks), and the other from all Ohio adolescents, the committee admits there might be some overlap in their estimates. For no precise reason, they decide that 25 percent may be duplicates, and reduce the 4,021 estimate by a quarter. From here, they arrive at the conclusion that some 2,879 Ohio 12- to 17-year-olds are “at risk” of being victimized by sex traffickers each year.

    Shorter version: They pulled a number out of their asses and said “This is known”.

    1. So let it be written, so let it be done

      1. SO MOTE IT BE

      2. To kill the first born Pharos Son?

    2. “pulled a number out of their asses and said “This is known”.

      And 4 sig figs to make it sound real. Mendacious aholes

    3. Raise your hand everyone who expects the truth from looters who say that “taking from others at gunpoint is morally right, proper, good.”

  3. Hold on…

    These people ran away of their own accord and entered into these transactions. While the offense of statutory rape might apply, how the hell are tehy being “trafficked”? No one trafficked them anywhere.

    1. It works like like, UCS. They’re not old enough to make their own decisions legally unless they have the money to access the court systems and get emancipated. So, without the money to access the court systems, they cannot sign a lease, rent a room, buy a car, enroll themselves into a different school. They can get a job, but not a bank account, and they can’t work more than 16-20 hours.

      And with this plethora of laws protecting these teenagers best interests, they are completely fucking screwed if all of the adults gatekeeping these laws and their rights can’t act more adult than the teenager in question.

      But we meant well, and that’s the important only thing.

    2. Agreed.

      ‘who “fall victim to human sex trafficking”‘ indicates some else acting on them, while ‘who “traded sex for money, items, drugs, food, or a place to stay.”‘ is of their own accord.

      The story is that when my daughter was 14 she wanted money for cigarettes, and offered a blow job to a friend of her brother’s. (she denied it, but her brother totally lost respect for her for a couple years so I think there was something).

      So this 14 year old girl voluntarily gave oral sex to a 15 year old boy in return for cash. She offered, he accepted. Even though it only ever happened once, by the legal definition, she was trafficked (by someone).

      Human trafficking sounds horrible. It’s another form of slavery, even “white slavery” (and who wants that!) and only a few years ago involved only foreigners brought across boundaries. Now it’s teen girls making their own decisions.

  4. JVTA: Junior Varsity T&A

    Stay Classy, Ohio.

    1. I didn’t know ISIS had an Ohio branch.

  5. I consider Toledo to be a suburb of Detroit so not really Ohio.

    1. Ohio fought a war for control of Toledo – never forget all those zero people who died for that city!

  6. Innocence Lost Task Force

    If that isn’t the name of a porn studio or series depicting young women roleplaying, ahem, even younger women . . .

  7. “To identify the number of [Ohio] youth … who are at-risk for child sex trafficking and have become victims in the sex trade, the research team identified risk factors that included” homelessness, running away from home, and other “vulnerability factors,” the committee states in an executive summary.

    The other “vulnerability factors” include a predilection toward the taste of Zima, and a yearning to work at carnivals.

    1. That and listening to Doors albums…

  8. Three percent were age 13 or younger, 11 percent were 14- or 15-years-old, 15 percent were 16- or 17-years-old, and 71 percent were adults.

    Huh, imagine that. Turns out that sex with underage girls is something men will only fantasize about but won’t actualy do when presented the opportunity. Guess that’ll shut up a lot of anti-porn crusaders.

    1. Um, yeah, I’m not convinced that very many men even fantasize about under age girls. I think teenage males fantasize about teenage girls, the rest of us want women, not children.

      1. True, but every now and then, there is an exception to the rule.

      2. Exactly – so maybe we’re not all pedophiles-in-waiting then.

      3. That’s important here is what conservative Jesus freaks fantasize about.
        Recall that the Ottoman Empire (home of Islamic States) developed a reputation for buying and selling females back in the Cleveland Administration. By the close of WWI all surrender treaties included language about “chemical drugs” and “trafficking in women and children.” The Rudolph Valentino movie “The Sheik” gives a portrayal of how the Laws of Allah and the Laws of God differed in details of jurispridence under the 18th Amendment.

  9. “That study claims that every minor talked to by researchers knew an average of 5 more underage minors “that were not known to law enforcement, but who were engaging in the sex trade.”

    Only a matter of time before they arrest Kevin Bacon.

    1. It’s a scientific fact that Kevin Bacon knows some of these girls!

  10. I was going to comment that this article should be required reading for all college courses in statistics and research, but it should also be for anyone who reads a newspaper, or votes.

    As the intentions are unquestionably good [my favorite being “for the children”], it supposedly doesn’t really matter if the numbers are just a tad inflated, as long as those pulling said numbers out of a dark place can claim a methodology, never mind how bullshit it may be.

    The only question is did they start with a foregone conclusion and needed a number that made good headlines, or did they just engage in half assed assumptions in the process in order to justify their mission and purpose? And just think, this horse crap happens all the time and cranks out as “government study says…” and then funding gets allocated and careers get promoted in order to address the “crisis.”

    1. The only question is did they start with a foregone conclusion and needed a number that made good headlines, or did they just engage in half assed assumptions in the process in order to justify their mission and purpose?

      You really think that’s an open question?

      Also, you can replace that “or” with an “and” and the sentence still works just fine.

    2. In the process, all studies on any subject by entities other than The Political State are automatically classed as “discredited” by the looters that censor the Wikipedia. And why not? Certainly they conflict with The Revealed Word!

      Now, tell me Socialism isn’t a religion, complete with altruism, saints, sacrifice and the painful duty to kill all deniers.

      1. Prostitution is an almost purely Capitalist enterprise. No need to sell your body when the government will just give you money to do nothing.

    3. you nailed it at the end…. the goal was funding. And such things are NOT amongst the powers assigned FedGov, so it is NOT a national issue. If these clowns want to hornswoggle their own folks in Ohio, and Ohioans are lazy/dumb (I know, redundancy is a virtue) enough to vote for it, then all these guys get cush jobs and new cars to “take care” of the problem they just fabricated.

      Is there an issue with this? Yes, It does indeed happen. But nowhere near the rate these liars/statisticians (redundant again, yes( claim. The real incidence of such activity is low enough to not rise to level of a crisis. And it is most likely “hidden” along with other social evil type issues that are also being addressed. Sort of a syndrome of issues…… which I’ll wager high stakes at long odds traces directly back to the destruction of traditiional homes because of the corrupt welfare system…. which is designed to break apart families rather than promote them.

  11. Hmm. Another lying congress-critter.

  12. I have done similar digging with other social science statistics. In my case it was “homeless veterans.” The numbers for homeless veterans were even more sloppily counted, improbably and unscientific. That was the day I stopped believing anything that came out of any social scientist’s mouth.

  13. “the underground social networks”

    The Dark Web! CSI:Cyber tried to warn us, but we didn’t listen! WE DIDN’T LISTEN!

  14. Legislating brains devoid of circumspection are useful tools in the thick sweaty hands of autocratic purpose as this sneering cavalry of charlatans delivers blow after fucking blow against the crumbling and declining foundations of liberty and freedom.

    Hosting a disjointed halo of celestial arrogance above her flopping jarring gait of leering altruism Beatty and her starchy hyper-professionalized ilk kneel submissively at the hallowed altar of bureaucratic prepotence as cave-eyed silent marchers with disdain, steel, and blood spraying from their knuckles shuffle above dragging chains freshly pounded from the motherfucking hearts of a million liquid spirits- wings broken and twisted- soaring souls ripped into cold shadows by the thorny encroachments of statutory viciousness.

    Mounted and humiliated the favor of the ruled to the draconian-obsessed is the collective acceptance of motherfucking data-manglers and their fake salvation of pumped-out reams of shit law derived from shit data.

    Fuck this insidious trash.

    Government bondage is an incessant raging poltergeist haunting the evolving halls of liberty.

    1. The Reason Resident Poet’s words delight.

  15. these alleged 1,000 children who “fall victim to human sex trafficking”

    HUMAN sex trafficking?!

  16. When did prostitution turn into “Sex-Trafficking”?

    1. When people started losing interest in fighting prostitution.

  17. If they’re looking for child prostitutes, they might want try looking in the private jets of Bill Clinton, Alan Dershowitz, and all their convicted pedophile friends.

  18. Yes but the numbers are based on science paid by the government so you can’t argue with them since government never lies.

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