Dallas Morning News’ Credulity = Incredibility [updated because math is hard]

[Update: The DMN corrected its error.]

In Houston alone, about 300,000 sex trafficking cases are prosecuted each year.

(Dallas Morning News Editorial: Cracking down on sex traffickers).

The number is such obvious nonsense that anyone who gave it any serious thought would decry it. (Amy Alkon and Walter Olson got there before me.) But the DMN blithely published it as fact.

In Harris County, according to Texas Office of Court Administration statistics, 2,650 36,862 new felony cases were filed and 5,819 68,142 new misdemeanor cases were filed in 2012.1 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.

According to the Harris County District Clerk’s website, there hasn’t been a prosecution for sex trafficking in Houston since 2010. But when people say “sex trafficking,” they may mean “compelling prostitution.” There have been two compelling-prostitution cases filed in Harris County this year.

Not 300,000. Two.

There are federal prosecutions as well. Statistics are not as handy,2 but I have a feel for what’s going on in the federal courthouse, and the DOJ loves putting out press releases. The number of people prosecuted for sex trafficking in the Southern District of Texas each year is in the double digits.

Here’s where I think the wide-eyed nincompoops at the Dallas Morning News got their number:

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.

(Texas on the Potomac.)

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.

The population of the United states is 314 million, give or take. The population of Texas is 26 million, give or take. For Texas to have a “disproportionate share of the estimated 300,000 sex trafficking cases prosecuted each year,” Texas would have to have more than 24,8403 sex trafficking prosecutions every year.

In 2010, there were 91,047 people prosecuted in federal court. All told. Nationwide. If that number is still about right (and I suspect that federal prosecutions have dropped, rather than increasing, since 2010, given Congress’s laudable inability to keep the government running), even if federal prosecutors were prosecuting nothing but sex trafficking offenses4, for there to be 300,000 sex trafficking cases prosecuted nationwide each year state courts would have to prosecute 210,000 such cases. For Texas’s share of these 210,000 prosecutions to be “disproportionate” Texas would have to prosecute 17,389 sex-trafficking cases each year.

In Texas, statewide, there were 15,629 203,471 criminal cases of all types filed last year in district court;5 of these, 2,723 were misdemeanors and 45,163 were felonies not classified into categories that are recognizably not sex trafficking (murder, theft, etc.).

In Texas, statewide, there were 32,991 415,436 misdemeanor cases filed in 2012 in county court; of these, 116,307 were not classified into categories that are recognizably not sex trafficking (DWI, drug offenses, etc.)

So even if every crime charged in Texas that was not classified as something recognizably not sex trafficking were a sex trafficking crime,6 there would only have been 161,470 sex-trafficking cases filed last year in Texas—nowhere near the 300,000 promoted by the DMN.

Texas is less populous than California, but it has the world’s longest stretch of border between a first-world country and a third-world country. Texas’s economy is humming along while California’s is faltering. It would surprise me if Texas didn’t have more sex-trafficking cases than its population alone dictated.

But 300,000? Utter and complete nonsense.

  1. Those numbers seem low to me, given the crowds in the courthouse lobbies but I think the source can be trusted.My search-fu was defective. 

  2. The bureau of justice statistics is eight years behind

  3. Give or take. 

  4. A ludicrous proposition—Alkon has BJS statistics:

    Federally funded human trafficking task forces opened 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking for investigation between January 2008 and June 2010.

    Most suspected incidents of human trafficking were classified as sex trafficking (82%)…


  5. All but 216 were felonies. 

  6. A ludicrous proposition. 

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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