Another Dubious Sex Trafficking Study

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

A recent report (PDF) by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation claimed that the state is a major hub for sex trafficking. The report generated outraged media coverage and, of course, a full slate of new laws. (Not of all which are necessarily bad.)

But as we’ve seen with similar reports, there are some significant problems with the data.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), Coffee County is one of four major locations across the state for human sex trafficking.

However, not a single report from the Tullahoma Police Department completed during the past two years indicates any human sex trafficking incidents.

The TBI report released in June suggests that Coffee, Davidson, Shelby and Knox counties each have more than 100 cases of human sex trafficking during the past two years. The numbers were gathered from an anonymous e-mailed survey the bureau distributed to law enforcement agencies, juvenile and family courts and group homes that potentially deal with human sex trafficking and other sexual abuse crimes.

Although the Tullahoma Police Department and Coffee County Sheriff’s Department were listed as survey participants, officials aren’t sure who – if anyone – received the e-mailed survey.

“We’re unaware that anyone from this office participated in the survey,” said Police Chief Paul Blackwell. “We haven’t found any record that indicates Tullahoma has even one case of human sex trafficking.” . . .

Apparently, the report made no effort to actually define “sex trafficking” for survey participants, nor did it ask for any documentation or supporting evidence of any kind for the figures participants provided. Instead, survey participants were simply asked to estimate how many “sex trafficking” incidents they may have encountered in the past year, based on their own judgment of what might qualify under the term. (I’d imagine there would be problems with double counting, too.)

“People can say anything with no reason to be entirely accurate.” The report states human sex trafficking is often confused with prostitution.

“When I think of trafficking, I think of forced prostitution,” said Graves . . .

“Some participants who have limited or no training in identifying human sex trafficking would have difficulty recognizing a minor victim. …The conceptualization of human sex trafficking varies among individuals,” according to page 11 of the report.

Near the end of the report, a quote from Coffee County was included at the bottom of page 60.

“My experience with human sex trafficking was a father who was abusing his daughter and then letting his friends participate for a fee.” There was no source other than “Coffee County” listed for the quote.

Obviously, there’s no reasonable objection to laws against trafficking children for prostitution (or trafficking children for any other reason), or against using violence or the threat of violence to force adult women into the sex trade. The problem is how these sorts of reports, and the breathless coverage of them, conflate those clearly immoral practices with consensual sex-for-money between adults. Politicians then trumpet these reports and the unskeptical media coverage to demand laws cracking down on the consensual stuff. Which of course then pushes the sex trade further underground, exacerbating the actual sex trafficking problem.

(Hat tip: Maggie McNeil)

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11 Responses to “Another Dubious Sex Trafficking Study”

  1. #1 |  freebob | 

    This reminds me of a quote from Steven Pinker: “There are dynamics in the opinion and advocacy markets, no one ever attracted donors by saying thing just seem to be getting and better.”
    http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html
    Of course this is a government study, so it’s slightly different. But I’m sure it will be used to lobby for bigger budgets, more overtime hours, and the like.

  2. #2 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “A recent report (PDF) by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation claimed that the state is a major hub for sex trafficking. ”

    I think that’s an important requirement for embarking on a misguided, expensive, moral crusade. Said location can’t be a minor hub or a major non-hub.
    But, hell, if it’s in PDF format, and created by a bureaucracy, it’s gotta be true.

  3. #3 |  Rick H. | 

    The catch-all term “trafficking” has become as malleable, vague and useful to authoritarians as “terrorism.” If these people actually cared about stopping modern-day slavery, they would call it slavery. But that’s not on their menu.

  4. #4 |  SuperCheetah | 

    Does anyone remember the Super Bowl sex trafficking BS?

    The Office of the Attorney General of Texas shared in a press release dated February 17, 2011 and “announced the preliminary results of a joint local, state and federal law enforcement effort to crack down on human trafficking during the 2011 Super Bowl.” and that they

    “conducted undercover operations through Super Bowl Sunday that resulted in a total of 133 arrests.”

    Did you see the weasel? Here it is again: “…through Super Bowl Sunday…” As it turns out those arrests were made across the entire state – since Jan 1, 2007!!!

    They’ve got a mug shot of a guy they busted but if you look up his arrest report you’ll see it has nothing to do with the Super Bowl and even if you disagree that’s only one. We were supposed to expect thousands. 133 over four years across the state is hardly an issue.

    Not to mention what we think trafficking is versus their definition is quite different.

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    The report states human sex trafficking is often confused with prostitution.

    LMAO! To most anti-trafficking activists, prostitution IS forced human sex trafficking, because “no women would voluntarily sell her body if she didn’t have to”.

    I have come to believe that the primary target their efforts is the prohibition of all forms of prostitution and it’s merely couched in the language of “human trafficking” in order to inflate the statistics, attract support, and make it seem as if it is some kind of humanitarian rescue effort. Moral crusades are always dressed up to look like something they aren’t.

  6. #6 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Maybe someday women will be able to determine for themselves when and under what circumstances they’re permitted to have sex. I finding utterly beyond comprehension that women still allow themselves to be treated as weak mindless idiots incapable of running their own lives or controlling their own bodies.

    Of course, I guess that fits right in with the idea that individuals must beg the state’s permission before they are permitted to use life saving or pain killing drugs. It’s not just women who are perfectly satisfied to be treated like weak mindless idiots (for that matter, if you tolerate being treated like a weak mindless idiot, maybe that means you ARE a weak mindless idiot).

    Trafficking, my ass. Anyone who thinks these studies are meant to expose actual real life human labor and sex slavery needs to trade in some of their gullibility for skepticism.

  7. #7 |  B | 

    The Stranger had an excellent column on this last week:

    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/control-tower/Content?oid=9028548

  8. #8 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    More lies from the government and those trying to get funding from them.

    Really, I don’t want to be this cynical, but how can anyone NOT be when day after day after day we are continually lied to and manipulated?

    Government statement = bullshit.

    If the government said that tomorrow the sun was going to come up in the eastern sky I would be skeptical.

    They brought it on themselves.

  9. #9 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @2 – I object. There’s nothing wrong with PDF files!

  10. #10 |  mikee | 

    I was once caught sex trafficking. My girlfriend and I were steaming up the windows of a 1976 Chevy Impala in the parking lot when a police officer came by, rapped on the window with his baton, and told us to move along.

    So maybe it wasn’t sex trafficking. More like sex parking. Perhaps this incident is typical of what the respondents to the survey were thinking about when queried about sex trafficking.

  11. #11 |  She’s Not There « Tiny Cat Pants | 

    [...] like, take this story I learned about over at Radley Balko‘s today. The TBI says Coffee County here in Tennessee is one of four major hubs of [...]

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