The Importance of Accurate Trafficking Data

On June 9, 2014, by Jewell Battle

Recently, Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore claimed that Milwaukee is a sex trafficking hub. Additionally, she claimed that the FBI stated that Milwaukee is the second highest in the nation for recovered youth. In reality, the FBI was referring to one specific enforcement action. However, as David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, affirms there is no “reliable ranking of cities” for sex trafficking rates, so neither of these claims can be stated with certainty. At the moment, there is no set of statistical data on the relative prevalence of child sex trafficking, thus it is not possible for any city to state to be accurately ranked. Before any claim about whether one city is any worse than any other, more research needs to be conducted.

Even if Milwaukee may have more incidents of trafficking, and even if they have the second highest number of children recovered from trafficking in the country, trafficking is a prevalent problem all over the United States. It is not just limited to large cities such as Milwaukee. The fact that trafficking is such a widespread problem, yet so little is known about its prevalence, speaks even more to the fact that more research needs to be done to hammer down the actual number of victims. Discovering the actual number of victims and then finding patterns in those numbers will allow for the creation of statistical data with regard to rankings. Law enforcement and others will then be able to get a more accurate understanding on how and where they should focus their efforts.

Sex trafficking of both children and adults has been highlighted as a major issue. Cooperation from law enforcement agencies, post-trafficking programs for victims, as well as preventative programs is required. This task must first begin with a proper estimate of the amount of children being trafficked. When one reads trafficking news it becomes clear that human trafficking is happening in many places, both cities and rural areas, East Coast, West Coast, Midwest etc…; human trafficking a prevalent persistent problem. What is not known, and what no one can yet claim to know, is how one city ranks against any other place. More research needs to be done, and that research should then inform both law enforcement and civil society’s response.

Concrete numbers for each city of how many children are being trafficked constitute the only sufficient reliable research data. A massive and most likely costly survey effort needs to be undertaken. Some states have undertaken their own efforts to estimate the number of children being trafficked, but the answer to this problem lies not in a single state’s efforts, but in a deliberate effort by all states. Whichever mechanism utilized needs to be universal and comprehensive enough to capture every type of sex trafficking situation that exists. Anything short of a nationwide survey of cities and states is not sufficient to provide enough data to be able to rank locations with regard to the prevalence of trafficking.

Research on this topic needs to be undertaken sooner than later in order to obtain accurate numbers to apply to statistical data. Until this research occurs, broad statements about how states or cities rank with regard to the number of trafficked children or the amount of children recovered cannot be made with certainty. Concrete numbers should be the foundation for such broad statements or else a disservice is being done to the trafficking movement and the victims it represents.


PolitiFact Wisconsin. “Is Milwaukee ranked second in the U.S. for number of children recovered from sex trafficking?.” PolitiFact Wisconsin. (accessed June 4, 2014).


3 Responses to The Importance of Accurate Trafficking Data

  1. Survivors know almost all in prostitution are sex trafficking survivors. We should count numbers of people in prostitution rather than successful sex trafficking prosecutions. We don’t estimate the numbers of domestic violence victims based on successful prosecutions, nor do we estimate sexual assault numbers this way.

  2. Great point Holly.

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