The underage sex trafficking panic was fueled by anything but science

Where are the hundreds of thousands of teen prostitutes some advocates say are engaged in underage sex trafficking? Village Voice Media spent the past two months collecting arrest data for underage prostitution in 37 of America's largest cities. Reporters found the average number of arrests over the past decade for underage prostitution across America was 827 annually. In Denver and Aurora, the average number of arrests each year was nine. Click to read the full report on underage sex trafficking.

The New York Times, CNN, USA Today and celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore have used the "100,000 to 300,000" number to estimate how many American-born teens are sold for sex each year.

The figure is based on a study by two University of Pennsylvania professors, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, who cite that 100,000 to 300,000 children are "at-risk" for underage sex trafficking. But they admit it's not the number of children actually involved. And that's a big but.

Outside large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, the number of prostitution arrests for underage sex trafficking drops precipitously. In the Denver/Aurora area, the most arrests made in a single year in the past decade was fifteen, in 2001. In 2009, the last year for which data was collected, the number of arrests was seven.

While the media has been fooled by junk science about sex trafficking before, this report on underage sex trafficking shows the numbers are far less than what's been bouncing through the echo chamber -- and fueling multi-million-dollar anti-trafficking efforts.

More from our News archive: "Murder down, prostitution and child-porn busts up in 2010, says Denver Police Department."

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