The sex trade is an underground industry, so on what basis would the revenues from the trafficking of children–or children and adults–in the U.S. be calculated so precisely, either as $9.8 billion or $9.5 billion, as two members of Congress said when the House recently considered the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act? The figures came from two different sources, but it turns out both were practically invented out of whole cloth, says the Washington Post. For the $9.8 billion number, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) cited an informational graphic posted on the Internet by Shared Hope International. The graphic indicated that the statistic concerned all human trafficking in the U.S., not just “child sex trafficking” as Goodlatte had said. (His office blamed a staff error.)
There’s a bigger problem: Shared Hope's graphic gave as its source a 2005 International Labour Organization report on human trafficking. That report contains no mention of a $9.8 billion figure for U.S. human trafficking. Instead, there is a broad estimate of $13 billion in profits for “forced commercial sexual exploitation” for 36 industrialized countries (of which the U.S. is 30 percent of the population). ILO officials say they have never given a breakdown by country. The methodology suggests the actual revenue for sex trafficking in this group would be close to $20 billion. It assumed turnover of $100,000 per prostitute, and then assumed profits of nearly 70 percent, $67,000 per person. The report estimated there were 200,000 people forced into prostitution in the 36 countries. These profit and revenue figures were based only a handful of examples and then applied across the board, making it a fuzzy number. The estimate of the number of people forced into prostitution is a broad estimate that could be off by as much as 25 percent, the ILO says.