Human And Sex Trafficking

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Estimating the Size of Commercial Sex Trafficking in Your City

It’s difficult to estimate the size and scale of Commercial Sex Trafficking in the United States, especially the minors that are trapped and sold online. Guardian Group conducted a study where we analyzed escort ads across the nation with the aim to uncover a consistent ratio to help you determine the size of the problem.

This project was born from the responsibility we inherently feel as we learn more about domestic sex trafficking, observe patterns, draw links, and identify trends. We want to provide you with assessments and analysis that (1) better helps you understand the scale and scope of this crime and (2) better help you protect the ones you love.

There is rational and logical thought behind the methods we used to provide the estimates, but they are simply estimates designed to give you an idea of the prolific nature of commercial sex trafficking in America. We did not isolate demographics within-population densities but kept it as simple as possible for you to replicate.

We were not sure if any consistent ratios would emerge when we began analyzing data and cross-referencing our statistics, but a few stood out clear enough and consistent enough for us to share with people and around the world.

We compared how many escort ads are posted in area across the US each year in relation to the population densities of each area. Then we compared our analysis with some recent studies that have been published exploring the scale and scope of minors caught up in sex trafficking. While these resulting numbers and ratios are only intended to give you a rough idea of the scale of the crime in your area, they can also be used to see if your city is overly represented in online escort ads.

We compiled the data from escort ads in 32 different cities across the United States and looked at 10 different states. While the study was not statistically random, there was a good cross section of population densities, sizes, and locations.

We categorized the cities into 3 sizes-

  • Town = 10,000- 100,000 people
  • City = +100,000- 1,000,000 people
  • Big City = + 1,000,000 people

We found consistent ratios between population densities and escort ad volume to help you extrapolate and better understand the scale of commercial sex trafficking in your city.

In order to estimate the size of the problem in your area, use the ratios below.

  • A town is 1:20 with 1 escort ad per 20 people
  • A city is 1:10 with 1 escort ad per 10 people
  • A big city is 1:3 with 1 escort ad per 3 people
  • A county or state is 1:10 with 1 escort ad per 10 people

An estimate to find the scale of minors involved is to take 3% of the ratio number. We approximate that about 3% of escort ads involve or include minors for sale.

For example-

Chicago has 800,000 escort ads each year with a population of 2,716,000 that is a ratio of 1:3 with 24,000 minors estimated to be involved in the commercial sex industry in Chicago.

The biggest outliers were Atlanta and Las Vegas with 2:1 escort ads in relation to population, in other words, for every person in Atlanta and in Las Vegas, there were two escort ads posted. That is remarkable.

The study included-

  • Towns- (9) Pierre, SD, Grand Forks, ND, Concord, NH, Bend, OR, Sandusky, OH, Sarasota, FL, Palo Alto, CA, Medford, OR, Klamath Falls, OR
  • Cities- (17) Pittsburgh, PA, Seattle, WA, Boston, MA, Miami, FL, Birmingham, AL, Atlanta, GA, Memphis, TN, Salt Lake City, UT, Las Vegas, NV, Detroit, MI, Boise, ID, Orlando, FL, Portland, OR, Milwaukee, WI, Washington DC, Tyler, TX, Salem, OR
  • Big Cities- (6) Dallas, TX, Los Angeles, CA, New York City, NY, Baltimore, MD, Chicago, IL, San Francisco, CA
  • States- (10) California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania


Two of the studies we used to corroborate our findings are the “Study of Human Trafficking in San Diego” and “Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Initial Benchmark of Prevalence and Economic Impact for Texas

The San Diego study found up to 8,000 minors being trafficked in San Diego County. Using our ratio, we estimate about 9,900.

  • The population for San Diego County is 3,300,000. Using the county / state ratio of 1:10 you end up with 330,000 ads and 3% of those ads would 9,900 minors.

The Texas study found 79,000 minor victims of sex trafficking.

  • With a state population of 28,000,000 and using the state ratio of 1:10 you end up with 2,800,000 ads and 3% of those ads would equal 84,000 minors.

A likely contribution to the discrepancy in these estimates is the fact that both the San Diego and Texas studies were conducted in 2015- 2016 and the growth in CSEC over the course of approximately 3 years can be the simple difference. Polaris Project saw a 13% increase in Human Trafficking Reported on their hotline from 2016-2017. Once again, this is not a solid determinant because as awareness grows, more reporting will surface. Report increases do not specifically show a rise in the crime.

But even a conservative estimate would look at CSEC growing 5-10% each year and that would bring all these studies even closer in complementary estimates.

It is difficult to measure the size and scale of sex trafficking. A law enforcement officer once described it to me in this way. “What if someone broke into your house and stole some things but you never reported it? How would they ever know it happened? If this happened repeatedly, how could we ever measure the scale of burglary and theft in a community?”

That is what is happening. Vulnerable Americans are getting lured into and trapped in the underground sex economy. They too afraid to seek help and report that their freedom has been stolen.

Until All are Free.

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