25 million adults and children suffering from labor and sex trafficking all over the world. The FBI says that around 300,00 children could be at risk. Even 1 woman or 1 child trafficked is too many. But there are thousands and thousands and thousands. How many children are sex trafficked every year in the United States? The numbers repeated by politicians in the media are almost never representative of the truth. That’s because studying this population presents an enormous challenge for researchers. When underage people are involved in the sex trade in any way, everyone around them is doing anything they can to conceal what’s happening. Even so, one statistic has permeated the anti child-sex trafficking movement. It was first widely circulated in 2011, when activists were trying to build a case against Backpage.com, the online classified site which is now the focus of an upcoming criminal trial. It was around this time that a claim reappeared in the media that 100,000 to 300,000 underage people were sex trafficked each year in the United States. It turns out that claim was bogus. Still the number was popularized, by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, in their Real Men Don’t Buy Sex campaign. There are more slaves in the world today, then ever before in human history. It’s happening in the United States, there’s between 100 and 300 thousand child sex slaves in the United States today. The number ran everywhere. It ran in the New York Times, it ran in USA Today, in CNN. Every damn media outlet took and accepted this without ever looking at the source material. That Michael Lacey a former owner of Village Voice media which owned Backpage.com at the time. A cover story in the Village Voice revealed that the 100,000 to 300,000 number that was being talked about was being taken out of context. I just had my writer specifically look at this University of Pennsylvania story. That’s where this 100,000-300,000 number comes from his writers traced it back to a 2001 journal article estimating that there were 100,000-300,000 children deemed at risk for sexual exploitation in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, not just the United States, as Kutcher and others had claimed. That would be 6,000 underage children being sex trafficked in America’s 50 largest cities. It was totally junk science. The Voice also found out that the study’s methodology was flawed, because it’s figure weren’t based on actual cases. The authors relied on guesses as to who might end up a sex trafficking victim. And the data was more than 12 years out of date by the time Kutcher and others were citing it. Even the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire advised journalists and researchers in 2008 not to cite this study, saying scientifically credible estimates do not exist. The study’s lead authors disavowed it as well. After this story appeared in the Village Voice criticizing Kutcher’s activism, Kutcher took to Twitter calling on advertisers to stop buying ads in the Village Voice. It’s like a bar fight, you know? And you just can’t see where the next idiot is going to come from, you just know that they’re coming, okay? And it’s like a bar fight that never ends. The 100,000-300,000 number still pops up in online stories and newspaper op-eds, and is often attributed to dated government publications. Though as the junk science number still gets cited, a world where we truly understand the reality of all the types of people that make up the sex trade still escapes us. For more, click here for the full documentary: The War on Backpage.com is a War on Sex Workers And subscribe to Reason for more content.