SPD Says Seattle Weekly Has Their Facts Wrong On Juvenile Prostitution

The Seattle Police Department says Village Voice Media and the Seattle Weekly significantly underestimated the number of underage prostitutes recovered by the department in a lengthy story supposedly debunking myths about the scale and scope of juvenile sex trafficking.

Last week, Mayor Mike McGinn formed an unholy alliance with Dude Where’s My Car star Ashton Kutcher and went after Village Voice Media (VVM)–parent company of the Seattle Weekly–for, they say, profiting off juvenile prostitution through its classified ad site, Backpage.com.

VVM fought back, slamming statistics used by Kutcher in his “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” anti-human trafficking campaign. in an article titled “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight.”

VVM’s story hinges on the premise that juvenile prostitution isn’t as big a problem as Kutcher, and–in their words–“sex prohibitionists” would have you believe.

“America does not lose 100,000 to 300,000 children to prostitution annually, as Kutcher and sex prohibitionists allege. That is simply a lie,” VVM says. “Law enforcement records show that there were only 8,263 arrests in these cities for child prostitution during the most recent decade”

According to the Village Voice’s story–which includes data obtained by the Seattle Weekly–Seattle Police arrested 17 juvenile prostitutes in 2007, 14 juveniles in 2008, and 16 in 2009.

However, according to the department’s Vice/High-Risk Victim’s unit, police actually made nearly twice as many recoveries in that same time period.

Police say they made 20 “recoveries”–the police term for rescued–in 2007, 30 in 2008, and 40 in 2009.

Village Voice’s story only covers data from 2000-2009, but SPD was only able to provide recovery information for 2007-2011*. SPD also couldn’t immediately tell me whether their data included juveniles arrested/recovered more than once.

I asked Seattle Weekly Managing Editor Caleb Hannan if he could explain the discrepancy between their numbers and SPD’s.

In an email, Hannan wrote “The numbers we got came from SPD. That’s why we’re just as confused as they are.”

Hannan claims SPD’s numbers include arrests and recoveries of juveniles, while the Weekly only requested data for arrests. However, police tell us they typically arrest juveniles as part of a recovery.

Hannan said he was looking into how the Seattle Weekly obtained data on SPD’s arrests.

If it turns out the Weekly published misleading data on juvenile recoveries, other VVM papers might want to take another look to see if they got their “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight” facts straight.

* It should be noted that in 2010, after the department changed the name of the Vice unit to the Vice/High Risk Victim’s Unit and shifted the focus to treating prostitutes as victims rather than criminals, the SPD made 81 juvenile recoveries. To date in 2011, police say they’ve made 24 recoveries. 

** Made slight modification of attribution in 5th paragraph.