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May 24, 2011 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I’d always dismissed the idea of human trafficking in the United States. I’m Indian, and when I went to Mumbai and saw children sold openly, I wondered, Why isn’t anything being done about it? But now I know—it’s no different here. I never would have believed it, but I’ve seen it.
posted by AceRock (97 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
A photographer’s representation of a typical scene at one of the motels in Central Connecticut used for sex trafficking.

Is it sweeps week already? Hint: when you're making up melodramatic pictures, it's not really journalism anymore.
posted by orthogonality at 8:58 AM on May 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


Did you read beyond that?
posted by no relation at 9:08 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Katy Perry's appearance on the Vanity Fair cover also raises awareness of commercial sex trafficking, in its own way.
posted by Trurl at 9:10 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have not read the article, and also, I know that certainly human trafficking does exist across the world - the United States is not somehow immune. However, I do think - and maybe this is just some lame ethnocentricity and naivety - that saying that the problem in the US and the problem in India are "no different" is a little bit of a stretch. I mean, the problem is not nearly as epidemic here as it is in Mumbai, right?

Right?
posted by kbanas at 9:12 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who sees some irony that a magazine called "Vanity Fair" that has pictures of women dripping with sexuality on the cover is crying foul over the exploitation of women?
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:14 AM on May 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Thanks for undeleting this, cortex. (This thread was deleted for its tone, but the text above is actually a quote from the article.)
posted by andreaazure at 9:25 AM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I searched the article for a bit of the quoted bit but didn't find anything, hence the confusion. Apparently slow-loading VF content is my new archnemesis; hopefully the italics will make it much clearer that it's a quote.
posted by cortex at 9:28 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now back to the reason I hit the comments page in the first place: this article really is amazing. Quality reporting on a horrific subject.
posted by andreaazure at 9:29 AM on May 24, 2011


The first time I really read about modern first-world sex trafficking, I realized that these people were scum. Murderers are mostly venal, scared, stupid people; many rapists are one-and-done rationalize-it-after-the-fact assholes; thieves just want free shit or an adrenalin rush or both. But sex slavers devote their lives to ruining people for their own pleasure and profit; not in a "well, if I want to make a million dollars I guess some people will lose their homes" asshole banker abstract sort of way, but in a real, concrete, vicious and personal way.

The second thing I realized is that I finally had found a crime where I supported the death penalty, and that stunned me.
posted by mightygodking at 9:32 AM on May 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


From the piece

"The unlikely trafficking-abolitionist coalition—consisting of secular social-justice advocates, faith-based groups, black activists, second- and fourth-wave feminists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans—shares a peculiar adversary in the form of trafficking skeptics, coming largely from the left. The Nation, for example, ridiculed the “‘sex slave’ panic,” and both Slate and City Pages questioned the alarming statistics published by the Department of Justice, the State Department, and non–government organizations such as ecpat and the Salvation Army."
posted by Ideefixe at 9:34 AM on May 24, 2011


The Hell with capital punishment, these are Complete Monsters and should be executed on the spot.
posted by Scoo at 9:35 AM on May 24, 2011


It would help the framing/tone situation if the statement from assistant US District Attorney Krishna Patel in the post were actually put in quotation marks.
posted by blucevalo at 9:37 AM on May 24, 2011


Okay, I got past the dramatization of abuse, and ran into the
“The average starting age for prostitution is now 13,” says Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (gems)...
Sentence. Uh, that's a pretty specific statistic there. Wanna tell me how you got that number? I mean, prostitution as measured how? Or are you just making up crap to get funding for your organization, which seems to be a fairly common tactic.

Anyway, worked through that, and hit.
Dr. Sharon Cooper believes that the anti-intellectual, consumerist, hyper-violent, and super-eroticized content of movies (Hustle & Flow), reality TV (Cathouse), video games (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), gangsta rap (Nelly’s “Tip Drill”), and cyber sites (Second Life: Jail Bait) has normalized sexual harm.
Hey, great, people have been trying to come up with peer reviewed papers showing this connection between violent media and similar harm for years and years, and nobody's managed to show it, but if she believes it then it must be true.

I'm not going to downplay that there is "human trafficking", or at least that there are children forced into prostitution. I know a woman who says she was pimped out by her stepfather to pay gambling debts at age 12. I believe that there are problems here and they need to be addressed. I will even take Detective Scates' story as written.

However, this is not journalism. This is not informative. This is muckraking at a level that would make a Fox News reporter blush.
posted by straw at 9:44 AM on May 24, 2011 [18 favorites]


Did you read beyond that?

Yeah, I did. Up to the point about the more than $300,000 civil forfeiture the police department got for closing a brothel. To me there's a conflict of interest there, the same as we see in drug war prosecutions.

I'm not saying that trafficking isn't a problem, but I am suspicious when the people who get paid to solve a problem are the ones telling reporters that the magnitude of the problem is in creasing. That's how we got the prison problem in California.

And maybe it's just my perception, but I'm seeing and hearing more an more trafficking stories, Vanity Fair, NPR, even "ripped from the headlines" on "Law and Order", and I'm wondering: is there a real increase in this problem, or is it a moral panic akin to the rash of prosecutions of Satanic child-molesting baby sitters sin the 1980s -- all of which turned out to be made up by ambitious prosecutors, or is it akin to the Drug War and "Reefer Madness", where the panic was manufactured to further racist politics?

Any time we've seen a concerted push by journalists about "a problem", it usually turns out to be a con designed to scare us into precipitous actions that benefit an oligarchy.
posted by orthogonality at 9:45 AM on May 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


Ding ding ding ding ding. We have a winner.
posted by tzikeh at 9:48 AM on May 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Apparently sex trafficking of children in the United States is a new thing:

Dr. Sharon Cooper believes that the anti-intellectual, consumerist, hyper-violent, and super-eroticized content of movies (Hustle & Flow), reality TV (Cathouse), video games (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), gangsta rap (Nelly’s “Tip Drill”), and cyber sites (Second Life: Jail Bait) has normalized sexual harm. “History is repeating itself, and we’re back to treating women and children as chattel,” she says. “It’s a sexually toxic era of ‘pimpfantwear’ for your newborn son and thongs for your five-year-old daughter.”

Personally, I don't agree with Dr. Sharon Cooper. Child prostitution has been around for a long, long time. The tragedy is that it still exists.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:53 AM on May 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


So, what I don't get, every time I read one of these things: why aren't more customers charged with rape? A slave can't form consent. An underage child can't form consent. A person high as a kite or deep in withdrawl can't consent.

Why don't we treat johns as rapists? A couple hundred rape trials would send a fairly strong message.
posted by bonehead at 9:55 AM on May 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


“The average starting age for prostitution is now 13” - I thought that, historically, the starting age has always been around 13.
posted by Ardiril at 9:56 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have to say, I'm pretty dumbfounded by the response so far. MeFi tends to view sexual assault in pretty stark, unforgiving terms, so the fact that a number of users have tried to brush this off as racist, fascist hysteria comes totally out of left field.

In the summer of 2007, I worked for a federal prosecutor involved in prosecuting cases developed in the FBI's Innocence Lost initiative.A number of them were sentenced a few years ago. The initiative has, thus far, rescued about 1200 kids and lead to hundreds of convictions.

None of this is made up. One might argue that the scale of the problem is exaggerated by the media attention and just general horribleness of the issue, but it's all real as far as it goes.

A bunch of these guys aren't black either. Many of the guys in the 2007 case I saw were actually Russians, with connections to the Russian mob, an organization I am told makes the Italian mob look like the parson's Sunday picnic.

The problem may not actually be increasing in magnitude, but if anything, that's just because it's always been a problem and law enforcement is only now wising up to it. Moral panic it isn't.
posted by valkyryn at 9:58 AM on May 24, 2011 [39 favorites]


valkyryn: It's not the topic, but the result of linking to a badly written article.
posted by Ardiril at 10:03 AM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why don't we treat johns as rapists?

That's actually an interesting question, but it's one with a real legal answer: rape is a specific intent crime.

It isn't enough to simply have sex with someone who hasn't consented to it. The defendant must know that the victim hasn't consented or is incapable of giving consent. Because johns pretty much universally give prostitutes money, there's a really, really good argument to be made that the john believes this to be a consensual transaction. He wasn't the one doing the coercing most of the time, so the prosecution is going to have a tough time proving that he had actual knowledge that she was being coerced. Because there are more than enough cases on prosecutors' dockets where they have the defendant dead to rights, there isn't a huge incentive to prosecute marginal charges, especially when they can get the same defendant on misdemeanor charges like solicitation or patronizing a prostitute.
posted by valkyryn at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2011


I'm not saying that trafficking isn't a problem, but I am suspicious when the people who get paid to solve a problem are the ones telling reporters that the magnitude of the problem is in creasing.

So what are you saying? That it's overblown? Are you an expert on the matter? Have you made a study of media oversaturation of trafficking stories and propaganda pieces perpetuating nefarious plans to ... uh ... save sex workers who don't want to be sex workers?
posted by incessant at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't dispute that the monsters described are as described; that these bastards do horrible things, and are modern day slavers. I am vocal about my loathing for pimp-culture, for people like Snoop Dogg or Don Magic Juan to gloss over or even re-package their evil to a willing public. And I don't even hesitate at the death penalty for these fuckers. I truly believe the stories of what some of these pimps use to keep the girls in line, and that makes them no different than serial killers and concentration camp Nazis.

But I still balk at the idea that 300,000 teenagers- or 1 in 33 of the ~10 milion teenaged girls in this country- is involved. The scale of that is insane: that would imply that for example in my high school graduating class, 5 or 6 girls were kidnapped from their homes and are currently being used as human toilets for someone else to get rich, 10 times a day. Wait... wouldn't we notice? A white girl disappears while on vacation and it's national news for weeks; a little boy disappears in a balloon/barn and it's headlines from coast to coast. 1 in 33 teenage girls being sold as sex slaves... is a hidden problem?

I can buy some parents being so awful they don't care when their 13-year-old daughter disappears, but 1 in 33? And there are that many judges, doctors and senators who willingly fuck and physically abuse teenage girls and yet either are oblivious to, or pay with a credit card for, child prostitution? I don't disbelieve that this happens, but I suspect it's extraordinarily much rarer than stated. If it's really that widespread, then apparently I'm the only sane and decent human being left on the planet.

To put it another way: here in Seattle there is gang involvement with prostitution and it's newsworthy enough to make the headlines- and for some reason, they needed special new laws to bust guys who were forcing teenaged girls to have sex against their will. But I can't figure this out: you have constant physical abuse, kidnapping, innumerable customers... and it takes two years of a task force to bring the guy down? The FUCK?! You can't do that in, say, a week- really? What the hell are these clowns doing with their time that it takes 2 years to bring down an apparently careless pimp and a few cohorts? They even imply that they saw first hand him physically hurting one of his girls on the street, and it was tough to watch. Well, gee, you're cops, you're armed... you could do something, you know!

And while I agree that the "frame check" is a troubling conflict of interest, how if this guy had so many girls and was making so much money did they only seize $384,000? Did any of that go to the victims? From the numbers we hear, I do think that if a pimp had 10-15 girls working for him, and they were going out even once a day much less 10, his earnings would be into the high six figures, easily.


I guess what I'm saying is this sort of thing happens, and it's terrible... but I don't believe it's anything as common as suggested, and that makes it yellow journalism. I believe that the police departments are hopelessly negligent if they really can't bust these kinds of people faster, or require special task forces or even new laws for something that was pretty clearly illegal before 2008, 2004, or 1997. They sure can bust pot sellers fast enough to fill our prisons to overcrowding, but they can't bust serial kidnappers and rapists in under 2 years?
posted by hincandenza at 10:05 AM on May 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


It's not the topic, but the result of linking to a badly written article.

I call shenanigans. Nothing about that struck me as "badly written." Maybe not Pulitzer material, but certainly yeoman's work journalism.
posted by valkyryn at 10:06 AM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The defendant must know that the victim hasn't consented or is incapable of giving consent.

Does that apply to under-age cases too? It does not in my jurisdiction.

With the meticulous records and credit card links to the johns, I would think that in cases like this, estabilshing guilt would be possible for a large number. what prosecutor would not want several hundred (according to the article) open and shut cases dropped on their desk?
posted by bonehead at 10:08 AM on May 24, 2011


MeFi tends to view sexual assault in pretty stark, unforgiving terms, so the fact that a number of users have tried to brush this off as racist, fascist hysteria comes totally out of left field.

They say a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.

Well, we all got mugged into a war by Elisabeth Bumiller and Judy Miller. And we've spent forty years fighting a drug war we now know from the Nixon tapes was designed as way to criminalize blacks and "hippies". And we've seem again and again how laws written for the best of reasons become abused in the hands of law enforcement.

So we're left distrusting all our institutions: the cops, the journalists, the politicians and the experts.

So it may surprise you, but it's not out of left field.
posted by orthogonality at 10:11 AM on May 24, 2011 [16 favorites]


Diminished capacity is another of those automatic "can't form consent" situation too, come to think of it. Rapists don't get a free pass because their victim was high or drunk either.
posted by bonehead at 10:11 AM on May 24, 2011


Why don't we treat johns as rapists?
That's actually an interesting question, but it's one with a real legal answer: rape is a specific intent crime.

It isn't enough to simply have sex with someone who hasn't consented to it. The defendant must know that the victim hasn't consented or is incapable of giving consent. Because johns pretty much universally give prostitutes money, there's a really, really good argument to be made that the john believes this to be a consensual transaction. He wasn't the one doing the coercing most of the time, so the prosecution is going to have a tough time proving that he had actual knowledge that she was being coerced. Because there are more than enough cases on prosecutors' dockets where they have the defendant dead to rights, there isn't a huge incentive to prosecute marginal charges, especially when they can get the same defendant on misdemeanor charges like solicitation or patronizing a prostitute.


Am I correct in thinking that the laws could be changed to make the payment sufficient to vitiate any seeming consent? So that the law makes the assumption that if a john pays, then they can have no mistaken belief about the consent? So it could at least be possible to treat johns as rapists, if there was political will to change the law.

That being said, I'm not sure it's a good idea, I haven't really thought it through. It clearly would be a problem for any form of legal sex work. But it could happen, at least.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:14 AM on May 24, 2011


But I still balk at the idea that 300,000 teenagers- or 1 in 33 of the ~10 milion teenaged girls in this country- is involved. The scale of that is insane: that would imply that for example in my high school graduating class, 5 or 6 girls were kidnapped from their homes and are currently being used as human toilets for someone else to get rich, 10 times a day. Wait... wouldn't we notice? A white girl disappears while on vacation and it's national news for weeks; a little boy disappears in a balloon/barn and it's headlines from coast to coast. 1 in 33 teenage girls being sold as sex slaves... is a hidden problem?

Considering that 800,000 children a year come into contact with the foster care system, with over half a million in the system at any given time, I'd say that there are more than enough kids in terrible family situations to make that kind of thing plausible. Remember, the foster care system only deals with some fraction of those kids actually in need of services.

I can buy some parents being so awful they don't care when their 13-year-old daughter disappears, but 1 in 33? And there are that many judges, doctors and senators who willingly fuck and physically abuse teenage girls and yet either are oblivious to, or pay with a credit card for, child prostitution? I don't disbelieve that this happens, but I suspect it's extraordinarily much rarer than stated. If it's really that widespread, then apparently I'm the only sane and decent human being left on the planet.

Call me pessimistic, but I don't have any trouble believing this at all.

I guess what I'm saying is this sort of thing happens, and it's terrible... but I don't believe it's anything as common as suggested, and that makes it yellow journalism. I believe that the police departments are hopelessly negligent if they really can't bust these kinds of people faster, or require special task forces or even new laws for something that was pretty clearly illegal before 2008, 2004, or 1997. They sure can bust pot sellers fast enough to fill our prisons to overcrowding, but they can't bust serial kidnappers and rapists in under 2 years?

And

With the meticulous records and credit card links to the johns, I would think that in cases like this, estabilshing guilt would be possible for a large number. what prosecutor would not want several hundred (according to the article) open and shut cases dropped on their desk?

The latter question feeds into the former one: getting those kind of credit card records, which is really what you need to get info on the johns, takes a huge amount of police resources. You can thank the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures for that. Ever see season two of The Wire? The kind of operation we're talking about takes an incredible amount of time, planning, and resources to pull off. Blame the drug war if you will, but most departments just don't have the ability to fund or man these kinds of initiatives anymore, which is why it's largely left up to the feds, who tend to focus only on the biggest busts, as their resources are limited too.
posted by valkyryn at 10:14 AM on May 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


yeoman's work journalism - Yeoman's work, yes. Journalism, no.

However, to raise this one level of abstraction, the article is your basic fodder for recreational outrage.
posted by Ardiril at 10:16 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


They sure can bust pot sellers fast enough to fill our prisons to overcrowding, but they can't bust serial kidnappers and rapists in under 2 years?

There's a difference between the crimes. Possessing pot is a strict liability offense, so the cops don't need to drum up anything about intent. You have pot, you're guilty. Done. Busting sellers is pretty easy too, as if you have more pot than you can reasonably expect to use yourself, judges and juries are pretty okay assuming you were going to sell it.

But sex crimes tend to require the prosecution to prove intent, which is a lot harder to do, as discussed above. Sure, they could intervene if they see a pimp beating up a prostitute, but all that's good for is an assault charge, meaning he'll probably be out on bail in a matter of days and may never see any jail time. If you really want to bust the guy, it takes the kind of major crimes investigation which I discuss above.
posted by valkyryn at 10:17 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I correct in thinking that the laws could be changed to make the payment sufficient to vitiate any seeming consent? So that the law makes the assumption that if a john pays, then they can have no mistaken belief about the consent? So it could at least be possible to treat johns as rapists, if there was political will to change the law.

Well, that would just be conveniently re-defining the word "consent" to mean something other than what it means.
posted by orthogonality at 10:19 AM on May 24, 2011


Which is kind of my point, valkyryn: that maybe it takes a major effort, but it also speaks to a real rarity here; my dispute isn't that this happens, it's that it's as prevalent as stated. Because if it is, then just give up, the human race is defunct.

Don't people get busted for downloading child porn? Somehow having an underage girl locked up in a room and forced to have sex is "incredibly hard to prove". Really? They had enough info to start a task force for this one guy, but two years to get enough evidence he was trafficking young women?

Seattle's greater metropolitan area is about 3 million people, or 1% of the US population. Ergo, there are 3,000 sex slaves here? How do we know? And if we know, how are warrants and arrests not being made constantly?

That this happens at all is real, and thanks to those people who do work to bust these guys, but no I will not believe 300,000 until you list the names- even the "stage names" of all 300,000, their locations, and their pimps. Then I'll believe you, and ask why you aren't interceding now.
posted by hincandenza at 10:22 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I correct in thinking that the laws could be changed to make the payment sufficient to vitiate any seeming consent?

Sure. But good luck with that. It may, as you point out, not even be a great idea. For one thing, you'd be effectively completely outlawing prostitution, which not everyone is okay with, and you'd probably make it a lot more difficult to produce pornography. Moral conservatives would probably think both of those are just dandy, but others may have issues there.

More than that though, what you'd be trying to do is use the exchange of money to serve as a proxy for consent, because really, it's the nonconsensual part that we're supposed to care about, not the money part. Under the analysis your change would suggest, if one spouse works and the other stays home... how is this not rape?
posted by valkyryn at 10:26 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the article: "Saudi Arabia, for example, is a Tier III, pariah country" which lead me to the U.S. Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Pretty depressing how so many of our partners in the war on terror care so little about sex trafficking. Yay, priorities!
posted by fartknocker at 10:29 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


so the fact that a number of users have tried to brush this off as racist, fascist hysteria comes totally out of left field.

Yeah, reason and the scientific method are real bitches.

This is yellow journalism, pure and simple.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:29 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


hincandenza....if you're going to take down a network like this, you don't want to get into court with sloppy, hastily compiled cases. You want to be rock solid. And you want to win. That takes time.
posted by spicynuts at 10:30 AM on May 24, 2011


Because moral panics always end so well in America.
posted by unSane at 10:31 AM on May 24, 2011


...getting those kind of credit card records, which is really what you need to get info on the johns, takes a huge amount of police resources. You can thank the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures for that. Ever see season two of The Wire? The kind of operation we're talking about takes an incredible amount of time, planning, and resources to pull off.

The article makes clear that the police had, in fact, done much of this ground work. The taskforce had many of the customers' names, had interviewed them, even had some testify at the pimp's trial.

There are many, many arrests for prostitution and the occasional high-profle bust of trafficing rings like this one. However, we never hear of police going after the customers for more than slap-on-the-wrist charges.

Contrast this to the very sucessful campaigns to get rid of drunk drivers. A combination of public education and social pressure have been very sucessful, but just as important are the increasingly stiff fines and penalties associated with that. Drunks can't reoffend if they can't drive.

It baffles me that the customers of pimps, particularly the violent and repeat users of prostitutes, are treated so lightly by the justice system. These girls (and boys) aren't savaged by a force of nature, but by people. There is never going to be effective control of a supply-demand crime by only going after the crimes of the supply.
posted by bonehead at 10:31 AM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have to say, I'm pretty dumbfounded by the response so far.

I see two reasons for the incredulity expressed here. (1) The belief that law enforcement exaggerates a problem to draw more resources to itself, and the media further sensationalize an issue to draw in readers. (2) Anti-trafficking efforts too often editorialize with opinions that all sex work as inherently immoral, and infer a causal link from pornography and violent media/games. These attitudes are routinely rejected by mefites, so it's no surprise that journalism espousing them is seen as suspect --- even though, in this case, the opinions are actually expressed as quotes from people trying to help trafficking victims.

The first could be countered with more statistics, preferably from a third party not invested in law enforcement. This story is heart-wrenching, but it's anecdotal. It doesn't give us any idea of the magnitude of the problem.

Personally I'm skeptical about the end-of-article throw-away claim that Holland's lax laws make it a haven for traffickers. I would expect legalization and regulation of prostitution to curtail slavery and underage prostitution, in the same way that ending prohibition made drinking alcohol safer. It would be interesting to see the relative trafficking statistics for the areas of Nevada where prostitution is legal.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:31 AM on May 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


hincandenza, I'm not sure what your issue is. You just don't want to believe this is true because it's unpleasant? That because you don't see it, it isn't there? Frankly, I think 3,000 involuntary sex workers in the Seattle area sounds about right. There just isn't a lot of political will to go after this, because 1) a frighteningly high number of men patronize sex workers, and 2) we still haven't moved beyond the idea that even a prostitute who is effectively enslaved is somehow morally suspect, making law enforcement efforts on her behalf less popular than other things.

I will not believe 300,000 until you list the names- even the "stage names" of all 300,000, their locations, and their pimps. Then I'll believe you, and ask why you aren't interceding now.

You're kidding, right? If I or anyone had that list, there would be warrants being issued. But here's the study, conducted by a group of sociologists at the University of Pennsylvania, where the 300,000 figure comes from.
posted by valkyryn at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2011 [11 favorites]


I don't know about the numbers, but every major city in the US has "oriental massage parlors" with a lot of undocumented women being trafficked. I wouldn't be surprised if a significant number are under 18 and untracked by the Census or other means we usually have of figuring out how many people, or teenagers are in this country.
posted by yeloson at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2011


So what are you saying? That it's overblown? Are you an expert on the matter? Have you made a study of media oversaturation of trafficking stories and propaganda pieces perpetuating nefarious plans to ... uh ... save sex workers who don't want to be sex workers?

This Google Trends analysis of sex trafficking supports the idea that we are seeing a moral panic of some type. Or at the very least increased media attention.

Pointing out it's a moral panic isn't the same as saying "sex trafficking is good!", obviously it isn't. It's just saying we should be cautious about overly dramatic stories that pull at our emotions. Crack babies from the 80s come to mind for me.
posted by formless at 10:42 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


orthogonality: "I'm not saying that trafficking isn't a problem, but I am suspicious when the people who get paid to solve a problem are the ones telling reporters that the magnitude of the problem is in creasing. "

I share your concern. This kind of myth-making (whether or not there's an actual issue) seems to be endemic in the police world, and crucial to both their worldview and the institutional budget process.

I occasionally work with a bunch of ex- municipal and RCMP officers. They are mostly convinced that (amongst other things) the lone 12-year-old walking past the elementary school is there to sell pot to unsuspecting grade 3 students, and the high school prostitution rings are being run by Asian gangs. They're not worried about the putative prostitution though; their agenda is to raise awareness of the Asian gang problem, because that will be worth several extra million in budget concessions from the city over the next few years.
posted by sneebler at 10:43 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


qxntpqbbbqxl has it.

Read beyond some of the wilder flights of outrage language in this article and you get some interesting arguments and facts: Does Sweden's heavy prosecution of johns really reduce prostitution by 50%? What are the effects of legalization on pimps and trafficking as opposed to more benign sex work?

When Paris's lawyer says, "This particular case is nothing more than standard pimping and prostitution—not human trafficking, bringing some girl in from Thailand. It’s the federalization of local crimes. Any street Connecticut pimp can now easily be found guilty of federal crimes. A hot-sheet motel has become an instrumentality of interstate commerce.… The feds are out looking for traffickers the way they’re all out looking for terrorists, going into some Pakistani’s shop. Human trafficking is a trendy topic now. That’s the ebb and flow of law enforcement. Prostitutes go to prostitution class, and Dennis Paris goes for life.”

I can't help thinking...uh, good? In the same way that ideal drug laws (if we must have them) would aim to get suppliers and smugglers and leave users out of prison, pimps, who don't even serve an economic purpose, should clearly be held to a more draconian punishment than anyone else. If cops want to sensationalize a little to get more resources to do exactly that, well, I'm kind of OK with it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:44 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to note hate this article, but I'm struck by how uncritically the author presents the assertions of Dr. Cooper (the term "24/7" originates with the prostitution trade??), the overly dramatic photo-recreation and other tell-tales of salacious journalism. I'm not really doubting the veracity of any of the specific claims reported by the victims, but the whole thing just leaves me uncomfortable and unsure what I really know about the prevalence of this crime.
posted by skewed at 10:44 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


That study actually comes up with an estimate for 'Children At Risk of Commercial Sexual Exploitation', not the number being trafficked.
posted by unSane at 10:44 AM on May 24, 2011


I think folks like orthogonality could do a better job of communicating their point here.

I read the entire article before coming to comment, and was at first pretty shocked to read the responses from folks who clearly hadn't read the whole thing.

But now that I've read this whole thread I see what orthogonality is saying. You've just got to understand some of us read the article, were horrified at the story, however anecdotal, and came in here to discuss it.

Staying open minded at MetaFilter, though.™
posted by Avenger50 at 10:45 AM on May 24, 2011


Valkyryn, the study you mentioned mentions 326k “at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.” That's a huge cry from "trafficked".

And this is exactly why we scream when we see crap like this Vanity Fair article: Using loaded terms, misrepresenting research, all with an axe to grind and funds to raise undermines the efforts of people to stop actual kidnapping and rape, as opposed to trying to ban all consentual sex that may involve an exchange of some sort (when it happens outside of marriage).

There is a lot of kidnapping and rape out there. Cheapening that by dummying up numbers and making sweeping claims is part of the problem, not the solution.
posted by straw at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


More on the 300,000 figure. They arrive at it in this kind of manner. They take a category, such as:
Youth under the age of 18 years who absent themselves from home or place of residence without the permission of parents or legal guardians and who, as a result of running away, are prone to becom- ing victims of sexual exploitation
They then take an estimate of the number of children in this category, and multiply it by 100% to get the 'high' scenario, 88% to get the 'medium' scenario and 75% to get the 'low' scenario. I couldn't see where they got these percentages from.

This results in a figure of 286,000 for the medium scenario.

In other words they define at risk to mean 88% of all children in the categories they describe. It's pretty much content-free when it comes to assessing the actual numbers of kids involved in the trafficking described in the article.
posted by unSane at 10:55 AM on May 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't help thinking...uh, good? In the same way that ideal drug laws (if we must have them) would aim to get suppliers and smugglers and leave users out of prison, pimps, who don't even serve an economic purpose, should clearly be held to a more draconian punishment than anyone else. If cops want to sensationalize a little to get more resources to do exactly that, well, I'm kind of OK with it.

Once forfeiture laws made the drug problem profitable to police departments, any hope of actually stopping drug trafficking went out the window. And it's the same with human trafficking. If you actually want to save the victims, god forbid policing the crime becomes profitable to cops.

See also Prohibition. You want to save the victims, legalize and regulate.
posted by orthogonality at 10:57 AM on May 24, 2011


Some of the categories include: all female gang members, all transgender street youth, etc
posted by unSane at 10:58 AM on May 24, 2011


Everyday I cry, again, for my homeland.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:01 AM on May 24, 2011


Frankly, I think 3,000 involuntary sex workers in the Seattle area sounds about right.

That sounds extraordinarily high to me. How many clients is an involuntary sex worker going to have per week? Maybe 30 or 40? How often is the average John going to indulge? Maybe once a week? The pool of potential clients, that is sexually active men with some discretionary cash in the metro area of Seattle is around a million. That makes one out of every twelve men or so a customer of involuntary sex workers. Now I haven't read the article yet but those numbers caught my eye. My estimates are very rough but I have a hard time believing that it is anywhere near that scale. I would be surprised if it was within an order of magnitude.
posted by BigSky at 11:04 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mother offers teen daughter to man for $10,000.

I'd love to get this woman alone for five minutes.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:09 AM on May 24, 2011


What unSane said.

I want the book thrown at people like those in the article; I want my police department going after guys like this, full force. I think all pimps should be ground- excuse me, Timmed- under the heel of justice.

I also don't think, as tragic as these cases are, that the problem is wide spread. I think most prostitutes are doing so of their own will, and that prostitution, like drug use, should be legal, taxed and regulated.

I recall being sickened, as were most Seattleites, to read two summers ago about a 14-year-old girl imprisoned by her psycho mother, denied almost any food or water for years. Like most, I was outraged that she only got 3 years as punishment. And I was saddened that a child could fall through the cracks and not be noticed as missing from school and in an unsafe home.

I find it hard to believe you could hide that many kidnap victims- or that the police are so incompetent they can't rescue known kidnap victims for two years.
posted by hincandenza at 11:10 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


A couple more links of interest:

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, or GEMS - the nonprofit mentioned in the article. GEMS founder Rachel Floyd is herself a formerly trafficked person. (note: I'm friends with a former GEMS employee but have no other affiliation with them).

Very Young Girls - a documentary about GEMS. Very good, if very hard to watch. If I recall correctly, in the film they say the average age is 14, so I think Ms. Floyd's point in the quote is that the average age is moving down.

Ms. Floyd also just came out with a book, Girls Like US: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself. I haven't read it yet, but it should be interesting.

Another recent book is The Commercial Exploitation of Children, by Meredith Dank. I haven't read this book either, but I've spoken to the author about the topic and came away impressed. Commercial sexual exploitation of children (or CSEC) is a very hard topic to study quantitatively, but I think she's come up with some interesting solutions to the problem.

BigSky, you forgot to calculate how many of those johns are repeat offenders.
posted by postel's law at 11:10 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, I take that back. BigSky did bring up how often johns offend.
posted by postel's law at 11:13 AM on May 24, 2011


BigSky, you forgot to calculate how many of those johns are repeat offenders.

What do you consider a more reasonable estimate for their rate of offense per week?
posted by BigSky at 11:15 AM on May 24, 2011


Jinx!
posted by BigSky at 11:15 AM on May 24, 2011


More links from my friend:

The Department of Justice uses the 300,000 number too.

The average age of entry number comes from here, although clearly that also references the Estes number (the UPenn study valkyryn linked to).

Georgia demand study.

Multiple links on the fact sheet here.

I really ought to be working right now.
posted by postel's law at 11:42 AM on May 24, 2011


This happening to ONE girl is one too many.

There is one point I have heard made both in church and in this article (my church supports groups that fight trafficing): organized crime is finding out that trafficking sex is more lucrative than trafficking drugs.

Maybe some folks can stop romanticizing sex work long enough to realize that that is NOT a good thing for either the trafficked girl or for our society. This isn't about Heidi Fliess style prostitution. This is about slavery.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:57 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


^
I don't think anyone is arguing that this is about Heidi Fliess style prostitution. The point of contention here is the scale of the problem, and the sources that law enforcement are using to support their estimation of the scale. I agree that even one is one too many. There are many things in the world where one is one too many, but we can't rush to give away unchecked resources and rights to fight these problems on anecdotal evidence. That's the argument here.
posted by reformedjerk at 12:07 PM on May 24, 2011


organized crime is finding out that trafficking sex is more lucrative than trafficking drugs

Not exactly, they are finding out that it is easier to conceal and easier to launder the money. Those have always been dificulties in the drug trade.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:12 PM on May 24, 2011


For whatever it's worth, the average age of entry into prostitution varies by which kind if prostitution you are studying. Street prostitution shows early entrance for instance. A lot of street prostitution begins though because of runaway situations, which leads into prostitution for survival and protection. But street prostitution is not representative of the entire underground market - not in the US, not in the rest of the world. In our study, called the Survey for Adult Service Providers, Todd Kendall and I studied the more event indoor, Internet based escorting conducted by primarily self-employed females for heterosexual males. In the course of doing so, we fielded a year long demographic and labor market survey that resulted in 685 respondents. You can read about the study's attempt to correct for selection bias in the sampling of the population by reading one of the paper at Todd's website (http://www.toddkendall.net).

In a forthcoming chapter in a handbook on the law and economics of the family, published by Elsevier press, we publish what we found to be the average of online prostitutes who were reviewed at a popular "client review board", and the average was 23.62 (Table 10.7).

This is not to say that there are not very young girls working as prostitutes - there are. But if you look at footnote 5 in (sorry to keep referencing my own work - and sorry not to provide links either but I have anti social software installed now and just happened to glance at this on my phone, making it a huge pain to try and embed links) my forthcoming article at the Journal of Urban Economics with Todd again (vol 69, 2011, pp 273-287), we note the literature on run a ways among streetwalkers in the US. This footnote reads: " Matthews (1993) and Brannigan and Brunschot (1997) find that runaways turn to prostitution because they have few good alternatives for survival."

As for global sex trafficking, there was an article published in Global Crime either last year or the year before (it had "Natasha" in the title) going over how unbelievably bad the prior work on trafficking has been. There is also a relatively new book out on junk science, and 2-3 of the chapters are on the bad statistics in this sex trafficking literature, particularly with regards to particular statistics that are constantly cited estimating international supply in the hundreds of thousands. When you finally track down the source of that statistic, you will find it's basically made up. Particularly the ones in international governing agency publications like who or UN.

My sense is that for a long time, both scientifc studies of sex work and trafficking have been done by non-scientifically trained groups of human rights activists. The existence and magnitudes of the problem need to move beyond ethnographic methods.
posted by scunning at 12:15 PM on May 24, 2011 [16 favorites]


reformedjerk, there are trafficked women right here in my county. For that matter, remember Shaniya Davis? Technically she was trafficked, to pay off her MOTHER'S drug debt.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:15 PM on May 24, 2011


Fine, do the studies. But whether it is dozens or thousands, there are girls out there that need to be rescued.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:16 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The findings from the Georgia study I linked to are interesting. They found that girls were engaging in 3 sex acts per day, not 30 like BigSky guessed. They found that a total of 7,200 men engaged in 8,700 sex acts with minors every month in Georgia.
posted by postel's law at 12:17 PM on May 24, 2011



Why don't we treat johns as rapists? A couple hundred rape trials would send a fairly strong message.


In Oregon, a law was just passed (pdf of main sponsor testimony) that changes the law so that "patronizing a prostitute," and prostitution are two separate crimes so that underage victims won't be charged with the same crime as the johns. The bill also has increased fines ($20,000) and mandatory jail time for repeat offenders. And not knowing the child is under 18 isn't a defense. It's not treating them as rapists, but it's better than sending teenaged girls to jail for being victims.
posted by vespabelle at 12:28 PM on May 24, 2011


This is an absolutely horrifying story and one of the things I find incredibly strange was that in the late 70's and early 80's, we really cared about "runaway" or "throwaway" teens, who are the real kids at risk here. There was constant news coverage of this issue. And then it went away.

Now, parents are actually *encouraged* to throw away their kids ("tough love"—if you don't comply, you can't live here anymore) with the idea that failing to continue to support an addicted or misbehaving kid is going to prompt recovery. Sadly, it's probably equally likely that it will make things worse (we don't know because no one actually studies this, but you hear of both outcomes all the time).

These girls were heroin addicts *before* they were pimped. If we had decent addiction treatment, mental health care and stopped this stupid idea that throwing kids away will help them, they would have been at much less risk to start out.

Girls who have safe, loving homes to go back to do not wind up disappearing into this world because their parents come after them. When we encourage parents to throw kids out, we actually enable these kinds of horrors.

Of course, that's not to say that the perpetrators aren't responsible but they'd have a lot fewer victims if we took better care of our kids collectively.

(And yes, there are some definitely questionable facts and quotes in there. For example, the idea that therapists can't cope with addiction, rape and trauma occurring all together: um, actually no, it's been known for years that early childhood trauma increases risk of both addiction and further rape and abuse. Decent therapists can deal with the combination because it's actually more likely than addiction occurring in happy, joyous people).
posted by Maias at 12:29 PM on May 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


They found that a total of 7,200 men engaged in 8,700 sex acts with minors every month in Georgia.

From the Georgia Deptartment of Corrections website, there are 753 felons currently incarcerated for statutory rape.
posted by bonehead at 12:30 PM on May 24, 2011


I don't think the article said anything about therapists in general. It is entirely possible that the girl quoted did in fact encounter a bad therapist who was incapable of helping her. How many times in AskMe do people tell somebody to shop around for the therapist that is right for them?
posted by postel's law at 12:34 PM on May 24, 2011


forensic pediatrician Dr. Sharon Cooper

Holy shit, that sounds like the most horrifying job EVER.
posted by edheil at 12:35 PM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The findings from the Georgia study I linked to are interesting. They found that girls were engaging in 3 sex acts per day, not 30 like BigSky guessed. They found that a total of 7,200 men engaged in 8,700 sex acts with minors every month in Georgia.

The Georgia study is interesting. My estimate was 30 to 40 per week, the Georgia study says just over 20.

What was more interesting though was the number of men purchasing sex per month: 20,700. It's rather disturbing that the number of men dealing with an adolescent (7,200) is more than a third of this total, especially since just under half won't turn down an adolescent when they're aware of her age going in. With the percentage of men in Georgia who have purchased sex being 23%, it's probable that the percentage of men from the total population who knowingly accepted an underage prostitute is somewhere between 3-5%.
posted by BigSky at 12:40 PM on May 24, 2011


" Matthews (1993) and Brannigan and Brunschot (1997) find that runaways turn to prostitution because they have few good alternatives for survival."

So we could eliminate much of the problem by building homeless shelters and opening group homes, and staffing then with case workers.

But just as we control drug addiction with cops and jails instead of rehab and treatment, we prefer to use cops.

Sure rehab costs less, and has better results, but it doesn't profit the prison guard unions or give "tough on crime" politicians a platform.
posted by orthogonality at 12:41 PM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love the theory that police not protecting sex workers/trafficking victims is somehow strange or unbelievable, hincandenza. I wish it were.

Police are notorious for raping and assaulting sex workers. And then arresting them. In contrast, just watching a sex worker get beat up without doing anything is fine police work.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:41 PM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh and the fact that people are willing to prosecute kids for statutory rape but not johns for statutory rape is disgusting.

Start prosecuting johns for statutory rape and see how quickly that destroys the market for 13-year-old girls.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:44 PM on May 24, 2011


St. Alia - The problem is that there are scarce law enforcement and welfare resources. We depend on careful studies to know how best to allocate those resources. It's not as though these resources don't have alternative uses - and the alternative is going to likely be at saving someone else's lives. If the science is bad, then we will allocate time and resources into combating something that may be so out of proportion that we traded lives elsewhere for zero lives gained here. The sad, but real fact is that because of scarce law enforcement and health resources, we are forced to make tradeoffs, so it is important that we get the science right.

Also, it matters if there are 300,000 or 300 if there are rising marginal costs to eliminating this problem. At 300,000, reducing the level by 100 fewer coerced prostitutes is likely going to be much easier than if the level is at 300 tying to reduce by 100. The only way it wouldn't be is coercive prostitution is scale free, but that's unlikely. Its the difference between finding a needle in a haystack when the haystack is a small mound vs if it is a gigantic mound.

These anecdotal reports are important. But they start the scientific inquiry; they are not the final word.
posted by scunning at 12:48 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just saw Very Young Girls last week (available on Netflix). One thing that really surprised me was how often pimps just kidnap 12-and-13-year-old girls, lock them in rooms together, and beat them into submission. One 12-year-old was walking home from school, a guy offered her a ride home, and then he took her far in the other direction and made her a prostitute through violence and coercion. After long enough in that situation the girl doesn't know up from down anymore. Isn't this the stuff of suburban nightmares - the stranger danger? Isn't that the most stereotypical and straightforward kidnapping? So why did this girl end up on trial for prostitution and sentenced??

Well that little girl was a little black girl from the hood. Most of the victims are racial minorities trafficked from their neighborhoods or foreigners trafficked into the country. If a little white pig-tailed all-American girl was kidnapped in that manner, the whole country would be on Amber Alert.

I also didn't realize how old so many pimps are. I guess all the videos had me thinking these were young hustlers, but they're all late-30s and 40s. And the girls are mostly under 14. This is the most obvious sexual predation there could be. The typical scenario didn't involve straight-up kidnapping (not at first) although that happens. The pimp drives down the street till he sees a likely victim, and starts flirting with her. They begin to "date". He treats her like a boyfriend, and she's 13 and very flattered. He showers money on her, takes her to the movies and out dancing. This is the way every girl thinks it should be. Then they have sex. He asks her to do him this "little favor" because he needs some money. Now she's caught up in a spiral of shame and twisted love and soon she's dead-eyed walking the streets.

One of the worst scenes was the outside of a hotel, where you watch older man after older man go through the revolving door of this one hotel room. The girls get none of the money. The sweet-talking and boyfriend treatment doesn't last long. In the documentary, they used a lot of footage filmed by pimps who thought they'd get a reality show out of it. Their tactics are just horrifying. They make the girls beat each other. They use intense shame and humiliation against these little girls. They lock them in rooms (because as beaten as these girls are, many would still try to escape).

The final thing that struck me, which was very hurtful to see but not surprising, was the judicial system. One mother had been searching for her daughter and finally found out that her daughter was locked in a room with a bunch of other trafficked girls. She goes to the cops, I guess thinking her daughter would be treated like the kidnap victim she is. They tell her it is not their job and send her on her way. I also noted the antagonism of the prosecutor who didn't even want to grant bail to another girl so she could go home with her mother. And of course the johns, who only have to go to a class while the girls are confined to a halfway house and strictly monitored.

The worst was the intense shame so many of the girls felt because of what they had been forced to do. So defensive and vulnerable. These are victims, not criminals.
posted by Danila at 1:17 PM on May 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


She goes to the cops, I guess thinking her daughter would be treated like the kidnap victim she is. They tell her it is not their job and send her on her way.
Which is why I hate the police, by the way. That's the stuff that's maddening: I cannot fathom being told that a child is kidnapped, and being a cop no less, and not caring. It's asinine that underage prostitutes were ever treated as criminals, but then that's what Americans want. They love rape and violence, they vote for it every chance they get. So yeah... I guess I am the one sane human being left, or one of the very few.

Although I still think it is moral and right for vigilante justice in this case; not to play all "internet tough guy" but what parent, having their child literally kidnapped, drugged, and forced into sex, lets the perpetrator live- regardless of the cops' indifference? Hell, how you could sleep even one night once you found out where your daughter was? These pimps aren't X-Men, they're not superheroes, they aren't untouchable royalty in a feudalistic society. Killing the pimp that kidnapped and force-raped your daughter is pretty much a classic case for jury nullification.
posted by hincandenza at 1:45 PM on May 24, 2011


Very Young Girls is on YouTube, complete.
posted by BigSky at 1:56 PM on May 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


orthogonality- that's one possibility, yes. Mind you, that is just though for the underage entry via runaway. The causes of runaway? The typical: abuse at home, fragile families, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, neglect, domestic violence, poverty and numerous unobservables. Jim Heckmans ongoing work on the returns to early childhood investments are probably really relevant here too - things like Headstart may even have tremendous ripple effects throughout the family structure as well as the kids themselves.

The thing that I think is true though is this. First, not all prostiution is the same. The heterogeneity is considerable, it is important for the very welfare concerns people everywhere have about the girls, and most importantly, it is probably the single most ignored dimension of sex work by researchers. Most researchers study streetwalkers. It's am important group - they are traditionally a vector for the spread of various STIs (particularly during the crack epidemic), and the women are more likely to report abuse from clients. We see that even our study of Internet prostitutes. If a respondent reported to have "ever solicited a customer from a public location, like a street", then they were more likely to report a client having ever physically assaulted them. But their experiences are very different from other prostitutes, and because the Internet has reduced many costs associated with this work (such as probability of arrest, detection and various search costs), it has likely caused the marginal prostitute to enter into prostitution to change. Specifically to change in the direction of the newest entrants being *less like* the women from previous studies - at least on average. In our forthcoming article entitled "Prostitution 2.0: the Changing Face of Sex Work", we document a tremendous growth in online prostitutes aged. 18-34 (Table 4, Cunningham and Kendall 2011, Journal of Urban Economics) associates with broadband diffusion. But interestingly, that age growth is not associated with declining street prostitution arrests. These younger aged women online, even the teenage ones, may not be in other words the "child runaway prostitute". Those girls are likely insensitive to the Internet factors and are still on the streets. So that is the first thing - keep in mind that this heterogeneity as it relates to prostitution matters a lot bc it specifically selects on these factors relates to the historically coerced sex worker.

The second thing to note always is that prostitution is probably always a function of poverty. Even when it is college educated escorts, it's likely that the women dipped into this market on the side because they experienced negative income shocks - divorce, unemployment, family illnesses, and so on. This is where I think people should focus more attention - broad economic development, better functioning credit markets, better health insurance. Basically, more access to resources. Most of the non-coercive prostitutes even - ie, those women who choose prostitution voluntarily because of income problems - consider sex work to be very costly along numerous dimensions. Addressing these issues are I suspect more productive than anything else. Even for coercive prostitution economic factors - often the macro instability issues are causing entry - this I think is true.

But as far as the actual prevalence of truly coercive sex work - oftentimes you see very high numbers because someone has committed a form of the "begging the question" fallacy by assuming that prostitution is *always* coercive by definition. Ron Weitzer at GWU has written about this.
posted by scunning at 2:08 PM on May 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


If a little white pig-tailed all-American girl was kidnapped in that manner, the whole country would be on Amber Alert.

Only if she's middle- to upper-middle class and the family contacts the cops, and possibly the media. Sure, white girls get more coverage than minority girls period, but it also really helps for them to be suburban, affluent, and attractive. Average-looking girls from poor neighborhoods not only are less likely to get media attention, but are far, far less likely to even be reported. People further down the socio-economic ladder tend to have less stable living conditions. In many poorer families, when a girl doesn't come home from school, mom may assume that she's either out with friends, went over to dad's place, or may not even notice until the next morning, because mom works second shift, and there isn't really an established procedure for checking in.

Really. For a lot of the families I assist in the local legal aid clinic, the answer to the question "Do you know where your children are?" is frequently "I have a rough idea, but not actually, no." This is especially true once the kids turn 12 or 13 or so. So in those cases, the authorities may not be contacted, and if they are, it could be days or weeks after the initial disappearance. The police are less interested in those cases, particularly in situations where the person has been known to disappear for a few days.
posted by valkyryn at 3:39 PM on May 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Controversy about the number of people trafficked is by no means new, and there are lots of problems with trying to reach a final number. This is a big problem, undeniably, but finding out how big is truly difficult.
posted by smoke at 4:24 PM on May 24, 2011


Unlike drug trafficking, which typically has willing participants, prostitution and the sex trade appears to have quite a few victims. Victims who are looking for a way out. Victims whom one can converse with by calling a number on craigslist or in the Yellow Pages. Wait. Okay so hold on. I'm not a police officer (INYPO), so correct my thinking here. Why don't they just call up these numbers, meet the women at some hotel or motel, and state they are going to arrest them for prostitution, they take them into the station, question them about their situation, and give them the option of proceeding with a criminal case or, in exchange for their testimony against their pimps, rehab?

Now I'm sure this is wildly implausible for some reason, but the first thing that came to mind when the one officer was all like "whaaaaa, who knew this kind of evil evilness was happening right here in Hartford!" was to think: well, shit, Sherlock, they are sort of advertising in every possible fucking convenient place they can think of. I mean, if a cop can roll a prostitute or john on the street, why can't they call "Magnificent" up and arrange a meeting?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:40 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for global sex trafficking, there was an article published in Global Crime either last year or the year before (it had "Natasha" in the title) going over how unbelievably bad the prior work on trafficking has been. There is also a relatively new book out on junk science, and 2-3 of the chapters are on the bad statistics in this sex trafficking literature, particularly with regards to particular statistics that are constantly cited estimating international supply in the hundreds of thousands. When you finally track down the source of that statistic, you will find it's basically made up. Particularly the ones in international governing agency publications like who or UN.


A friend of mine, a graduate student in my department, is writing her dissertation on the sex trafficking of Russian-Jewish women from the Pale of Settlement from roughly 1890-1930. I'm garbling her argument here but here are the main points. Apparently there was almost no solid data involved at all. There was precisely the same kind of moral panic over trafficking ginned up by primarily Anglo-American activist organizations with no real knowledge of the numbers or nature of the women involved, still less of whether they had been coerced or not. Governments (and eventually the League of Nations) were more than eager to buy into this, because it extended their ability to police female and lower-class sexual behavior, and in Imperial Russia the result was basically the dismantling of a functional system of legal and regulated brothels (which included things like screening for STDs) and its replacement by underground and unregulated prostitution which could only be policed repressively. It's not actually clear whether there was ever a sex-trafficking problem at all, and if there was whether it had been in any way alleviated by the results of the moral panic.


(Also, there's no such thing as the "Russian mob," only individual Russian mobsters organized in loose confederations. There's no hierarchical and traditional system like the Mafia to hold them together.)
posted by nasreddin at 6:00 PM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why don't they just call up these numbers, meet the women at some hotel or motel, and state they are going to arrest them for prostitution, they take them into the station, question them about their situation, and give them the option of proceeding with a criminal case or, in exchange for their testimony against their pimps, rehab?

The girls who are well and truly trafficked don't actually answer their own phones. Probably don't even have access to them. The advertising is done for them by their pimps, and anyone who calls a number gets a pimp or one of their employees, not the girls directly.

well, shit, Sherlock, they are sort of advertising in every possible fucking convenient place they can think of.

This is where the Fourth Amendment comes back into play. There are lot of establishments that "everyone knows" are sketchy, but as long as the services they advertise are technically legal, they do not constitute the probable cause necessary for a search or warrant. To prove that slang terms actually mean what we all sort of know them to mean to a sufficient degree to satisfy the requirements of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence requires a lot of police work.
posted by valkyryn at 6:01 PM on May 24, 2011


The girls who are well and truly trafficked don't actually answer their own phones. Probably don't even have access to them. The advertising is done for them by their pimps, and anyone who calls a number gets a pimp or one of their employees, not the girls directly.

Yeah, I guess in my hurried post I didn't really explain that clearly. I didn't mean you'd call the girl up and ask her out on a date. Ultimately it doesn't matter who picks up. You talk to the pimp and arrange a meeting somewhere. Then you go there and you talk to the girl.

There are lot of establishments that "everyone knows" are sketchy, but as long as the services they advertise are technically legal, they do not constitute the probable cause necessary for a search or warrant. To prove that slang terms actually mean what we all sort of know them to mean to a sufficient degree to satisfy the requirements of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence requires a lot of police work.

I do get this, but at the same time, couldn't you call those establishments, get an "escort" for the night, and when she offers sex for money, you book her? Then take her in for questioning? I'm not talking about making an arrest simply because someone is advertising on craigslist. I'm talking about doing police work by using the numbers and contacts these pimps are publishing in public forums to make contact with the women and possibly even the pimps to figure out where these women are being held (johns were being brought to the place where the girls were held captive), identifying and establishing a rapport with the individuals involved, etc. They couldn't stay in business if they had to vet every possible john that called the number listed in the back of the local paper. Maybe police do this already. Call up the numbers and ask what services are offered.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:13 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's wildly implausible because no one will pay for it. Police officers, the occasional doughnut break aside, have something to do all the time. If they stop whatever that is and call/counsel victims, who's going to do the job those officers were doing before, and who's going to pay them? In my enlightened city of 7,000,000, people won't even pay enough taxes to keep the ratio of police officers to inhabitants from falling year after year. Then, what happens to the victim after that? Ever been badly beaten up? Whichever of your routes she chooses she's going to need 24/7 protection. If taxpayers won't even pay enough to maintain the force, they certainly aren't going to pay to protect prostitutes--they won't even pay to protect innocent wives or children now. Everything commenters have said about the police above is pretty much true, but the fact is most of us really need them to protect us from the rest of us. If we won't even pay for enough of them to do that, how can we expect them to do social work at the same time. It absolutely should be done, but until taxpayers' priorities shift dramatically, how are you going to make it happen?
posted by carping demon at 6:17 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. But they do find the time to cruise the city streets looking for random johns and prostitutes to pick up. If this is transitioning to the internet, I'm wondering how much of the police work is changing in that direction, too.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:21 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, I think most of them are most often cruising for whatever comes up, and only a few are dedicated to looking for johns and girls. At least, I hope they are. If enforcement is going to change in the direction of the internet, it's going to be at least as expensive. Most officers already know how to drive. But to create, train and maintain enough of a system to transition a significant portion of vice enforcement to the internet would be a tremendous undertaking, and there is almost no extant body of statute or regulation pertaining to that type of enforcement. The problem remains the same--who will agree to pay for it, and when will they agree?
posted by carping demon at 6:42 PM on May 24, 2011


Regarding prostitution and our tendency to criminalize and attack the suppliers: I'm curious what other possibilities there are and what their effects on society might be.

Obviously the demand for sex is high and a lot of people are unsatisfied with their sex lives, causing this terrible human black market is propped up as a result. There's a lot of discussion on how to crush this sex trade, but it sounds quite difficult to do considering that the demand will probably always be there.

What are the pros and cons of more positive approaches? Legalized and unregulated? Legalized and regulated? Would this put the pimps out of business? What would be the business model? "Self-employed" prostitutes or some kind of registered bordello?

In fact, beyond even the prostitution question, I'm curious about what kind of effect this would have on the country as a whole. I think it is understood that human sex drive is one of the most important influences on human behavior and that a healthy sex life can be important to physical and mental well-being, but how exactly? Is there research to show that people who have sex regularly are less violent, or work more efficiently, or live longer? If so, couldn't a "positive sex" policy make an important improvement to people's lives? I suppose the dominant culture tends to mildly frown on sex so it has never been seriously considered.

Sorry to question dump, but there are just so many questions here!
posted by Winnemac at 6:44 PM on May 24, 2011


Why don't they just call up these numbers, meet the women at some hotel or motel, and state they are going to arrest them for prostitution, they take them into the station, question them about their situation, and give them the option of proceeding with a criminal case or, in exchange for their testimony against their pimps, rehab?

Previously on Metafilter, why it is so difficult to go after the pimps/traffickers.

It is so much easier and cheaper to go after the girls. Police are rewarded for the number of arrests.
posted by Danila at 7:12 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


couldn't you call those establishments, get an "escort" for the night, and when she offers sex for money, you book her? Then take her in for questioning?

Yep. And it happens. But two things.

First, this is only likely to net you the girl, who isn't likely to be able to provide you with enough evidence to go after her pimp, whose real name she may not even know. So it's kind of a low-odds proposition.

Second,as carping demon points out, this just isn't a priority for most police departments, because rings like the one described here tend to be pretty invisible. In my town, the cops regularly go after "Asian massage parlors," but that's probably mostly because everyone can see where they are, and neighbors complain. Sheriff's gotta appear sensitive to his constituents, eh? But a ring like this one doesn't own property and thus doesn't have a public presence of the sort which would attract the attention of the community. Sketchy people renting hotel rooms doesn't bring down property values the way a brothel does. Absent such pressure, the cops will naturally devote their resources elsewhere.
posted by valkyryn at 2:23 AM on May 25, 2011


Local press and politicians round here are very fond of saying how Amsterdam's red light district is a magnet for international sex traffickers. They also like to tell the story of "loverboys", the disaffected young Moroccan men who prey on vulnerable Dutch girls, before selling them into prostitution. These narratives serve the purposes of some of the local politicians, which is to feed moral panic and popular prejudices, so that they can clean up the red light district and develop some of its incredibly valuable real estate. Of course, all this fails to recognize the fact that the city's prosperity resides with its status as the International Naughty Place, and pulling the plug on the red light district would also jeopardize the rest of the city's cultural life, so the political will to do anything concrete is somewhat diluted.

Meanwhile, if you talk to the local Salvation Army, who are operating on the ground in the neighborhood, they'll tell you something different: that the working girls are mostly Dutch, and so are most of the pimps. And while none of the women have a nice tale to tell about how they got into the game, there at least remains the possibility to reach them and build a social safety net for them. This is not to say it isn't a mess, it's just much more complicated and not so easy to demonize if you put it like this.

Having dug around into some official studies into the loverboy phenomenon (a few isolated cases of Moroccan pimps among a sea of Dutchmen) and searched for concrete accounts of international trafficking (reliable reports all but non-existant), I worry that sensational journalism does very little to help abused women or improve working conditions, and might make things even worse, particularly when it's supported by anecdotes and statistics which seem very easy to discredit (WARNING: dr brooke magnanti!).

That said, I think we can all agree that prostitution isn't going away anytime soon, and I don't doubt that women are being mishandled. What I'd like to see is a bit more reasoned discussion about the consequences of different policy models. How, for instance, has the Swedish policy of prosecuting punters affected the flesh trade? Are conditions for sex workers there better, or worse, than they are in the Netherlands? If the average age of entry really is dropping, what are the social factors driving it downwards?

But I won't hold my breath. Shock horror moral panic always makes more column inches.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 5:32 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm doing my Masters thesis on the "Woman who fell from the sky" family of Native American creation myths and its translation in contemporary writing by Joy Harjo; how her poem "The woman who fell from the sky" links to a traumatic split suffered by Native Americans, in part the trauma of boarding schools. "He watched her once make the ascent, after a severe beating. No one could touch the soul masked by name, age and tribal affiliation. Myth was as real as a scalp being scraped for lice."

Funny how MeFi and real life overlap... today I started the part on sexual abuse in boarding schools. It's not a major part of my thesis, so I hadn't researched it in detail until today. (I grew up with Native American friends, so already had a general idea of what went on in boarding schools and the suffering it caused.) In my continuing naivety, I also had assumed that these horrors were now relegated to the past. So when I saw this post on MeFi and thought, "hm, I wonder if Indian boarding/residential schools" (US/Canada terminology, respectively) "were at all linked to this kind of trafficking," I immediately thought, "goodness no, boarding schools were closed long ago."

No, in the US, they aren't all closed. And yes, apparently they are linked to child prostitution and trafficking.

From that link:
Termed “institutionalized pedophilia” by BC Supreme Court Justice Douglas Hogarth in his 1995 sentencing of Alberni residential school sex criminal Arthur Plint, the system to provide native children for sexual and sadistic purposes to powerful figures did not end with the closing of the last BC Indian residential school in 1984. Rather, it has become more covert and shielded from scrutiny by its operation through Indian reserves under the auspices of particular aboriginal leaders who apparently enjoy special protection from the federal government and senior judges in BC.

The first documented evidence of this native pedophile system appeared in April, 1994 when a native lawyer in Vancouver, Renate Auger, filed a writ in the BC Supreme Court which charged judges, lawyers, and officials of the Law Society with criminal acts including aiding and protecting pedophiles. Auger and her own lawyer, Jack Cram, claimed to have photographic evidence that at least two Supreme Court judges were engaged in pedophilia and were using their office to shelter other pedophiles who were preying on native children. Auger separately named the prestigious Vancouver Club as a major site for this criminal behaviour. (see Documents, Writ of Renate Auger dated 6 April, 1994, No. C941542).

Auger’s case was dismissed and she was quickly disbarred from the legal profession without any explanation or due process. While attempting to defend her, Renate’s lawyer, Jack Cram, was dragged from court by sheriffs, sedated against his will, and confined in a psychiatric hospital for over a week, during which time his office was ransacked and the evidence of judicial involvement in pedophilia disappeared. According to his former law partner, Elayne Crompton, “Jack was stomped on big time because he had the proof that could put away Supreme Court judges, and the powerful men they protect. This goes to the highest levels of power.” (Statement to Kevin Annett, Langley, BC, September 12, 1998)
As I said, this is but one piece of the puzzle in my own thesis, so I don't have the time (or, honestly, the willpower – I'm immensely grateful for those in this world who do) to go in-depth and see what's what and what might be not. Who knows, with the great combination of people we have here at MeFi, maybe someone else knows more.

But I can say, from the large amount of contemporary Native American literature I have read, that mentions of trauma resulting from childhood physical and sexual abuse in boarding schools are so common that I've come to expect them whenever I start reading a new work.
posted by fraula at 5:34 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, that Cram/Auger story is paranoid delusional stuff that dates from exactly the time that stories of satanic abuse rings were circulating. I investigated a bunch of these as a journalist and although there was often a garden variety abuse case lurking around in the weeds, the conspiracy theory parts about secret rings of judges, politicians and other illuminati were total bunk.

Cram himself was treated for paranoid schizophrenia in a mental hospital after being committed by his wife, and dropped all his court cases. He was removed from the court because he ran into the gallery and got into a yelling match with the judge. Auger was suspended from her practice because she didn't keep her books properly. A couple of google searches will throw up most of the story but this one gives you a sense of the level of crazy involved.
posted by unSane at 6:24 AM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


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