Doubling Down

Image by Stuart Miles, courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Stuart Miles, courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

As I’ve pointed out many times, moral panics do not slowly decline until they vanish; rather, they continue to grow until they begin to rot from within like an overripe fruit, then they burst and spread their noxious juices everywhere.  Seen from some angles, though, the panic may seem as robust as ever right up until the end.  One of the areas in which this is so is the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), the anemic American counterpart to the BBC; because both networks (and the US equivalent to BBC radio, National Public Radio [NPR]) depend on government sufferance for their funds, it is completely unsurprising that they have pandered shamelessly to the “sex trafficking” narrative both the UK and US governments have used to excuse xenophobia, asset seizure and an expansion of the police state.  Still, it’s fascinating that at a time when the paradigm’s critics are becoming ever-bolder and getting increasing attention from the media, PBS still feels comfortable getting behind yet another self-aggrandizing project of the pathologically-smarmy Nick Kristof, especially one which shamelessly doubles down on the absurd claims which have become the hallmark of “sex trafficking” hysteria.

The nonsense starts right from the lede of this adulatory Guardian advert for the show, with the ludicrous claim that “each year 100,000 American girls and women are coerced into prostitution.”  Setting aside for a moment that there are only about 450,000 sex workers at a time in the US, let’s just judge the claim exactly as presented.  “Sex trafficking” fetishists are also very fond of pretending that the average “sex trafficking victim” only lives for 7 years once she starts seeing clients, so that would mean there were about 700,000 “sex trafficking victims” in the US at any given time (we’re also told that the average “victim” is 13 and dies at 34, but let’s not think too hard right now about how one can subtract 13 from 34 and arrive at 7).  Claims for the number of clients per day range from a high-but-reasonable 5 to a literally-impossible 110, but for the sake of argument let’s go with the not-atypical claim of 20-48, which is to say 34 (related to the spurious death age by magical numerology, perhaps).  This would mean that on any given day, 700,000 x 34 or 23,800,000 American men – roughly a fifth of the entire adult male population – was paying for sex with such a “victim”.  Unless we believe that every one of these monsters can afford to pay for sex several times a week, the inescapable conclusion is that every single adult American man, including Nick Kristof, is paying for sex with a “sex trafficking victim” every single week of his life.  Yet other ignoramuses tell us that only about 10% of men have ever paid for sex; are you beginning to understand why I find the pronouncements of prohibitionists so ridiculous?

The rest of the article is no less absurd.  There’s the usual bootlicking presentation of every asinine proclamation of cops as though it came straight from the Delphic oracle, the typical demonization of clients (which as we have seen above, include every single American man including the cops and Nick Kristof), the denial of the agency of every single sex worker, the mythmaking about “pimps” who in real life barely even exist, the libeling of escort services as “sex trafficking”, and the reiteration of the same dubious statistics as every other “sex trafficking” scare story.  There is also the grotesque lionization of the vile Tom Dart, a monster who tries to make it look as though he’s targeting “demand” by charging male and transwoman sex workers as clients, and of course the lurid presentation of underage-streetwalker porn for the wanking pleasure of the oh-so-moral audience who salivate at the thought of young girls being dominated by stereotyped “pimps” and raped by cops.  In short, it’s an ugly, repetitious pile of filth standing in obscene disregard of the increasingly-publicized truth about “sex trafficking” hysteria, but you can bet Kristof and his “rescue” cronies will continue to milk it for all the cash and publicity they can get, right up until the point it erupts like a turgid pustule.

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  • I’m a big fan of Ben Goldacre, who writes (independently) at The Guardian in the UK about bad science, especially bad statistics as they are presented in the media.
    Thank you for an intelligent response to the moral hysteria about trafficking and prostitution. It’d be easy to shout and scream at Kristof et al, but the best response is a debunking one. Yes, trafficking happens, so let’s be factual about that before we make all sex workers the scapegoats.
    I’m a licensed, straight male escort in Australia. It’s not a perfect system here, but it’s 100 times better than the UK and US.

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