I really know nothing more criminal, more mean, and more ridiculous than lying. It is the production either of malice, cowardice, or vanity; and generally misses of its aim in every one of these views; for lies are always detected, sooner or later. - Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield
In the 1980s, American comedian Jon Lovitz created a comic character called “Tommy Flanagan, The Pathological Liar”; he would construct absurd and convoluted lies, and when satisfied with them would declare, “That’s the ticket!” Sometimes when one reads the wildly-exaggerated poppycock disseminated by trafficking fanatics, one can hear Lovitz’s voice: “There are lots of sex slaves in the world…27 million of ‘em, yeah! And most of them are young, real young…75% of them are below 25, yeah! And the average age is 13! That’s the ticket!” Sadly, this stuff isn’t just part of a comedy routine; it’s taken very seriously by people who lack the math skills necessary to calculate how many eggs are in a dozen, yet make grandiose pronouncements that adversely affect the lives of millions of sex workers.
Here’s a recent example from a French prohibitionist group named Fondation Scelles:
Yes, prostitution is the “world’s oldest profession.” But it’s also a booming and decidedly global business, according to a new report from Fondation Scelles…Between 40 and 42 million people around the world are prostitutes, with 80 percent of them female and about 75 percent of them between the ages of 13 and 25. Here’s a map of where they live, which Fondation Scelles reportedly produced in 2010. It shows national concentration by number of prostitutes per 1,000 people. Fondation Scelle had no data for the countries labeled green…
It has no data for most of the other countries, either; it just made the whole thing up. Do you honestly believe China has the highest concentration of whores in the world? Because I don’t, and I doubt the Chinese government does either. Similarly, I doubt the home of the Swedish model would be happy with the group’s declaration that it has the same concentration of prostitutes as Australia, where the profession is largely legal, and that both are similar to Indonesia. How did the group arrive at these “estimates”? It doesn’t say, of course! But its declaration that “75% of prostitutes are between 13 and 25” should give you an idea, considering that we know the average Western prostitute doesn’t even enter the trade until 25.
Clearly, until there is worldwide decriminalization we can’t even begin to know with anything resembling certainty how many prostitutes there are worldwide. In Western countries the fraction is probably similar to the number in the US, 0.285% (just under 3 per 1000); in very poor urban areas it might climb as high as 2.5% of the female population (the highest guess on the map) but I’m unsure how many of those there might be. In the 19th century, the fraction of the female population working as prostitutes in a typical European or American city was 5.5%, but there were fewer work options for women and even then the fraction was much lower in rural areas (possibly below 1%). If we simply average these figures, we do indeed come up with about 42 million (the average of 8.5 million and 75 million), but that would presume a minimum density of 2.85/thousand, which isn’t what their map shows. Furthermore, Dutch censuses show that only about 10% of prostitutes are male; I suspect their 20% figure is based on some unnamed study of underage streetwalker populations, which as the John Jay study demonstrated have a much higher ratio of male to female.
In total population and fraction of male participants, then, the study isn’t wildly wrong (though its map does not agree with its guesses); it’s only off by (very roughly) double in both cases. It’s when they slap in that “75% between 13 and 25” that their statements enter the realm of fantasy. Even if the average entry in developing countries were an incredible eight years younger than in Western ones (i.e. 17), and the proportion of prostitutes in the population dramatically higher in such countries (which isn’t what their map claims), that would still put the average prostitute in the world entering her trade at 19…and to arrive at that number I had to presume that 75% of all whores live in the developing world, which is neither supported by evidence nor claimed by Fondation Scelles. In other words, if I bend over backward, making some highly dubious assumptions in an attempt to get their numbers to work, the closest approach I can manage is a guesstimate of 75% of all prostitutes falling between 19 and 25 (if we arbitrarily assume an average professional life of six years before exit). Simply put, there is absolutely no legitimate set of assumptions that can possibly generate an average age of 19 for all working prostitutes even in the most impoverished developing nations, much less over the entire globe; it’s the sort of whopper even Tommy Flanagan might hesitate to tell.
One Year Ago Today
“Life Imitates Artifice” presents figures showing that there was literally NO increase in prostitution during last year’s Super Bowl, and presents two cases in which prohibitionist hype actually inspired criminals to commit crimes.