So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success. - Hans Christian Andersen
In Andersen’s tale the Emperor, his court and his subjects are all taken in by con artists who claim to have made him a suit of magical cloth which is invisible to fools and those unfit for their positions; of course nobody wants to admit that he can’t see the clothes, and so everyone pretends to admire them despite the evidence of his own eyes. The scammers who weave the insubstantial “sex trafficking” fantasy are something like that, except that in this case they claim that those who can’t see their tissue of nothing are “evil” or “sick” or “don’t care about children”. So everyone follows along with the procession, proclaiming how terrible this epidemic is, and how we have to “do something” about it no matter what the cost, despite the fact that they themselves can’t see a scrap of evidence for the existence of this horrible garment. Like the people in the story they all take each other’s word that the thing exists, but unlike those people they ignore the voices shouting “but he has nothing on!” instead of recognizing the truth of the statement.
I’ve run into several examples of the syndrome recently; as you will see, these writers are clearly not entirely devoid of skepticism, yet still refuse to call “sex trafficking” hysteria what it is. The first example appeared two months ago in Gawker; it’s entitled “A Timeline of Moral Panics in the Last Decade”, and though author Max Read clearly understands both the concept of a “moral panic” and the necessity of extraordinary claims being supported by, you know, like evidence and stuff, “sex trafficking” hysteria is conspicuous by its absence. It’s not just that he avoids politically popular scares; he’s perfectly willing to call “cyberbullying” on the carpet. But “trafficking”? Not a whisper.
More recently, Gawker subsidiary Jezebel published “A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism”, whose author lists what she obviously considers ALL the ways (“complete guide”) in which young, middle-class white people display racism while pretending that they’re not racists. Since I don’t have television, don’t read pop-culture magazines like People, don’t live in a city, and don’t go to “hip” places when I visit cities, I honestly have no idea what most of author Lindy West’s examples are even about. But I do know that caring oh-so-much about brown people and following celebrities who “tweet” about “rescuing girls from sex slavery” and shutting down Backpage is practically the definition of “hip”…and it’s entirely based on the incredibly racist premise that brown people are so simple and childlike that if they leave their quaint, picturesque villages to work in nasty, rich white people’s countries or seedy, unwholesome brothels in their own or nearby countries, it must be because their simple, childlike minds were deceived by evil men and they were “trafficked” to those places. The idea that maybe they chose the best available option (just like white people do) and relocated for more lucrative work (just like white people do) never occurs to these “hipster racists”, nor does the realization that maybe they neither want nor need white saviors to “rescue” them from their own decisions, and that perhaps they might resent their meddling and condescension. But apparently, Lindy feels that pop covers of hip-hop songs are much more racist than infantilization of millions based on the work they choose to do.
But lest you think this refusal to acknowledge reality for fear of what others might think is limited to Gawker bloggers, consider Sex Panic and the Punitive State by Roger Lancaster, a recent work about moral panics that wholly ignores sex trafficking hysteria. Here’s an April 28th review by Dr. Laura Agustín:
…For all Lancaster’s broad inclusivity in his thesis and in his construction of a narrative of sexual crime, he fails to account for the single most widespread sexual-crime issue in the United States: the persecution of prostitutes/sex workers, treated as anti-social offenders, in virulently punitive, long-infamous legal policy. Where are the figures on arrests of prostitutes in the panoply of ills Lancaster reveals? Is this egregious injustice deemed somehow different, and if so, why?…In the current anti-trafficking hysteria in the United States, lawmakers and activists alike conflate trafficking with prostitution as a tactic to promote abolitionism. Women who sell sex are divested of will and figured as helpless children in a deliberate attempt to provoke further panic. Does this scenario not fit into Lancaster’s narrative, or how does it fit?
…Leaving aside adults, child sex trafficking surely constitutes the most vibrant panic of the last few years, despite a lack of evidence that it actually exists (what does exist are teens who leave home)…Law enforcement chiefs from numerous states have joined the targeting of online classified advertising services like Craigslist and Backpage, with the justification that minors are being sold there by traffickers. Simultaneously, everyone ignores the palpable harm for adult female sex workers caused by these campaigns; apparently no one is bothered. The absence in Lancaster’s account of the adult woman who sells sex reproduces the social death society inflicts continually on this group, as though prostitution were obviously different, separate, real, or intransigent–having nothing to do with the history of panic at hand…
I suspect Lancaster is silent on the issue for the same reason the others listed here and so many journalists are: though they may perceive the Imperial nudity, they are afraid of admitting it for fear of moral censure. And until the mainstream media are willing to join us in announcing the truth, the ridiculous procession will continue on just as if the garments existed.
One Year Ago Today
“Harm Magnification” explains how laws against consensual behaviors invariably inflict harm both on those they restrict and on society in general.