Democracy encourages the majority to decide things about which the majority is blissfully ignorant. – John Simon
One of the more insidious forms of lawheadedness is the widespread belief that political fictions have a basis in reality. For example, neofeminism rests on the confusion of legal equality with actual equality, in other words the belief that because the law generally treats the sexes alike that means they actually are alike. Another such belief is that the legal equation of teenagers with children (both are “legal minors”) means that teenagers actually are children in some real way, and that a man who is attracted to a hot 16-year-old is therefore a “pedophile”. But possibly the most dangerous confusion of all is the idea, common in the modern world, that because leaders are chosen and a few legal questions decided by majority vote, it also means that the truth can be decided the same way. We often hear some permutation of the phrase which forms today’s title, but it’s total and complete nonsense: the majority not only can be wrong, on subjects requiring specialized or firsthand knowledge, it nearly always is wrong. I can assure you that no matter how many people vote on it, no matter how many signatures one collects on a petition, no matter how many self-appointed “leaders” demand it, facts will stubbornly remain in place. You can’t make men and women psychologically identical by majority vote, you can’t raise the speed of light by petition and you can’t legislate pi to be a rational number. And no matter how many people claim that “children are being sold for sex” on Backpage, it’s still pure bullshit.
Where do we even start with this? First of all, no prostitute (voluntary or involuntary) is “sold for sex” or “sells her body”; as has been pointed out many times by many whore-activists, the act of selling automatically includes a change of ownership: if the supposed purchaser does not take possession of the goods supposedly “sold”, no sale has taken place. I still own my body, therefore I have never sold it; the same can be said for any other prostitute, either above or below the local age of consent. And since nobody is alleging that anyone ever advertised on Backpage to literally sell a girl as a slave, with ownership changing hands, the statement that “children [or anybody else] are sold for sex [or any other purpose] on Backpage” is prima facie fraudulent.
Next, there’s that word “children” again; every supposed case I’ve ever seen lists the alleged prostitute’s age as 13-17. I doubt anyone other than a hopeless lawhead would consider a 17-year-old to be a “child” in any meaningful sense, and considering that the age of consent in some American states is as low as 14, clearly the legislatures of those states don’t consider someone of that age to be truly a “child” either. That leaves 13-year-olds, most of whom are biologically capable of pregnancy and are therefore not children. Using the phrase “underage prostitutes are often advertised on Backpage” wouldn’t have nearly the emotional impact as “children sold for sex”, but at least it would be true, wouldn’t it?
In a word, no. See, there’s still that passive voice issue: “are sold for sex” or “are advertised” imply that the whore is the passive subject of some “trafficker”, but as we have seen fewer than 16% of underage prostitutes have even met a pimp, and 75% of them work only on the street. There are fewer than 16,000 underage prostitutes in the U.S.; if only a quarter are other than streetwalkers, and if only 16% of <4000 girls are “pimped”, we’re looking at about 600 “pimped” underage girls in the entire country who aren’t streetwalkers…and the majority of those probably work in clandestine brothels rather than even attempting to advertise online. The F.B.I.’s lugubriously named “Operation Innocence Lost” barely even bothers with the internet; as reported in my column of one year ago today, most of the young hookers they arrest (excuse me, “rescue”) are caught on the street or at truck stops. Altogether, there are probably about 100 prostitutes in the entire country who meet all the hysterics’ criteria (underage, pimped online advertisers), or about 2 per state…sad, but hardly enough to justify shutting down an entire advertising venue on the grounds that those 2 girls might possibly choose to advertise on the targeted venue rather than one of the many other sites available. It would be like banning peanuts because they’re the agent of a common food allergy and 11 people die each year from all food allergies combined.
But since the fanatics are so fond of saying “if even ONE CHILD is saved it will be worth it!!!!11!!eleven!!”, I hardly think that they’ll respond to this logic, so let’s look at the final issue: a pesky thing called the Constitution. A federal judge recently ruled that, as previously established many times, internet advertising venues are not responsible for user-generated content. Nor is the case a generic one; the ruling specifically dismissed a lawsuit by a former teen prostitute who claimed Backpage was responsible for an ad she was persuaded (not forced) to allow a pimp to place. Of course, the attorneys general of 44 states (who apparently labor under the delusion so common to state-employed lawyers, that the law is whatever they want it to be) greeted this ruling with a toothless demand that Backpage take down its adult services section; Backpage ignored the demand because, as the attorneys surely recognized themselves, it had no legal validity.
As one might expect, this inspired the fanatics to redouble their efforts (as Santayana tells us fanatics are wont to do) by starting a petition to “force” Backpage to stop doing what it’s legally and morally entitled to do, namely give adult women a low-cost place to advertise an honest and necessary service. And as Laura Agustín reported, a group of 36 clergymen took out a full-page ad in the October 25th New York Times to make the same demand. Their “open letter” begins with the spectacularly asinine statement “It is a basic fact of the moral universe that girls and boys should not be sold for sex”; I’ve already pointed out the absurdity of the phrase “sold for sex” above, and Laura Agustín says the rest perfectly:
There are no rules of the moral universe because there is no moral universe, even about children and sex, not to mention about the exchange of money for sex. The idea that there is some absolute place where everyone will agree on morality is an illusion held by some people with little imagination, who universalise their own experiences. On top of that fantasy they build campaigns in which all other moral senses are turned into crime, sin and perversity.
Dr. Agustín also called attention to this Huffington Post coverage of the story, illustrated with a picture of Demi Moore exploiting an old Indian woman for her publicity. I wonder if she asked the woman to move into position for the photo? If so, the woman was “trafficked”. And if Moore paid her, she was “sold for publicity”. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? And to those of us who recognize that sex isn’t some magical sacred taboo which destroys anyone who uses it in a way prudes pronounce “wrong”, the mythology of “sex trafficking” sounds just as stupid…no matter how many people believe it.