Knowledge is a great and very useful quality; those who despise it give evidence enough of their stupidity. – Michel de Montaigne
Regular readers know what a large fraction of the American public seems unable to comprehend: that the numbers of “slaves” claimed by trafficking fetishists are not only so outlandish that even some “trafficking” researchers question them, but also completely unsupported by anything police agencies in any country have ever been able to verify. In a textbook example of circular logic, fetishists claim that this somehow proves that “modern slavery” is so insidious it must be pursued with ever-increasing criminalization; of course, it would look exactly the same if “trafficking” were rare, but if one mentions that the fetishists point to their “estimates”…which the various organizations borrow from one another in an immense daisy-chain of incestuous inter-attribution which starts and ends nowhere. On April 2nd I told you about the incredibly flawed way in which Kevin Bales, frequently quoted as an “authority”, derives his wild guesses:
Bales starts with [a US State Department] “estimate” of unknown derivation, “adjusts” it by a factor based on media reports (which often repeat each other and obviously increase dramatically during a moral panic), presumes without evidence that the proportion of reports to actual incidents is low, multiplies the result by guesses from prohibitionists with an anti-whore agenda, then rounds up. When I made my own estimate of the number of US prostitutes I used solid data from a methodologically-sound survey, and cross-checked it [as explained in my column of one year ago today] via another widely accepted study; the results are both credible and jibe with figures extrapolated from historical data. Bales’ [method], on the other hand…is specifically designed to produce ever-increasing results: wildly-exaggerated “estimates” fuel the hysteria, which in turn generates more media reports, which dramatically increases the “adjustment factor”, thus generating ever-higher “estimates” which ratchet up the hysteria…and so on and on, ad nauseam. The current claim surpasses the population of Australia by a comfortable margin…
Speaking of Australia, government-sponsored researchers in New South Wales have recently released a report which supports the strategy of sex worker advocates over that of the prohibitionists with cold, hard facts. See, the critical problem with the incredibly-inflated claims of prohibitionists isn’t that they’re wrong; it’s that once people accept anyone as an authority on facts, it is far more likely that they will also accept him as an authority on matters of policy. In other words, if John Q. Public thinks the numbers put forth by the Polaris Project and CATW are credible, he’s that much more likely to accept their claims that the best way to control the supposed “crisis” is via increased criminalization of sex work. Rights activists, on the other hand, repeatedly point out that no matter how many or how few “trafficking victims” there are, their exploitation is greatly facilitated by criminalization; removal of the laws which exacerbate the problem is therefore the best way to control it even if it were as widespread as fanatics claim. If we’re right, sexual exploitation should therefore be especially rare in jurisdictions which have decriminalized prostitution…and indeed that is so. New Zealand hasn’t had a case of “sex trafficking” in years, and according to the aforementioned report it has essentially vanished in Sydney as well since 1995 (the date of effective decriminalization in NSW), even if one classes ALL undocumented immigrant prostitutes as “trafficked”:
Some individuals…contend that hundreds of Asian women are trafficked to brothels in Australia but present little evidence. The Federal Government, in response to international anti-trafficking agreements funded a large-scale investigation into these allegations…since 2004, 119 women ‘discovered’ in NSW have been involved in a…Government support program for people trafficked into the sex industry, but there have only been a handful of successful prosecutions…The [research] team found no evidence of recent trafficking of female sex workers in the Sydney brothel survey…or in a clinic study…This was in marked contrast to the 1990s when contacted women from Thailand were common in Sydney…
That report is well worth reading (or at least scanning); it states that New South Wales has “the healthiest sex industry ever documented” and advised the government to scrap most of the few remaining laws. Here are a few excerpts from the recommendations section:
…reforms that decriminalized adult sex work have improved human rights; removed police corruption; netted savings for the criminal justice system; and enhanced the surveillance, health promotion, and safety of the NSW sex industry. International authorities regard the NSW regulatory framework as best practice. Contrary to early concerns the NSW sex industry has not increased in size or visibility, and sex work remains stigmatised…Licensing of sex work (‘legalisation’) should not be regarded as a viable legislative response. For over a century systems that require licensing of sex workers or brothels have consistently failed – most jurisdictions that once had licensing systems have abandoned them. As most sex workers remain unlicensed criminal codes remain in force, leaving the potential for police corruption. Licensing systems are expensive and difficult to administer, and they always generate an unlicensed underclass…[which] is wary of and avoids surveillance systems and public health services: the current systems in Queensland and Victoria confirm this fact. Thus, licensing is a threat to public health…local governments refusing to approve development applications for brothels [results] in substantial legal costs and…has also fostered the growth of brothels masquerading as massage parlours… Government, in consultation with local government and street work communities, should investigate more effective and humane approaches to the problems posed by street-based sex work…Though they are the smallest component of the industry, street sex workers are the major target for police prosecutions because of their high visibility. The aim of the investigation should be to explore methods of reducing the street presence and vulnerability of sex workers by means such ensuring an adequate supply of indoor alternatives; including approving brothels, and supporting more ‘safe house’ facilities…For health and safety reasons and in order to meet best practice in a decriminalised environment the word ‘brothel’ as defined in the legislation, should not apply when up to four private sex workers work cooperatively from private premises. All of the evidence indicates that private sex workers have no effect on public amenity. Exempting this group from planning laws that pertain to brothels will limit the potential for local government corruption. The New Zealand experience provides a successful precedent for the four worker model.
None of these recommendations are remotely surprising to either sex worker advocates (who have been saying the same thing for decades) or libertarians (who constantly point out that many social problems are caused by laws that criminalize private behavior). Of course, American politicians won’t listen right now; they’re on a one-way trip to totalitarianism that cannot be stopped until the train wrecks. But after it does, those charged with sifting through the debris will have the example of freer, more wisely-governed countries to draw from, and hard evidence that disproves the claims of prohibitionists that people need to be driven like cattle and that more laws and police help anyone except those who profit from the police state.