Your words and my words are the same, but not our meaning.-Mason Cooley
Though “human trafficking” fetishists love to tout imaginary numbers of “victims”, to declare their own city, state or country a leader in the “trafficking” Olympics, or to claim that legalization or decriminalization “increases trafficking”, the truth is that it is absolutely impossible to produce any meaningful comparison of “trafficking” statistics (when such figures are kept at all) because there is absolutely no agreement on what is meant by the term. Fetishists love to tout the Palermo protocols as though they represented some sort of international standard to which every politician, prosecutor, cop and “rescue” opportunist closely adhered, but nothing could be further from the truth: in reality, “trafficking” means whatever the speaker wants it to mean at that given moment. In “The Lion and the Ox” I catalogued 23 different things I’ve seen called “trafficking”, and examples of the last one (“Anything a prosecutor can shoehorn into the local law, including kidnapping or attempted rape”) are diverse indeed.
It goes without saying, however, that this flexibility is always exercised in the direction of maintaining the status quo or increasing the power of the state. So street prostitution and women working as cashiers qualify as “trafficking” in countries which want to demonize those activities, while fraudulent recruitment, debt bondage, abusive conditions, threatening workers with deportation and worse are described with much milder terms like “encouraging an illegal alien”, especially if the “traffickers” are politically connected. We never hear calls for paving, home health care, convenience stores or sports to be criminalized, and if a government is the “trafficker” it’s all perfectly legal. Unless there’s sex involved, even the custody of children or minor teens can change hands for a price (especially if the kids were born in a different country) without words like “trafficking” or “slavery” being mentioned even in passing, and if young people whose sexuality or other behavior upsets the adults around them are condemned to torture by sadists who profit from mistreating them in the name of “correction”, nobody usually notices until one of the victims dies or their number climbs too high to ignore.
And that brings us to this article in Cracked. Yes, Cracked; as I’ve pointed out before, the second-rate humor magazine turned first-rate humor website has for some time now been turning out articles that are not only dead serious, but also better, more perceptive and more honest journalism than supposedly-straight rags like Huffington Post and the Daily Beast can manage at their best:
When I was 14, I…was [shipped] off to a camp for “troubled” teens in Montana. In short order I learned some terrifying truths about an industry dedicated to taking America’s at-risk youth and fucking them up in the worst way possible. One night in August 2004, I awoke to a man and a woman in my room whom I had never seen before telling me that they were “escorts” and we were going to a place called “wilderness.” I was not allowed to bring any belongings or tell anyone where I was going. I didn’t know what “escorts” and “wilderness” were, and I was terrified. It was like being Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken, if it had turned out later that Liam Neeson arranged the whole thing…Kids who resist have been pepper-sprayed and hog-tied…kids can be sent away for drug use, depression, eating disorders…bad grades…not following the family religion, or…being gay. It is an industry that survives on parents’ fear that their kid is “at risk”…
There is a legal process where parents can sign over custody of kids who need residential care…But that same process works for “unruly” teens like me, which meant the company that ran my camp had total legal control over where I went and what I did. Even phone calls…were a privilege I had to earn…a staff member sat next to me the entire time, listening in. If during the call I complained about being unhappy, that was “manipulative behavior,” and they’d end the call…Packages my friends sent were destroyed right in front of me…[kids] die…with some regularity (“untrained staff” and “lack of adequate nourishment” are the leading causes)…a…2006…expose…prompted a congressional inquiry…[which] found thousands of cases of abuse and at least 10 deaths between 1990 and 2004…Congress…proposed a bill to regulate (not even ban) these facilities. After that bill died in committee, they proposed it again the next year. It died again in 2011, and again in 2013…Between 10,000 and 20,000 teens wind up in these programs every year, and they’ll continue to do so. Because even in the 21st century, society is baffled by adolescence and will resort to desperate, horrific measures in hopes of finding a cure…
The feature is well worth reading in its entirety, and worth keeping in mind the next time you hear “authorities” or trafficking fetishists talking about how “pimps” are responsible for teen sex work, and how the best way to “rescue” them is to abduct them and lock them up in “rescue centers” where they can be abused by people who deny their agency and believe the answer to every teen problem is forced conformity.