There are no good numbers on where the problem exists in the first place. – Emily Deruy
The most fascinating and infuriating thing about belief is its ability to sustain itself by feeding on nothing other than pure faith. No matter how little evidence there is for the existence of the cherished notion; no matter how egregiously it violates all the laws of nature, human behavior and math; no matter how ludicrous the very premise is; and no matter how many of its supporting tenets are debunked, the belief just keeps on going, held aloft by nothing other than the feelings it engenders in its adherents. The “sex trafficking” cult is certainly no exception; its adherents gather together on lawns and highway ramps, engage in their sacred rituals like getting dressed and making paper airplanes, and mumble their profession of faith over and over again. Cult leaders invent new nonsense “statistics” all the time, but the rank and file just content themselves with reciting the old ones like Ave Marias on a rosary and making obeisance to their sacred 13 totem. The fact that the cops and “rescue” groups they revere can’t produce even a minuscule fraction of the millions of “victims” who crowd their lurid myths merely strengthens their faith; like Biblical literalists searching for the remains of Noah’s Ark they continue their quixotic crusades to find victims and “pimps”, and they’re never daunted by the fact that the few who turn up aren’t actually very much like the characters in their scriptures.
As I’ve reported over the past few years, the number of public figures who recognize “sex trafficking” as the moral panic it is has been slowly growing over the past couple of years, and responsible journalists like the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler now routinely debunk the “trafficking” cult’s dogma. But apparently, Emily Deruy of The Atlantic is not among their number; she just keeps on believing like it’s 2012 and the hysteria is still at its apex, Saint Somaly Mam has not been dethroned, the gypsy whores myth is still unquestioned and “victims” are still being claimed to have dozens or scores of clients a day. And all this despite the fact that a simple Google search (or a search of The Atlantic’s own archives) would’ve revealed the truth about these fairy tales in mere minutes; here, Emily, let me show you an example, featuring one myth you prominently featured. The best part? She quotes it right below mentioning the arch-prohibitionist Polaris Project, who themselves deny the myth on their own website. Other than that embarrassing oversight, the rest of the article is a pretty typical example of parrot-the-cops, cut-and-paste stenographic journalism of the sort one might find in any local advertising rag, albeit without the sentence fragments and idiosyncratic punctuation; the fact that it’s in a major magazine just underscores how much of a cancer this hysteria has become.
There’s one really interesting thing about the article, though it requires a bit of reading between the lines. It’s visible in Deruy’s closing line (which appears as today’s epigram) and also in the lede: “Authorities…are finding it increasingly difficult to identify victims and perpetrators of sex trafficking.” Deruy dutifully repeats the claims of Nevada cops and “rescue” groups, which as I’ve pointed out before are among the most aggressively stupid in the country on this subject, but in fact the inability to find “victims and perpetrators of sex trafficking” isn’t confined to Reno, or even to Nevada; it applies to the entire US, and the reason is simple: the “sex trafficking” gravy train is the victim of its own outrageous success. When the panic was young, cultists and cops alike could pretend that there were thousands of “victims” and “pimps” just ripe for the picking in every city, “hub” and hamlet from sea to shining sea, if only the cops had enough money and the populace had enough “awareness” of the “signs of trafficking” to catch them. But after years of panic and hundreds of millions flushed down the “anti-trafficking” toilet, this is the typical “trafficking” bust:
The Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force reports a busy time during its recent prostitution crackdown prior to Super Bowl 50…42 potential human trafficking victims were contacted during the three weeks leading up to the big game…More than half of the victims were put in direct contact with an advocate or support group and…the task force arrested or cited 30…alleged clients of possible prostitutes…one “girl” was arrested for prostitution and resisting arrest…another “girl” was cited for prostitution…four people were cited for aiding in prostitution, two were cited for loitering with intent for prostitution, one potential victim disclosed other sex crimes and kidnapping, and two human trafficking cases involved a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old from Sacramento which resulted in a human trafficking arrest…one arrest for violation of a domestic violence restraining order and three arrests for other warrants…
Vast amounts of hype, blanketing an entire metropolis with pigs, spooks and g-men, millions wasted, thousands of words of anti-whore propaganda bloviated out, and for what? 21 women were given a phone number, 30 guys were tricked by cops with fake ads, two adult and two underage sex workers were arrested, six other people were arrested on bullshit charges, and four people arrested on warrants. The other 21 women were essentially just made up; “potential trafficking victims”? Really? Yeah, well every sex worker in the Bay Area is a potential police brutality and police rape victim, but I don’t see them counting that statistic. The one “human trafficking arrest” was for a slightly-older friend of the 17-year-old; in other words she was defined as a “trafficker” because underage sex work is defined as “trafficking”, whether there is coercion or not. Note how scarce this story is on details; they need some wriggle room so as to redefine this into “86 trafficking arrests” later on. But even when there are details, they fail to substantiate the narrative:
I read through a case file that…details the ordeal of a 15-year-old girl, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, who ran away from her home…[and] soon crossed paths with a man and a woman who lured her to a hotel room. She was photographed and a classified ad, promoting her availability, was posted…men continued to show up at the hotel room, night after night, for nearly a week, until finally her mother was able to find her and secure her freedom…
A mentally ill runaway, found inside a week. Not a happy teen abducted from her happy home and spirited into the underworld, never to be found again; even the number of clients per day, though probably still exaggerated, is “as many as 11”, a paltry number compared to the grandiose claims common from 2012 to 2014 before they started dropping last year. And even that is a rare case; this type of report is far more common:
A missing 14-year-old girl from [the Montreal area], who was feared by her mother to have been recruited into a prostitution ring, has been found safe and sound…The girl disappeared Feb. 1 from the group home where she’d been living for the past few weeks…the girl’s mother…said she…had reason to fear the teenager may have joined a gang or a prostitution ring in Ontario…Police would not say where the girl was, or whom she was with, when they found her…
Naturally they wouldn’t say, but you can bet they’d have been crowing had they “rescued” her from anybody they could’ve remotely pretended was a “pimp”. After 12 years of panic, thousands of ruined lives, scores of new and even more tyrannical laws, badly-eroded civil liberties and unscrupulous liars enriched on tax dollars and donations from well-meaning naifs, what do the “trafficking victim” hunters have to show for their efforts? “Potential victims”, jailed sex workers, runaways with hysterical parents, and a few petty thugs. Yeah, Emily, it’s true that “authorities” can’t find any “victims” to rescue or villains to prosecute. But it isn’t because “online social media has formed a beautiful platform for trafficking”, or because “pimps” are “experts at evading authorities“, or because “victims…[are] reluctant to say anything negative“, or because “pimps move victims from city to city“, or because “casinos and hotels gain customers from the practice“, or because “pimps are retreating from public view behind apps and websites“; it’s because this whole machinery of deceit, surveillance, violence and incarceration was constructed to battle a phantasm, a constellation of people, organizations and events who never existed in the forms “sex trafficking” cultists so fervently wish to believe they do.