When some lunatic spews garbage on a fringe website like InfoWars or The Daily Caller, no one really pays attention, but print the same garbage on a site with a more legitimate reputation, and suddenly, it’s “even Mediaite says that “blah, blah, blah.” With that in mind, it was extremely disappointing to see that new Mediaite columnist Cathy Reisenwitz devoted her first effort to debunking the liberal media myth that “sex trafficking” (which she literally put in scare quotes) is really, actually a thing.
The ostensible point of the piece is to highlight one story of sex trafficking that might not be true, coming a few weeks after another high-profile victim was outed as a fraud, but it goes on to attack the very notion that sex trafficking is a thing that people should actually worry about. That just makes sense. If two stories might not be completely true, how is it possible that any of them are, right?
The latest victim of sex trafficking to be “debunked” is Chong Kim, but so far, the evidence against her consists of Facebook posts by an advocacy group that she was a member of, and which has expressed dismay that she hasn’t given them credit and/or endorsements in public. The group, Breaking Out, insists it has conducted an investigation into Kim, and “found no truth to her story,” but rather, “found a lot of fraud, lies, and most horrifically capitalizing and making money on an issue where so many people are suffering from.”
But Breaking Out also asks, “How come being a director of a legit non profit has she never wanted us to hear her speak or contribute to us anything as much as a name mention when she knows we have showed results in this cause, gave her money, assisted her in anything she needed.”
Kim has responded with legal action.
However that situation shakes out, so far, Breaking Out hasn’t produced any evidence. As debunkings go, this is pretty weak sauce, especially when you consider that Reisenwitz goes after an opinion columnist and a book reviewer for failing to “do actual reporting, and find out the truth.”
As far as it goes, though, it’s a decent enough point: promoting false stories, by definition, undermines efforts to reveal the true problems and nature of sex trafficking. Mainly, that it’s no big deal:
This is par for the course for the media, however. The white slavery moral panic has been around for at least a hundred years, starting with 1910’s White-Slave Traffic Act, also known as the Mann Act. What it refers to is prostitution, under the supposition that no one enters it willingly.
The Mann Act clamped down on prostitution by making it illegal to help women cross state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” Campaigners boosted support for the act by peddling lurid tales of innocent girls drugged and kidnapped right off of city streets and sold into sexual servitude. This sounds exactly like the reporting on “sex trafficking” seen today. Kristof isn’t even original.
Yes, that’s “sex trafficking” in scare-quotes, because:
And like today, authorities looking for sex slaves found them pretty difficult to locate. Nationwide, the Department of Justice only convicted 138 human traffickers of any kind in 2012.
Reisenwitz doesn’t offer a single link to data that backs up her claim, but she’s probably referring to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which has its own Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. Federal enforcement of human trafficking is new enough, though, that the F.B.I. didn’t even include human trafficking in its Uniform Crime Reporting statistics until 2013, which haven’t been released yet. That’s okay, though, because Cathy Reisenwitz has something even better than facts or data:
And I’ve never seen a US case where it was clear that the women were held against their will.
See, Elizabeth Smart, Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus, and Michelle Knight? If Cathy didn’t see it, it must be all in your heads. Reisenwitz also claims that “The vast majority of humans trafficked are sold into domestic and agricultural work,” but again, provides no data to back it up. Interestingly, though, the groups she does bother to cite elsewhere in the piece see this a different way. From Breaking Out Corporation:
According to some estimates, approximately 80% of human trafficking involves sexual exploitation, and 19% involves labor exploitation.
And then there’s this, from the Department of Justice:
Federally funded task forces opened 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking for investigation between January 2008 and June 2010.
About 8 in 10 of the suspected incidents of human trafficking were classified as sex trafficking, and about 1 in 10 incidents were classified as labor trafficking.
According to both groups, children are particularly hard hit by “sex trafficking,” with 40% of those task force investigations involving the sexual exploitation of children, and, according to Breaking Out:
The FBI estimates that over 100,000 children and young women are trafficked in the United States today. They range in age from nine to 19, with the average being age 11. Many victims are not just runaways or abandoned, but are from “good” families who are coerced by clever traffickers.
Or, as libertarian hellhole Reasonputs it, “The majority of genuine sex trafficking cases that are uncovered tend to be older teenagers,” you know the ones, those 16-year-olds who have been around the block enough times to know better than to be desperate and homeless and to be immune to roofies.
So, why would a person try so hard to assert that “sex trafficking” is no biggie? To agitate for legalized prostitution, of course. I don’t know how that makes any sense, since it seems like the more abusive the black market is, the more incentive there would be to eliminate it, but it seems like Reisenwitz and company (Salon published a similar, marginally less disgusting piece on the same subject, with the same aim) are trying to pose legalized prostitution as just another career choice for “consenting adults” who currently are “far more likely to be abused by police than by clients.”
That’s rape-enabling horseshit, by the way, because even women who actually are afforded the alleged protection of the law don’t report sexual assaults, because when they do, nothing happens. Now, try that while being a prostitute.
The problem with privileged white “sex work” advocates is that they’re operating under a privileged white notion of what the word “willingly” means, where “choice” involves “tall” or “venti,” not “starving and homeless” or “sex work.” Their visions of an empowered Pretty Woman are needlessly complicated by the reality of sex trafficking, which is, yes, actually a thing.