Here's a chilling reminder of the degree to which radfem rhetoric has penetrated MSM analysis and government policy-making when it comes to sex work. This gem from today's Huffpo, written by Ambassador Swanee Hunt and "anti-trafficking activist" Lina Sidrys Nealon, is supposed to be about the modern-day slave trade. But you won't have to read very far down to find the real agenda behind it, along with the cooked statistics and boilerplate distortions familiar to anyone who has had the misfortune of reading from Melissa Farley's playbook:
"December 2 is International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Don't be deceived. This is no celebration commemorating the end of a slave trade. The UN designated this day to remind us that slavery remains part of our 21st Century lives.
Slavery is more prevalent today than at any point in history. Free the Slaves estimates that 27 million people are trapped in debt bondage, domestic servitude, hard labor, or the sex trade for little to no pay beyond subsistence.
Of the 800,000 people annually trafficked across international borders, roughly 70% are sold into the sex industry. Inside the US alone, at least 300,000 children and adolescents fall prey every year, and their average age is thirteen. They're lured from their homes by Internet, or as runaways they're picked up within a day by trawling pimps, with promises of jobs, security, and love. Instead, the victims are treated as commodities and forced into a life in which many experience battering, degradation, rape, captivity, and - no wonder - extreme depression.
The sex industry operates by standard supply and demand dynamics. But it's the distribution system, interstate trafficking, that has caught the attention of policy makers. In this case, instead of drugs, criminals are trading in "reusable" bodies - and they're raking in the profits.
Demand by johns. Distribution by traffickers and pimps.
Supply: human beings.
For all we may exalt in rescuing children from brothels, there's a growing recognition within the US and internationally that sex trafficking won't end until demand does. US-based organizations such as the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women are raising public awareness and advocating for policies geared toward the purchasers. The fearless Mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin, has launched the "No Tolerance Campaign" sending the message that predators aren't welcome in her city. "Dear John, It's over." her billboards announce.
Yet despite these admirable efforts, compared to several European nations, the US is far behind the curve in fighting demand. We traveled to Stockholm and Oslo to meet with government officials, researchers, members of parliament, police, and even Queen Silvia to examine how Sweden has forged the way. After years of parliamentary debate, in 1999 Swedes passed the Sex Purchase Law, which criminalized buying and decriminalized selling sex. This placed the emphasis on the buyers, while allowing women to seek help without being fined or deported. In five years, the number of prostituted women in Sweden dropped 40%. Today, the government estimates that less than 400 women are trafficked into the country, while in neighboring Finland it's 17,000.
The law and its accompanying measures are credited with shifting the entire social mindset to one where buying another human being is simply unacceptable. Today, Swedes consider prostitution inherently violent and harmful to society: Even when it's seemingly consensual, they say, the act is built on and reinforces an oppressive power imbalance between the user and the used. Although there's a very small percentage of women who freely choose to sell their bodies, they are the well-publicized exceptions. Swedes don't build public policy around protecting them when the damage to the large majority is so great. We were told that when young men from around the world were asked in a survey whether they had or would be willing to buy sex, only 11 percent of the Swedes said "yes," compared to 60 percent of Dutch men.
Sweden has inspired a trend. Norway recently made it illegal for its citizens to purchase any sex acts anywhere in the world. And Britain's Home Office just introduced a new law making it an offence to pay for sex with somebody who is "controlled for another person's gain," including pimps, traffickers, and drug dealers who force addicts to "turn tricks" to repay them. (Interestingly, a plea of ignorance is no defense for men facing charges; that's powerful, since 70% of the 88,000 prostituted women in England and Wales are under the control of pimps and traffickers, and the buyer won't have a way to determine if his prospect is among them.) Laws based on the Swedish model are being considered in Israel, India, and even the Netherlands, where a third of the infamous red light district brothels were shut down this year due to the illicit trafficking lurking within the shadows of the legal sex industry.
The US needs to get up to speed with the global abolitionist movement's focus on demand. With the election of our first African-American president, many find themselves reflecting on how far we've come as a nation: from a time when men, women, and children were kidnapped, tethered, and shipped to this country for our use and abuse. We're infuriated over the action, or inaction, of those who came before us, who lived in denial of the suffering around them. In a hundred years, what will our children's children say about us?
Swanee Hunt is the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Lina Sidrys Nealon is manager of the Hunt Alternatives Fund Modern-Day Slavery Project."
First of all, let's have a look at this statement:
"Of the 800,000 people annually trafficked across international borders, roughly 70% are sold into the sex industry."
Not only is it unsourced, it's preposterous on the face of it. How could such a statistic be established when the illegal trade in all forms of forced labor is carried on in secret, mostly in parts of the world where officials look the other way and reliable field research is virtually impossible to conduct due to the obstruction of corrupt governments and the inaccessible remoteness of the border areas in the developing world where much of this trade is carried on? Did clipboard-bearing statisticians track down the militias that conscript child soldiers in much of Africa? Did they have access to the sweatshops of China and Indonesia? To the domestic labor pools of the oil-rich Gulf States? Doubtful.
A little poking around on the Web reveals that this questionable assertion comes from the U.S. State Department. You know, the one that's been run by the Bush administration over the past eight years. Yep, that's the same one that denies HIV prevention funding to countries that don't criminalize sex work or sign the requisite pledge to do so.
Yeah, right, the same State Department that sent Colin Powell to lie to the U.N. about Saddam's WMD. I'm sure their intelligence is much more accurate when it comes to a worldwide phenomenon of enormous complexity carried on largely in places where our government has little or no human intelligence capabilities.
But starting from this completely unsupported assertion, the call to arms grows incessantly more shrill ... and familiar:
"For all we may exalt in rescuing children from brothels, there's a growing recognition within the US and internationally that sex trafficking won't end until demand does. US-based organizations such as the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women are raising public awareness and advocating for policies geared toward the purchasers."
Wait a minute. Let's back up here and have a closer look at the "heroic" organizations lionized for combatting this evil trade in women's bodies. A quick look at the roster of groups supporting Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation reveals names we've come to know all too well, including Captive Daughters, Stop Porn Culture, Open Lens Media (producers of TPoP), Anti-porn Activist Network (whose blogroll is a veritable Who's Who of radfem cranks like Diana Russell), Prostitution Research and Education (Bingo! Melissa Farley's home base, and doubtless the source for much of the statistical bullshit in this piece), One Angry Girl ... you get the picture.
Now let's have a look at the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women. Hmm. Seems like the third link down on their homepage goes to the No On Prop K Web site, where we again encounter such APRF notables as Ms. Farley, Catherine MacKinnon, Robin Morgan, Norma Hotaling and, once again, our favorite whack-job, Diana Russell. Right below the anit-Prop K header, we find a call to pressure HBO into dropping its series Cathouse for "normalizing the demand for prostitution." Yes, well, we're sure that HBO's adult programming is largely responsible for the seizure of young African girls to serve as sex slaves for roving bands of armed thugs.
Alrighty then, now that we've seen who the author's friends are, we can pretty much predict what they have to say about the likes of us:
"Although there's a very small percentage of women who freely choose to sell their bodies, they are the well-publicized exceptions."
Well, so much for Ren and Nina and all the other self-identified sex workers who post here and elsewhere. They hardly rate a single sentence, and it's not surprisingly buried in the middle of an encomium to the glories of "the Swedish solution." We're informed, with a nearly audible sniff that: "Swedes don't build public policy around protecting them (the very small percentage freely "selling" their bodies, that is) when the damage to the large majority is so great."
And I do love the use of the term "freely sell their bodies." Last time I checked, most of the sex workers I know still had their bodies, but I guess the verb "sell" has a different meaning to these authors. They also use the term "prostituted women" to describe all sex workers indiscriminately, and quickly dispatch arguments about consent thus: "Today, Swedes consider prostitution inherently violent and harmful to society: Even when it's seemingly consensual, they say, the act is built on and reinforces an oppressive power imbalance between the user and the used." Well Go Swedes! Except for Swedish sex workers, that is, especially those who have spoken out repeatedly against the re-criminalization of prostitution there for making their jobs more dangerous and difficult and further stigmatizing them in society, thus making it even harder for those wishing to exit sex work.
Finally, the authors unfurl their true colors in the last graph: "The US needs to get up to speed with the global abolitionist movement's focus on demand." They then go on, rather ominously, to invoke our new African-American president by way of equating their cause with that of anti-slavery abolitionism in the antebellum South. We can only wonder with whom this false parallel is intended to resonate. American liberals who have previously supported things like Prop K, First Amendment rights for pornography and harm reduction strategies for active sex workers perhaps?
Let me be absolutely clear here, as the authors of this disingenuous piece of agitprop are not. Slavery in any form is an abomination. It can and must be actively opposed by every human being who presumes to consider him or herself civilized. I make no attempt to minimize the breadth of this criminal trade in the modern world. It's harder to find countries where it doesn't exist than those in which it flourishes. This is nothing short of a global disgrace.
But when addressing the horror of modern day slavery, it's important to recognize that most involves common labor and not sex work. According to the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, there are over 27,000,000 slave laborers scattered around the globe at this moment. The vast majority of them are subject to forced labor, not forced sex.
And where, according to the U.N., is slavery most common? The worst offenders are not, as the authors of this article would have you believe, "the pimps and pornographers" of the industrialized West. Leading the list of infamy when it comes to slavery are The Sudan, Niger, The United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Pakistan, Indonesia and India. In Asia, slaves weave rugs and quarry stone. In Africa, over 100,000 children have been impressed into military service and are actively engaged in armed conflict. Slave laborers also cut sugar cane in Haiti and The Dominican Republic. Slaves, particularly children, are most frequently used as a cheap source of manual labor.
This is not to deny the existence of sexual slavery or sex trafficking. These things do exist and are despicable as well as criminal. They are also a much smaller component of the totality of slavery in the world than the sex work opponents who have seized the vanguard on this issue want us to believe. Their cause is only incidentally the abolition of slavery in general. They are sex work abolitionists. They don't care whether or not the sex workers themselves are, in fact, voluntary, sometimes migratory, participants in an industry that has many injustices and inequities but that does not, in the overwhelming number of individual instances, constitute slavery.
It is a heinous distortion to minimize the real atrocity of slavery as it exists around the world today by conflating it with consensual sex work as these authors shamelessly do, with barely a nod to the suffering millions whose involuntary servitude doesn't involve sex.
That such dishonest partisanship may influence government policy here and abroad ought rightly to concern everyone with an interest in freedom, including those like myself who ardently oppose slavery in all its forms, not just those that suit a narrow political agenda.