Norma Jean Almodovar: The AGs vs. Backpage

Veteran sex worker rights activist Norma Jean Almodovar has written a passionate essay on the hypocrisy of the stance taken by 45 state attorneys general in demanding that Backpage discontinue all adult advertising, and I’m pleased to announce that she’s done me the honor of allowing me to publish it as a two-part guest blog on The Honest Courtesan:

Part One (September 16th, 2011)

Part Two (September 17th, 2011)

Both columns contain numerous links supporting Norma Jean’s position that if the “authorities” really want to protect “children” from sexual exploitation, that aim would be best served by forgetting about Backpage and cleaning up their own “disorderly house”.

Village Voice vs. Demi & Ashton

Late Tuesday evening ( June 28th) a story entitled “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight” by Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin and Kristen Hinman, appeared on the Village Voice media website; it uses the widely and justly ridiculed Ashton Kutcher/Demi Moore anti-prostitution ad campaign as a springboard for examining the fantastically exaggerated claims of “child sex trafficking” fetishists.

First, the story compares the widely-touted “100,000-300,000 trafficked children” myth I debunked back in January with the police arrest records of the 37 largest American cities and found that in the past decade there were only 8263 juveniles arrested for prostitution among them, an average of 827 per year (roughly 22 per city per year).  Even if one assumes that these cities together have only half of the underage prostitutes in the U.S., that still gives us fewer than 1700 per year.  Ask yourself:  Even considering the incompetence of police departments, which is more believable: that police catch roughly 5% of underage prostitutes per year (by my estimate), or that they catch only 0.27% per year?

The article then moves on to the 2001 Estes & Weiner study, the original source of the fabulous number; as I reported in my column of April 2nd, the study “guesstimated (by questionable methodology) that ‘as many as 100,000-300,000 children and youth [of both sexes] are at risk for sexual exploitation’ of one kind or another…this guess is for BOTH sexes, for ‘children and youth’ (not just children), and most importantly represents those at risk of some form of ‘exploitation’, not currently involved in one specific form (sex trafficking).”  That “questionable methodology” (such as including all runaways, female gang members, transgender youth and those living within a short drive of the Mexican or Canadian borders as automatically “at risk”) was criticized in the Village Voice article by the University of New Hampshire’s Dr. David Finkelhor, who said “As far as I’m concerned, [the University of Pennsylvania study] has no scientific credibility to it…That figure was in a report that was never really subjected to any kind of peer review.  It wasn’t published in any scientific journal…Initially, [Estes and Weiner] claimed that [100,000 to 300,000] was the number of children [engaged in prostitution].  It took quite a bit of pressure to get them to add the qualifier [at risk].”  Professor Steve Doig of Arizona State said the “study cannot be relied upon as authoritative…I do not see the evidence necessary to confirm that there are hundreds of thousands of [child prostitutes].”  He also said, “Many of the numbers and assumptions in these charts are based on earlier, smaller-scale studies done by other researchers, studies which have their own methodological limitations.  I won’t call it ‘garbage in, garbage out.’  But combining various approximations and guesstimates done under a variety of conditions doesn’t magically produce a solid number.  The resulting number is no better than the fuzziest part of the equation.”  And when pressed by the reporters, Estes himself admitted, “Kids who are kidnapped and sold into slavery—that number would be very small…We’re talking about a few hundred people.”

Not that any of this bothers Maggie Neilson, Ashton & Demi’s “celebrity charity consultant”; she told the reporter “I don’t frankly care if the number is 200,000, 500,000, or a million, or 100,000—it needs to be addressed.  While I absolutely agree there’s a need for better data, the people who want to spend all day bitching about the methodologies used I’m not very interested in.”  Presumably it would still “need to be addressed” if the number were 827, so why not just say 827?  Because, of course, that wouldn’t justify pouring millions down police department and NGO toilets instead of spending it on programs to help actual underage prostitutes (as opposed to phantom multitudes of “trafficked children”):  as the article explains, “…though Congress has spent hundreds of millions in tax-generated money to fight human trafficking, it has yet to spend a penny to shelter and counsel those boys and girls in America who are, in fact, underage prostitutes.  In March of this year…[two senators] introduced legislation to fund six shelters with $15 million in grants.  The shelters would provide beds, counseling, clothing, case work, and legal services.  If enacted, this legislation would be the first of its kind…[it] has yet to clear the Senate or the House.”

The article ends with a clear indictment of government attitudes in prohibitionist regimes and an equally-clear statement that sex work is work:  “The lack of shelter and counseling for underage prostitutes—while prohibitionists take in millions in government funding—is only one indication of the worldwide campaign of hostility directed at working women.”  Village Voice recently told a group of sex worker rights activists that they are behind us, and that this is only beginning of a campaign for decriminalization; this could at last be the public voice we’ve needed for so long, and I eagerly await the next salvo fired in defense of whores.

Human Trafficking Program in Chicago

One of my regular readers in the Chicago area forwarded this to me.  SWOP Chicago is involved, and some points we often make are on the agenda so those who will be in Chicago in two weeks may be interested.

THURSDAY April 14
6:30-8:30pm
Human Trafficking: Strategies and Solutions
*Featuring our own Serpent Libertine!

http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/_programsevents/_upcomingevents/_2011/_human%20Trafficking/apr14.html

Human trafficking, for sex, for other forms of labor, or any purpose of involuntary servitude, is an exploitative practice that is prevalent in countries all around the globe, including the United States.

Activists and scholars fervently debate the definition of trafficking, moral distinctions that are often made between labor and sex work, various understandings of victimhood, and questions about the intent and success rate of “rescue operations.” In addition, there are complexities of migration to consider and debates about the relationship between forced labor and the global economy.

Join us for an evening of discussion and education. Scholars and activists working to end trafficking will discuss their strategies and positions. Hull-House history and Jane Addams’ relationship with the movement to end “white slavery” will be highlighted.

Panelists represent the following organizations:
Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
The International Organization for Adolescents
National Immigrant Justice Center at the Heartland Alliance
Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago

Trafficking Numerology

A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers. –  Plato

The Western mind adores numbers; it finds them impressive and magical, and the less an individual understands about math the more numbers impress him (especially if they’re large numbers).  The quickest way to win the typical modern dullard’s respect is to throw some very large figure at him; in most cases he’ll simply accept it without even thinking about what it really means in terms of human experience.  On my own blog yesterday I mentioned that the trafficking fetishists call their propaganda of “100,000 trafficked girls” in the United States (or “100,000 trafficked children” depending on the writer) a conservative estimate, and claim that 300,000 is closer to the mark.  These numbers are repeated endlessly (including in CNN’s “special report” Selling the Girl Next Door which aired last night) despite the fact that they have no basis in fact whatsoever, and nobody ever bothers to think about what 300,000 girls really means.

The only places in which any hard facts about prostitution can be uncovered are those in which our profession is entirely decriminalized, and there aren’t many of those; luckily, New Zealand took the trouble to study prostitution in depth in order to answer fanatics who predicted disaster when decriminalization was implemented there in 2003.  In a survey done in 2005, researchers found that there were a total of 5932 prostitutes of all levels in New Zealand, of which 210 were underage.  Furthermore, 75% of underage girls were working only on the street, which leaves only about 53 wh0 could be advertising on the internet (but also may not).  In other words, 5722 of New Zealand’s prostitutes – 96.46% – are legal adults.  And given that this is the ONLY methodologically sound study available for any portion of the English-speaking world, it’s the best estimate we have for the United States or ever will have until and unless prostitution is fully decriminalized here and whores can therefore feel safe in answering such surveys.

According to the 2006 census the population of New Zealand was 4,143,279, of whom approximately 2,082,049 were female; active, declared prostitutes (excluding part-timers, party girls, strippers, gold-diggers etc) were 5932 of those women or 0.285%.  Since this jibes very closely with the standard 1% estimate of all women who prostitute themselves to one degree or another it seems very reasonable and we can therefore apply it to the American population as the best estimate we’re likely to get in the lifetime of anyone reading this.  According to the most recent estimates (2009) there are about 155,600,000 women in the United States, which after applying the New Zealand estimate gives us a figure of 443,323 active, declared prostitutes in this country – of which trafficking fetishists wish us to believe about two-thirds are involuntary, “trafficked” underage girls.  In truth, the number (again, by application of the New Zealand estimate) is 15,694, of which 75% (11,770) are only working on the street.  That gives us a rough estimate of 3924 who might be advertised on the internet…a far cry from the “Wal-Mart of sex trafficking” declared by CNN.  Furthermore, not all of these girls are involuntarily involved, which makes the number of “internet sex-slave children” still lower even if we allow the equation of “legal minor” with “child” and “pimped hooker” with “slave”.

I’m sure anyone with half a brain can look at these figures and recognize them as far more realistic than the “300,000” figure touted by the fetishists.  The reason their wild exaggerations aren’t discarded out of hand is that, as I said in the first paragraph, most Americans are unable to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the claims. Of the 155,600,000 American women I mentioned earlier, 17.4% are older than 4 but younger than 18; that’s a total of roughly 27,074,400 school-age girls in the US, of which the media wants you to believe 300,000 – in other words, 1.11% – are held in sexual bondage. According to trafficking fanatics, the percentage of underage girls in “sex slavery” is almost FOUR TIMES the best estimate we have for the total percentage of women of ALL ages involved in any kind of formal prostitution.  And if we only consider the ages most trafficking “authorities” claim as the majority of underage prostitutes (namely 13-17) it’s more like ten times the percentage.

Nobody in his right mind could believe these figures, yet the mainstream media irresponsibly parrots them without question.  I wrote this article, research and all, in about ninety minutes; any reporter could have found the same figures I did from the same online sources, but they don’t bother because inflammatory lies are more interesting to the lowest common denominator than mundane truth.  Ignorance is one thing and willful misrepresentation another; since Amber Lyon of CNN and her cronies on other networks could find the same information I did, I can only conclude they don’t want to find it.  And that places their actions beyond the bounds of mere ratings-seeking hype and into the realm of pure criminal negligence.

UN goodwill ambassador on trafficking not ambassadorial

David Henry Sterry has interviewed me about my run-in with Mira Sorvino in Egypt in the Huffington Post – aimed at US audiences. Trafficking campaigners publish continuously in the HP, so this is a small good thing.

A Conversation With the Naked Anthropologist About Sex Trafficking

No one seems to oversee the behaviour of these UN goodwill ambassadors at all. Sorvino’s goodwill ambassador for trafficking for UNODC – drugs and crime – and both her present and ex-bosses were present in Egypt when she behaved like this, so perhaps they are simply glad to be associated with celebrities, no matter how they behave.

The BBC World Debate that was the cause of my being there was broadcast worldwide a few weekends ago. Eventually they will upload it to their website and I will advise.

Laura Agustín

The Naked Anthropologist

Average Age of Entry

We’ve all heard the popular prohibitionist claim that the “average age of entry into prostitution is 13”.  And though we all know that’s rubbish, we’ve never had any kind of figures on what the REAL average age of entry might be…until now.

A friend of mine who is still a working escort recently conducted a poll of 100 escorts who frequent a message board of which she is a member.  She asked at what age they started the trade, and her results were as follows:

Younger than 15: 3%
15-17: 11%
18-20: 13%
21-23: 18%
24-26: 16%
27-29: 10%
30-32: 10%
Older than 32: 19%

She polled the “older than 32” respondents separately and the average age for that category was 42; she estimated the average for the “under 15” category at 13.  Given these figures, the average age of entry into prostitution for American escorts is 26.46.

It’s difficult to know what percentage of all American prostitutes are escorts, but I would suspect 60% is a good guesstimate; the National Taskforce on Prostitution estimates about 15% are streetwalkers, so that allows 25% in brothels and massage parlors.  Estimating the average age of streetwalkers is tricky; I’m going to be really generous and pretend that HALF of all streetwalkers are underage.  Now, by all reasonable estimates that’s much higher than the reality but I want to err on the side of caution.  Let’s presume adult streetwalkers enter at roughly the same times as escorts (average 26); what’s the average for underage girls?  Well, guess what; it still isn’t 13 even for them.  As explained in this analysis, it’s about 16.  If we average the two figures (26 for adult streetwalkers and 16 for underage) we arrive at an average streetwalker entry age of 21, a far cry from 13 even if we assume HALF of streetwalkers are underage!  We have no stats on brothel or massage girls, so again I’m going to be incredibly generous to the liars and fanatics and estimate that the average for that group is the same as among streetwalkers, namely 21.

So let’s crunch the numbers:  if 60% start at an average age of 26 and 40% at an average age of 21, the average age at which American prostitutes enter the profession is 24, which I think everyone can agree is safely into the adult range.   Obviously, this is a rough estimate, but it’s a lot closer to reality than that ridiculous “13” figure; maybe if we all start spreading these figures around we can combat some of the misinformation, at least in the minds of those who are willing to listen.

Reflecting on New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act

Many in the sexworker community hold up New Zealand’s legislation as the best and therefore the one everyone should adopt. The Prostitution Reform Act of 2003 has many strengths, not least that the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective played an important part in its formulation.

The Act does have weaknesses, however, so it seems good for everyone to think about them and how they might be modified to fit other contexts. The other day I wrote about the glaringly anti-migration clause in the legislation, which is the opposite of what many activists would like to see. It’s disguised as anti-trafficking law. Links to more information on the law and the NZ Prostitutes Collective are supplied.

The interesting comments on that post centred on the law’s effects on or benefits to street workers, so I wrote about that next. 

It’s notoriously difficult to assess the effects of any law.  I’ve given a link to a report made to NZ’s Justice Department in 2008 on some early findings.  My interest is in promoting thoughtfulness about laws that regulate the sex industry: the NZ law not only decriminalises but also defines and regulates brothels. The rest of the sex industry, outside what’s considered prostitution per se, isn’t covered by the Act, as far as I can see.

Laura Agustín
Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex