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Spinning the war on the UK's sex trade

Step one, inflate the size of the problem

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Comment The British Government plans to make it illegal to have sex with a prostitute if said tart has been trafficked, or is being controlled. Nor will this crime will be limited to offences committed in the UK - it will apply to what British men get up to wherever in the world they may be.

Now I'm a classically liberal type, and I'm naturally against the criminalisation of something that no society has ever managed to extinguish. But leaving that aside, I think this is a great example of how law is now made. Stir up a fuss, lie repeatedly, change the definitions and then do what you wanted to in the first place anyway. Just as they did with passive smoking and pubs.

Start with a certain view of human sexuality, that all male purchases of sex from women are part of the oppression of women. Thus this is an activity which must be made illegal, or as illegal as the society at large is prepared to allow us to make it. While most don't go as far as I do in lauding the liberties of consenting adults, most are also aware that it can be the very illegality of an activity which causes some of the problems associated with it. A straight ban (aha, aha, for the way the law is drafted it doesn't cover male from male or female from female purchases) simply wouldn't gather the number of votes needed to pass, so something else is required. What could that be?

Well, why don't we change the definition of "consenting adult"? And that is precisely what has happened. First we change the meaning of the word "trafficked". In normal parlance we would think that the proposed law is about sex slavery. This does indeed happen, is barbarous and is already highly illegal. Some naive teenager is tricked into arriving here for a job as a waitress, is locked up and then repeatedly raped then forced to service punters with the money going to her captors. As I say, this does happen but the question is, how often?

"As for trafficking, the only official report from the police operation Pentameter 1 shows a tiny proportion, just 0.11 per cent, of people in the sex industry have in fact been trafficked. A subsequent operation, Pentameter 2, found 167 trafficked people, which is still only 0.21 per cent."

So broaden your definition

Ah, right, so not that often then. Hmm, so how are we going to do this then, how are we going to get people to support our desired ban or near ban on the sex trade? Well, why not change the definition of trafficked, boost our numbers and then capitalise on peoples' righteous disgust of sex slavery? My word, that's easy isn't it?

"We primed the telephone researchers to look for evidence of trafficking. There was plenty. Brothels offered women of 77 different nationalities and ethnicities, including many from known-source countries for trafficking."

Eh? Evidence of being foreign is evidence of having been trafficked? Something of a pity that economics is not taught in more depth perhaps. Gary Becker, decades ago, pointed out that entering prostitution doesn't particularly enhance your social capital. Indeed, it's a pretty good indicator of harming or lowering it. It's one of the reasons that it's relatively highly paid (as Heinlein pointed out, only on Earth could you get a shortage of what every woman has an infinite supply of), because over and above the actual hours worked there is a destruction of that social capital. People who decide to enter the trade then often decide to do so some distance from their home ground. Another part of town perhaps, another town... or, in this age of vastly greater mobility, cheap airfares and 500 million with the freedom to travel anywhere across a continent, another country. But by making this connection we've enabled ourselves to greatly increase the number of trafficked women. To the estimates of 8,000 (or 10 per cent and higher) that you see bandied about carelessly.

There will of course be women who have been smuggled in, or who entered on false documents, but who did so knowing what they were getting into. But we now include them as trafficked as well. Excellent, so we've now blown the problem up, made it appear very much larger than it actually is. This also helps:

"I've met staff from an enormous, and enormously well-funded, anti-trafficking organisation, who solemnly assured me that the presence of different women in the same brothel on different days of the week was 'an indicator of trafficking': it is, in fact, standard working behaviour in an industry in which two women working together are automatically criminalised."

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