Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/04/worstall_s3x_trafficking/

Spinning the war on the UK's sex trade

Step one, inflate the size of the problem

By Tim Worstall

Posted in Law, 4th January 2009 09:02 GMT

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."

Lenin's phrase about "useful idiots" comes to mind. Almost as asides, these two snippets show the level of informed debate going on:

"I am willing to accept that there are women out there who say they have chosen to sell sex, but they are in the minority, and laws are there to protect the majority."

That's our Home Secretary, stating that the rights of minorities don't matter.

"This reflects the situation in Nevada, the only US state to legalise brothels, where the illegal prostitution industry is currently nine times larger than the legal one. The fact is that anywhere that liberalises prostitution quickly becomes a prime destination for punters - many more pimps will set up business there than are legally approved."

That's Julie Bindel, one of the campaigners. She seems not to realise that it is counties in Nevada, not the State, that legalise. Indeed, that it's the rural, almost unpopulated, countes that have, with it still being illegal in Las Vegas and other big cities. That an industry is larger where there's hundreds of thousands of people instead of three and a cow really shouldn't be a surprise, legality or no legality.

Right, so, we've managed part one of our plan then. We've managed to take a vile and thoroughly disapproved of (and already illegal) but small problem, sex slavery, and expand it massively. This gives us the opportunity to hoodwink the public. What next then?

And widen the offence...

Well, why don't we make it even harder? Let's add that "controlled" part as well, as one of the things that makes the purchase of sex illegal. A tart might be controlled by a pimp, so let's make that a crime! That being a pimp, living off immoral earnings, already is a crime won't deter us. What we're going to do is insist that the purchaser of sex from a woman who is controlled by a pimp is criminalised. Sadly, this also shows a dismal lack of knowledge of the dismal science. Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame:

"Our analysis also sheds light on issues of organizational form. Perhaps surprisingly, in two of our neighborhoods that are side-by-side, prostitution activities are organized along completely different models. In Roseland, there are no pimps and women solicit customers from the street. Just a few blocks away in Pullman, all women work with pimps who locate customers and set-up tricks, so that the prostitutes rarely solicit on street corners. Under the pimp model, there are fewer transactions, but the prices charged are substantially higher and the clientele is different. Prostitutes who work with pimps appear to earn more, and are less likely to be arrested. It appears that the pimps choose to pay efficiency wages. Consistent with this hypothesis, many of the women who do not work with pimps are eager to work with pimps, and indeed we observe a few switches in that direction over the course of the sample."

Indeed, when those pimpless prostitutes found that the researchers were also studying pimps there were a number of requests to get hooked up with one.

It would seem then that the relationship between a pimp and a prostitute is therefore an economic one and frequently a voluntary one at that. The pimp is working as part agent and perhaps part protection, the first allowing the tart more efficient use of her time. She can be performing tricks instead of looking for them, the pimp handling that part for her (or, given the lower number of tricks, doing something, anything, else other than standing on a street corner). Not dissimilar to politicians using press agents, say (I'm allowed to make that joke as I work as a press officer sometimes).

Isn't that a clever second part of our plan? We're going to make working as a tart worse, more difficult and less financially rewarding, all in the name of protecting the working girls.

But that's how we make law nowadays. We throw in a few demons (Sex slavery! Pimps!), lie about either their frequency or their activity and hope we've fooled enough of the public so that we can get the new measures into the Statute Book before anyone notices.

Forgive me reiterating the point that I'm a classical liberal, but wouldn't you prefer not to be ruled this way too? If we just stuck with the point that consenting adults can do as they wish as long as they don't harm either the person or the rights of others to do as they wish?

It's either that or hope for something different from the next set of politicians, but I wouldn't think that that is much of a hope. Once the political class has worked out how to do this sort of hysteria-mongering they're not going to stop. All that will change is what the hysteria is mongered about. ®

Tim Worstall knows more about rare metals than most might think wise, and writes for himself at timworstall.com, and for The Business and the Adam Smith Institute, among others.