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Contrary To The Guardian Pimps Can Be – But Aren’t – Sex Traffickers

The Guardian has one of those big investigations for us into the sex trade. Within which there’s one rather large problem which us economics types already know about. There’s a catalogue of things done by to and with prostitutes – many of which indeed shouldn’t be happening. But there’s then a categorisation from the specific to th e general which doesn’t stand. Or at least shouldn’t do so, despite it being something which is central to the debate about said sex trade.

So, this:

Women in prisons across the US are being recruited by sex traffickers who force them into prostitution on their release.

A Guardian investigation has found that traffickers are using government websites to obtain personal information including mugshots, release dates and charge sheets to identify potential victims while they are still behind bars.

Pimps also use inmates in prisons and jails countrywide to befriend incarcerated women who, on their release, are trafficked into the $9.5bn (£7.2bn) US commercial sex industry.

Well, yes and no. It’s alluded to but not made clear that this is largely – it’s not made quite clear but possibly exclusively – about women who are being jailed on prostitution charges. Which means that there’s an alternative explanation available here. Given the illegality and the risk of being jailed the pimping system acts as a form of insurance. That there will be someone outside with the ability to organise bail and bail bonds. Those being just a cost of being in this illegal business.

Note that none of this, neither set of observations, talks about the morality of what’s going on. Rather, given the illegality, we’ve two possible explanations for observed actions. That second story makes rather more sense to be honest.

The Trap investigates how prisons and jails across the United States have become recruiting grounds for human traffickers, who are targeting incarcerated women and trafficking them out of correctional facilities and into pimp-controlled prostitution. Revealed: how US sex traffickers recruit jailed women for prostitution.

Well, actually, it seems to be more about rival insurance companies – although we call them pimps here – selling policies to those already jailed for the crime.

But of course, describe it and think about it as you wish. It’s here though that we come to something which is simply untrue:

Pimp-controlled prostitution is now recognised as one of the most brutal and pervasive forms of human trafficking in the US. Trafficking is defined under US federal and international law as when a person is induced to perform labour or a commercial sex act through force, fraud or coercion.

Force, fraud, coercion, indeed all bad things and all are and should be crimes. It’s also entirely possible that some pimps some of the time commit such crimes. Trafficking is, in international law at least, defined as the movement of people across legal boundaries to force them into prostitution using those tactics. It’s also sexual slavery and repeated rape. Indeed bad things and we should both free those subject to it and punish, heavily, those who force into it.

But that’s not the same as pimping, nor being a pimp. Which is the claim that is being made. The Guardian here – as is true of certain sectors of the anti-sex trade movement – is making a logical leap. An incorrect one, as we found out in Freakonomics:

According to the paper, full-time prostitutes made on average less than $20,000 a year. If they had a pimp, the women made a little more, even after giving up a 25 percent cut of their earnings.

The full paper fleshes this out. To the point that pimpless prostitutes seemed to be actively looking for one in order to increase their earnings. The mechanism being the division and specialisation of labour – the pimp dealt with the police and also provided a stream of customers, the working girl being able to work rather than attend to those two tasks.

That is, pimps are agents. That some agents are also predators shouldn’t be a surprise in this #MeToo world but it’s not definitional, is it? Yet the Guardian, other campaigners, are treating it as such, which is the error.

And as is always true we’re never going to be able to get to grips with a problem unless we correctly analyse it in the first place. To insist that all pimp involvement in prostitution is trafficking is an error – thus the assumption isn’t going to aid in solving anything. This is true if you’re like me and think that consenting adults should be allowed to just get on with it – you know, are a liberal – through full legalisation or that the mixture of sex and money is the very devil which must be stamped out for all time.

Pimps can be and undoubtedly some of them are sex traffickers but many of them aren’t. Claiming that all are is an error.

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Esteban DeGolf
Esteban DeGolf
5 years ago

I haven’t read the entire article, so please correct me if this point is addressed, but I see something happening here that is common. The article says women are “recruited” and “forced”. Those two things usually don’t coexist. It’s possible that the women are recruited with false promises, then forced to work in a slave-like situation, but does the article make that case? I’ve read a number of articles in the U.S. press about human trafficking/sex slavery, etc. that never come close to making the case for coercion or “slavery”. Something like “Maria came to the U.S. at age 19… Read more »

5 years ago

The recent hue-and-cry over “human trafficking” seems like a tool to bend English in support of a legislative push, comparable to the opioid “epidemic” and “gateway drugs,” where the thing must be illegal because it leads people to other things with which I disagree. In fact, some women prefer to make money in the sex industry, and some of these benefit from having a business manager. Force/fraud/coercion are adequately dealt with using existing laws against force/fraud/coercion. The current push is to declare the female body sacred ground and get the state further into the business of enforcing taboos. This avoids… Read more »

5 years ago

There was a study from UBC that found for quite a high % of women surveyed (over a 3rd I think) it was a conscious choice that for their life in regard of convenience etc. And there was no significant defeee ofndeug/abuse issuenin thst group
The takeaway was to leave those people to it and just focus on those that wanted to get out or had other underlying problems like a history of abuse or drugs

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