You know, I’m a bit uncomfortable with some of this discussion about children being sold as sex slaves.
I know, I know. Me and my crazy hang-ups.
This post on Bound, not Gagged, a blog for sex workers, is worth reading. It provides some context to some of the hyperbole around the issue of child sex trafficking in America.
Because yes, even around something as serious and terrible as child sex trafficking, hyperbole is still possible.
A number of celebrities have recently appeared in short filmed segments as part of a big campaign against this scourge, which has cited a figure of 100,000 to 300,000 for the number of children currently involved in sex trafficking in America. That’s an utterly horrifying idea, and may have motivated some people into some sort of action… but it’s also completely inaccurate.
If you look at those numbers and where they came from, it turns out that this is really nothing more than a guess, not backed up by any particularly vigorous science, as to how many children might potentially be at risk of some sort of abuse, sexual or otherwise.
It takes a monumental and seemingly deliberate misinterpretation of the data to start touting this as the number of children currently involved in the sex trafficking industry.
The author of the post refers to “fetishists” of child sex trafficking – meaning not those vile criminals directly involved in the activity, but those with a tendency to become zealous in their righteous campaigning against it. And it may not be an inappropriate word. It’s a subject which stirs some understandably strong emotions, and there can be a tendency to start assuming the worst, believing every half-credible factoid that comes your way which confirms the worst, and riding a wave of well-meaning indignation for as long as there’s enough (mis)information to fuel it.
A consultant involved in the campaign is quoted as saying:
I don’t frankly care if the number is 200,000, 500,000, or a million, or 100,000 — it needs to be addressed.
Which doesn’t do much to diminish the validity of the “fetishist” label. I can’t help thinking you really should care about numbers. There are more things we can do with numbers than point to how small they are and dismiss the problem, as some campaigners seem to fear is all will happen. Numbers should also have an impact on how we craft our response. If we thought there were a thousand children in sex trafficking in the US, we’d deal with it differently than if we thought there were a million.
And if you think people will only respond with enough concern to a thousand kids in sex slavery if they’re made to think there’s actually a million… well, you’re not giving your fellow humans much credit.
Perhaps part of the objection is that this kind of fact-checking downplays and dismisses the enormity of the crime in question. But if you think that the actual numbers of children suffering sexual abuse, which might be in the thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, are something that people will choose to dismiss or ignore, then you’re doing the other members of your species a rather condescending disservice. We get that it’s still horrible and deserves a response when it’s not exaggerated by a factor of a hundred.
“There are over a hundred thousand child sex slaves in this country!”
“Actually, it’s probably on the order of a thousand.”
“Why are you trying to make it sound like this isn’t an important issue?”
“Not important? Dude, there’s a thousand kids out there in sex trafficking, that doesn’t sound important to you?”
Of course, I’m veering a little close to straw-mannery here, or at least to being uncharitable. Most of the celebs involved were no doubt simply asked if they’d mind giving a little of their time to capitalise on their fame for what is unquestionably a good cause. It’d be a bit harsh to start blaming Justin Timberlake for not looking closely enough at the statistics.
And even the people claiming not to care about numbers are surely well motivated, even if they sometimes let reality get a little blurred in the face of their need to be seen to be acting nobly.
But the issue of truth is not one to be easily discarded. And if addressing something accurately doesn’t also allow us to address it better… Well, then, I just don’t know where we are.