Sex trafficking--the real thing, not the political consumer product or object of sloganeering--involves kidnapping or manipulating someone out of their community, forcing them to engage in sex acts somewhere else, and not allowing them to leave at will.
It's not simply prostitution, not even underage prostitution. It's not making porn films, even under onerous conditions. It's not stripping or being an escort.
An increasing number of groups are intent on persuading Americans that we have a terrible and growing problem with sex trafficking. Their data is virtually non-existent, elided with words like "experts agree," "a shameful epidemic," and "enormous human suffering." The media reports their conferences and feral estimates, politicians grimly respond with vows of stricter laws, and the occasional wildly unusual victim is trotted out as proof of some enormous underground industry.
The favorite ploy of anti-trafficking groups is to grimly remind us that major sporting events are a central focus of this evil. Last year, for example, Texas attorney general Greg Abbot said "The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human-trafficking events in the United States"--without any data. He strengthened a unit to pursue those involved with child prostitution (not the same thing as trafficking, of course). The result--at the Dallas Superbowl there were 113 arrests for prostitution, and none for trafficking.
The same is true for the last three Superbowls: grim predictions of upcoming trafficking disasters, and none materializing. Says Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas office, "The Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes."
Every year, the NFL has to deny that they're the center of an odious international sex slavery ring. NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy says the super bowl sex slave story is a simply an urban legend.
But that doesn't stop those who are feeding--and feeding off of--America's latest Sex Panic. One week before hosting next week's Superbowl, for example, Indiana's House and Senate both voted unanimously for a new law that makes recruiting, transporting or harboring anyone younger than 16 for prostitution a felony punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison. The law was passed without a single documented case of sex trafficking in the state. You now get less jail time in Indiana for murdering a teen than for pimping her.
The dozens of groups "fighting" trafficking rarely report success stories, which shows exactly how pointless most of what they're doing is. "Raising awareness" is harmless if it doesn't cost money, doesn't encourage fear and anger, and doesn't spread misinformation.
Unfortunately, that's exactly why "raising awareness" about sex trafficking in America isn't harmless--it's diverting money, time, and attention to a barely-existing problem, encouraging politicians and the public to ignore more important issues--like unintended pregnancy, domestic violence, and a lack of prenatal medical care for poor teens.
Calling prostitutes of any age victims of trafficking is an insult to those who really are kidnapped or tricked into sexual slavery. And lying about the Superbowl's magnetism for the worst kind of criminality--when the numbers clearly show otherwise--is a disservice to every parent, every teen, and every taxpayer. It's the latest example of the Sexual Disaster Industry expanding its product line.
If you thought the Susan G. Komen pink ribbon campaign against breast cancer was really about women's health, think again. It turns out they're only in it for themselves.
The organization just terminated their funding of Planned Parenthood programs that screen for breast cancer and related health problems. It seems that some of Komen's conservative donors have been pressuring them---they don't want women getting their breast health services from an organization that also provides abortions, even though the two operations are completely separate.
Women, of course, are the losers here. Those who reduce every single issue in America to abortion are the winners. Having successfully politicized private decisions about conception and childbearing, they've now politicized breast cancer. And Komen didn't have the ovaries to stand up to them.
Maybe that's because Komen's new senior vice president for public policy is Karen Handel, who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010. Campaigning as a Republican, Handel wrote, "Since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood." I guess that includes their mission of detecting breast cancer. Apparently that mission is acceptable only when Komen is doing it.
This increasing obsession with abortion is sick. This obsession with fertilized eggs is sick. This abandonment of human empathy is sick.
This action shows how far the religious right and the anti-choicers are willing to go. How much more destructive do they have to get before people start vomiting in response, how long until the public is simply too ashamed to be associated with these sociopaths?
Those who kidnapped the Komen organization have opened a new front in the War on Sex, and women with breast cancer are the latest victims. These people are war criminals.
The Komen campaign has made a calculated deal with the devil, tacitly supporting the Congressional witchhunt against Planned Parenthood by using it as an excuse to defund their breast health services. "Susan Komen would not give in to bullies or to fear," says author Judy Blume. "Too bad the foundation bearing her name did."
I was interviewed about this on Public Radio yesterday. Since it's a subject I hadn't given a lot of thought, I prepared by reading up on it just a bit. And I was shocked.
It's actually against the law to touch yourself sexually--in private--if you're in jail. Sounds barbaric, doesn't it? OK, you're behind bars, your body is no longer your own. But if you're not allowed to masturbate, neither is your soul.
Worse, if there's any disagreement about whether you've done it, you automatically lose the argument. There are many cases in which guards either misinterpret prisoner activity and perceive masturbation, or some nutcase guard goes hunting and finds masturbation in every nook and cranny. Either way, prisoners are punished.
Of course, masturbation in prison is common. A 2001 study of one maximum-security joint found that all but one male inmate masturbated. Another study found that 2/3 of female inmates masturbated. Criminalizing something that everyone does makes selective enforcement inevitable. And there are documented cases of just that.
Prisons say they have to regulate masturbation because of security issues, which sounds completely bogus. It's the same argument society makes when it restricts the sexual expression of any group, such as teens, soldiers, and the elderly. But prisons are trying to control sex, not safety.
A new wrinkle in the prison masturbation scene is the increasing number of female guards. Because women are more likely to lack a criminal record, more likely to have some college education, and can oversee and pat-down both male and female inmates (male guards must work primarily with male prisoners), their numbers are steadily increasing.
Presumably, the percentage of nutty female guards is roughly the same as that of nutty male guards. Presumably, the one female guard who busted eight different Florida inmates for masturbation four years ago is an anomaly.
But the increasing number of female guards raises the question of "hostile work environment" that is bedeviling every American organization--governmental or for-profit--with a lawyer. A legal doctrine and laws meant to protect women is now being used as a weapon to strip sexuality from every possible workplace interaction. To protect their delicate sensibilities (a myth that 1970s feminism worked tirelessly to challenge), women in cities across America are now claiming that classic nude sculpture, photo shows depicting childbirth, sex education brochures, and even co-workers' tiny silver vulva earrings create a workplace in which they just can't function.
So what we have now is some women wanting it both ways--equal rights, but with extra protection. If a person, male or female, can't work within earshot of the word "fuck," that person should probably not be a prison guard, bus driver, football coach, or high school teachers. And if Michaelangelo's nude David makes someone swoon, he or she should have the decency to get some help, rather than deprive their co-workers from the world's artistic patrimony.
I don't imagine that prisoners treat female guards any worse than they treat male guards. The content of the disrespect, envy, and manipulation may differ, but the treatment is no worse. Of course, any given guard--male or female--can get unhinged by seeing or imagining a penis while they're at work.
Finally, punishing guys for masturbating in prison is counterproductive. How do people feel after orgasm? Relaxed. Isn't that preferable to prisoners feeling rageful? I'd say inmate masturbation is the jailer's best friend.
Every guy in prison started masturbating as a child, and always for the same reason: to soothe himself. To comfort himself, to feel a sense of control in otherwise repressive circumstances. To validate his power and individuality.
These, too, are what we want in prisoner's lives. Better than the rage and humiliation that dominate prison life, and the brutality that naturally follows from it. Putting hundreds or thousands of men together, robbing them of their most basic rights and dignity, and expecting them to respond by being asexual for 10 years is simply ridiculous. Giving prisoners the chance to privately comfort themselves psychologically is in everyone's best interests. And giving prisoners a private, solo sexual outline would surely reduce the amount of coercive and dangerous sex that's rampant in every prison.
It's simply logical. But when it comes to sex, science isn't a strong suit of the correctional industry--any more than in any institution in the outside world.
Each year, Sexual Intelligence Awards™ honor individuals and organizations which challenge the sexual fear, unrealistic expectations, and government hypocrisy that undermine love, sex, and relationships--and political freedom--today. Previous winners include Dr. Paul Joannides, Psychoanalyst & Author; Dr. Bill Taverner, Sex Educator; Candye Kane, Blues Mama; the National Center for Reason & Justice; Vermont Law School; and two ground-breaking books about Vietnamese culture: Sexuality in Contemporary Vietnam: Easy to Joke About But Hard to Talk About, and For Better or For Worse: Vietnamese International Marriages in the New Global Economy.
Your nomination is invited. You may submit more than one nomination, and you may nominate yourself. Send one or two paragraphs about your nominee(s) to Klein (at) SexEd (dot) org. Deadline for nominations is February 25; winners will be announced March 2.