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 (which is, of course, illegal and awful). 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" and "shameful epidemic." The new phrase is "youth at risk of being trafficked"—which is, tellingly, ALL youth.
The media reports anti-trafficking conferences and gigantic, grisly estimates; politicians grimly respond with vows of stricter laws, and the wildly unusual victim is trotted out as proof of some enormous underground industry.
The favorite ploy of anti-trafficking groups is to claim that major sporting events are a central focus of this evil. In 2011, 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 adult prostitution, and none for trafficking.
The same is true for the three Superbowls before that: 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." The absence of such time-specific trafficking is perfectly logical: it makes no sense to spend all that money dragging victims across the country for a single weekend of illicit income.
Nevertheless, promoters of SexPanic are at it again this year. Congressmember Ed Royce (R-CA), citing no data whatsoever, announced this week that "any high-profile sports event that brings a large influx of visitors to a new locale can also create circumstances conducive to human trafficking and sexual exploitation," and of course introduced a bill increasing penalties on traffickers.
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 the 2014 Superbowl, for example, Indiana's legislature unanimously passed a 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 actual successful interventions, which shows exactly how pointless most of what they're doing is. "Raising awareness" would be harmless if it didn't cost money, encourage fear and anger, or 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.
To repeat, real human trafficking is horrendous. We should be grateful that with all of America's problems, sex trafficking victimizes such a tiny number of people.
Item: Texas hospital goes to court to keep a dead woman on a machine that keeps her fetus alive—over the objections of her husband, her family, and her stated wishes while alive.
Item: Kansas judge rules sperm donor is liable for child support payments even though he and the two moms signed a document ahead of time renouncing his involvement in any child.
Item: Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee decries supposed Democratic Party belief that women are helpless without government-supported birth control because they "can't control their libido or their reproductive system."
Half of this country simply cannot get over the amazing fact that human women can get pregnant and give birth. This prevents America from having an intelligent discussion about sexuality, conception, and contraception.
I am as awestruck as the next person when considering the elegant engineering and world-class reliability of my eyes, my fingers, my ears, and my bowels—not to mention my brain. And yes, the whole sex-conception-birth thing is totally astonishing.
But come on, this is old news. As with all extraordinary facts of the physical world—eyesight, nuclear power, bacon—the question a grownup society must face about the mechanics of conception and birth is what to do about it.
In this, self-described religious people have no advantage over the rest of us. Neither do parents, or physicians, or those who have suffered tragedy. We simply face a series of public policy questions that should be addressed the way we (ideally) handle tasks like locating airports, treating diseases attacking orange groves, and ensuring clean drinking water: with logic, facts, science, and by using the tools of the 21st century, not the 20th. Or the century of Julius Caesar.
The wide-eyed "miracle of life" narrative infantilizes us and prevents adult policy decisions around sex, fertility, & conception.
Sound public policy proceeds from respect, not awe; from fact, not faith; from what benefits most people, not the loudest, or most violent, or a group who believe their "feelings" somehow matter more than everyone else's.
Every technological advance, every fundamental change in our understanding of the world leads to other changes in our understanding or abilities that some people don't want, don't understand, or don't believe. The jet planes we can no longer live without are spreading previously local germs and predatory plant species around the world. The ultrasound that discloses a fetus's gender now makes gender-selective abortions possible. And inevitable.
Two such advances in knowledge are now on the table, and are never going to go away. Now that we know exactly how conception and childbirth work, we also know how to prevent each one. Not surprisingly, over 90% of American women at some point want to contracept. And each year over a million American women—more than half of them already mothers—want to abort.
Artificial fertility treatments and the resulting births are growing at a dramatic rate, while the use of First World contraception remains stable and abortion is actually diminishing. Societies can't consider fertility treatments as simply technological developments to be made available to everyone without treating contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion the same way. Whether it's IVF and sperm donors or RU-486 and Plan B, these all involve personal choices that people have—and expect to use—as a result of technological achievements.
Thousands of years ago scientists speculated that sperm contained tiny invisible people. One hundred fifty 150 years ago the Victorians believed that a woman had to climax to become pregnant. Today in Africa, sex with a virgin—no matter how young—is believed to prevent or cure AIDS.
But the truth is that there's no magic in sperm, or climaxes, or conception, or virginity. They're all just routine parts of the amazing life of humans. Public policy needs to catch up and treat these various parts of our sexuality in an adult way.
Anything else—treating a dead woman like an incubator, treating sperm like parenthood, treating birth control like an admission of pathology—is barbaric. And by pretending that we don't know any better, it trivializes "life."
I loved the Golden Globes Award Show last night, didn't you? The music, the dresses, the film clips, the dresses, the acceptance speeches, the dresses, the comedy banter…
And the tuxedos and the handsome guys in them who all sport that new style where they look like they haven't shaved in 48 hours.
You might think that I—and millions of other viewers—have a wholesome interest in "fashion." I'm sure that some people do. But most men and women watching at home were seriously ogling the stars while imagining all those socially-approved stand-ins for sexuality and erotic power: romance, style, flirtation, charisma; gossip, people-watching, vicarious pleasure.
In fact, in this typical photo article about the actresses and their dresses, note the descriptions of the various garments: they are plunging, racy, slinky, seductive, provocative; they shimmer, have a high slit, show a little leg; and more than one is worn by a goddess.
I have no problem with this. Humans have always enjoyed looking at other humans. And every society has a consensus about which humans, in which situations, are most desirable to look at. The Bible expressed this, as did the Greek playwrights, medieval troubadours, Renaissance painters, and Victorian writers.
Although one society's and one era's consensus differs from another, the fact that there is consensus on who/what is attractive no matter where and when in history you look is remarkable. Even in pluralistic societies like ours, a handful of cultural minorities maintain their own consensuses; beyond these, there's a significant drop-off in the variety of who people like to look at.
Evolutionary biologists have their explanation for this. For example, they've written a lot about the waist-hip ratio in women and its role in perceived attractiveness.
But I'm not here to explain the consistency of what most people in a society consider sexy and fun to look at; I just want to call it what it is: eroticism. Or sexuality, if eroticism is too fancy a word.
When it's harmless and the woman (or man) being gazed upon doesn't mind, I want everyone to feel permission to look, to imagine, to wonder, and to appreciate.
People tend to feel superior about their own venues for ogling (and about the euphemisms with which they describe it). For some it's movies, for others it's romance novels, TV, GoogleImages, the local tennis court, or aisle three in the supermarket.
For some it's porn. And among people who can't agree on whose way of leering is best, many do agree that porn is the worst. And then they explain why—whether it's immoral or bad for the actresses or bad for one's marriage or that it leads to global warming and childhood obesity.
What these people don't say in comparing their own ogling to the porn consumer's is that porn is just too explicit; no one looking at porn pretends it's about romance or fashion. For people who like to ogle, porn's ultimate crime is its tasteless admission that it's about sex.
And so people who look at porn are shamed by those who don't look at porn—and who instead get away with "reading" People magazine, following E! News, or watching the parade of designer gowns on the Golden Globes show.
I have patients who play video games endlessly, and then claim it's work-related because they're software engineers. That's like eating tons of Oreos and claiming it's work-related because you're a nutritionist. No one reads People or watches the pre-award Red Carpet shows to become better informed. They're all hoping to see some skin, hear some sexy talk, speculate on who's doing who.
So you are hereby authorized to watch the babes (or hunks, if you prefer, or both) on the upcoming Oscars, VMAs, Victoria's Secret special, and any other soft-core display. But don't hide behind excuses. "I love watching the babes in dresses" should be totally acceptable for any adult. Just like "I love watching the babes without dresses" should be.
Final note: Cries of "sexism!" do not constitute a thoughtful critique here. No one ogling Leonardo di Caprio or Matthew McConaughey is thinking "what a fine actor" or "what an expressive artist." No—eyeballing these guys is fully as erotic as eyeballing (or now earballing, I guess) Scarlett Johansson. Can't we just admit it and get on with our fantasies?