Daily Archives: March 15th, 2013

Does Brooke Magnanti understand statistics?

Well, the obvious answer is yes, she does, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to do her day job properly (she is, according to her Guardian profile “a scientist in child health at Bristol University, where her areas of research include cancer biostatistics, genetic epidemiology and forensic science”).

So why, then, is she spouting such rubbish in the Guardian? It’s obvious why, she is a sex industry advocate who wants to see the decriminalisation, normalisation and expansion of the entire sex industry – the real question is why the Guardian is giving her space to do it, but then, sexy ‘sex work’ sells.

For comparison, I became a call girl at the age of 27. For every one of me, to arrive at an average of 13, you’d need someone aged minus one. Or five 10 year-olds. Or ten 12 year-olds. You get the picture. Not impossible, but not apparently happening in the UK and very unlikely to be going under the radar if it was, despite the protestations of what anthropologist Laura Agustin calls the rescue industry. The Comic Relief site continues: “The UK is a major destination country for trafficked young people. They are at a very high risk of being sexually exploited.”

That may be mathematically correct if one uses the mean average, but if one used the mode average, all that would be needed to balance out one 27-year-old entering prostitution is two 13-year-olds entering prostitution.

The Rochdale and Oxford cases show that very young girls being exploited in prostitution isn’t some ‘rescue industry’ fairytale, it’s real, and the sex industry as a whole couldn’t function with out a steady supply of abused girls to chew up and shit out.

Confirmed trafficking cases in the UK are more likely to enter other jobs like agriculture, hospitality, and domestic service than they are to become sex workers. Forced labour of any kind is a concern, more so when young people are involved. Which is why getting trafficking efforts right matters.

Trafficking into prostitution is real, and if you look at any successful sex trafficking prosecution, it is obvious that there is an infrastructure in place to facilitate it, an infrastructure of gangs, people smugglers, brothel keepers happy to help keep a woman captive, and johns happy to pay-to-rape an obviously abused woman. The idea that cases of trafficking could be one-offs, and the rest of the time the gangs, smugglers, pimps and johns are just benign employers, is ridiculous.

There are many reasons why there are few convictions for trafficking into prostitution, police incompetence being one, anti-immigration policy that would rather treat a trafficking victim as an illegal immigrant is another. Also, the particular nature of being trafficked into prostitution (as opposed to, say, agriculture) would make it very hard to get a conviction. The woman may have trauma bonded with her boyfriend/pimp, or the stigma attached to rape and prostitution may mean she has no home to go to; her family may have sold her in the first place.

This figure comes from a paper that surveyed only street-based sex workers, who represent less than 20% of prostitution in the UK.

This is why ‘sex work’ is so incidious and obfuscatory a term (especially when it becomes interchangeable with ‘prostitution’ so you can say ‘prostitute’ when you are actually talking about the much wider category covered by ‘sex worker’, and so that when someone says ‘sex worker’ an average member of the public will think they are talking specifically about prostitutes). Anyone even tangentially involved with the sex industry can call themselves a ‘sex worker’, which means pimps, pornographers, brothel keepers, academics, telephone sex line operators, the people who sit behind the till in a sex shop, sperm donors and porno-comic book illustrators all can and do call themselves ‘sex workers’.

It’s obvious how this obfuscation benefits those on the exploitation side in the sex industry; the bigger the number of ‘sex workers’ becomes, the smaller the number of women and girls abused and exploited becomes by comparison, so you can interview 99 pornographers and one street based prostitute, and conclude that 99% of ‘sex workers’ love their job.

And let’s have a quick lol at the fact the Guardian had to add a footnote because Magnanti was basically lying about the nature of a particular campaign group – but then a big glossy celebrity charity like that has the resources to defend its reputation and representation, which is more than can be said for any sex industry survivor, or any woman or child currently trapped in prostitution.

it is worth remembering that the bigger the charity, the more likely money is to go somewhere you weren’t expecting. Just ask donors to Bono’s ONE Campaign, many of whom did not realise the group’s thrust was awareness-raising for hunger and health causes, that is, glossy events and big media campaigns rather than on-the-ground help [see footnote].

[Footnote:] ONE has asked us to point out that it does not raise funds from the general public and does not run on-the-ground programmes. It says it is not correct that any donors have not realised that its main purpose is advocacy and campaign work, as is made clear on its website.