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.

7 responses

  1. Top article, but sperm donors do not call themselves sex workers – it’s just a scientific necessity for women to have better control of fertility. Pornography and prostitution is useless and dangerous.

  2. Hello, and thank you for your comment.

    I think there may be some misunderstanding here of what I have written; I know what a sperm donor is, I haven’t confused it with some kind of euphemism for a male prostitute.

    Some sperm donors do call themselves ‘sex workers’, and this helps add to the obfuscation about what the sex industry actually is, who is involved in the sex industry, and how.

    From the Amazon description of ‘Tricks and Treats: Sex Workers Write About Their Clients’

    Tricks and Treats tantalizes with its powerful collection of tales from a diverse group of male, female, and transgendered sex workers. Their commercial, cultural, emotional, sexual, (il)legal, and even spiritual relationships with their clients are discussed in intimate detail. You will explore accounts from streetworkers, escorts, strippers, porn actors, masseurs, dominatrixes, phone sex operators, an adult-video store clerk, an outreach worker, a sex educator, and even a sperm donor.

  3. As you rightly say Brooke Magnanti does understand statistics but she conveniently suffers from that male centric syndrome ‘male myopia’ when the issue is one of prostitution. ‘Male myopia’ means viewing the world through the male lens/male gaze and this is what Magnanti does so well. Magnanti endorses pornstitution industry’s claim that pornstitution is ‘just sex work’ meaning trafficking of women and girls into female sexual slavery doesn’t exist because ‘it is just sex work’ aka women and girls choose to enter pornstitution since it is a job just like working at McDonalds.

    Pornstitution industry is enacting the same generic claims as male supremacist system does by making definitions as wide as possible so that the politics of how and why men need a constant supply of women and girls they can sexually exploit/rape and then discard remain invisible. Here’s just a few examples of male supremacist generic terms which supposedly define male violence against women and girls: ‘family violence; gender based violence; violence against women’ Guess what is missing: why sex of perpetrators of course. This effectively erases which sex is committing violence against women and this is what men want to remain nameless and hidden out of sight.

    Same applies to ‘sex work’ which is also generic because it can be applied to anyone including hotel chains; electricians; IT technicians; IT programmers; lighting engineers, governments. All can and do work in the ‘sex industry.’ But these individuals are not being bought by individual Johns in order that these Johns can subject them to rape and male sexual violence. So just as ‘gender based violence against women’ erases which sex is committing violence against women, so to does ‘sex work’ hide male demand and erases the thousands of women and girls being trafficked into sexual slavery/enticed into prostitution. What is happening in Amsterdam whereby local authority decided to legalise prostitution because it hoped to increase its revenue by prostituted women being taxed is not an isolated case. New Zealand has legalised prostitution and New Zealand’s economy is benefiting from prostitution – so this means male sexual exploitation of women and girls is okay because no human is being harmed apparently (meaning males are not the ones being prostituted in huge numbers).

    End result is ‘sex work’ becomes meaningless which is precisely what pornstitution industry wants because focusing on male demand means putting men under the spotlight and that is a no no.

    Magnanti is one of many minions of the pornstitution industry and she is doing mens’ work for them. This is a common ploy male supremacist system enacts because as usual men remain invisible and the woman will be blamed. Guardian too is using Magnanti by publishing her articles and Guardian editor will claim ‘I am just publishing opinion pieces and am not engaging in a propaganda campaign promoting mens’ pseudo sex right to women and girls!’

    Remember trafficking men into forced labour is real whereas trafficking women and girls into sexual servitude is ‘just sex work!’ Men trafficked into forced labour supposedly do not ‘choose’ to enter this industry unlike women and girls involved in prostitution apparently!

  4. Chocolattruffaut

    What strikes me is how “sex positive feminists” along with “sex workers” of the privileged variety don’t even hide the fact that they really don’t care about trafficking victims. I guess a 12 year old Thai girl sold by her parents or kidnapped by traffickers isn’t as interesting as a white, blonde high heeled college graduate who just looooves sex so much. Why are so many fun feminists fighting for the right to say yes to sex, when the vast majority of women are fighting a greater battle to say no?

  5. Yes, while there is a small privileged western elite who go into the top end of prostitution for fun ’empowerment’ and lots of money (and despite what the sex industry advocates may claim, I have never denied this fact), globally, prostitution is about poverty and exploitation, and it is something girls start in young (often, in countries like India being literally born into it), and never get to leave.

  6. Admittedly, I am no expert. A degree in maths, a master’s in genetic epidemiology, and a doctoral viva examined by a statistics professor, and years as an epidemiologist are probably no reflection of my limited knowledge in this area – but I think you will find if you click on the links provided in the article, the numbers referenced were calculated using means, as I and others also did. As indeed would anyone researching population statistics.

    I’m sorry I didn’t think to also include a year 3-level summary of possible other definitions of the word ‘average’ that may be used or an explanation that clicking on links leads to the source material being referenced. Will keep it in mind for the future.

    Hope this helps!


  7. Magnanti,

    I said in the first sentence of this post that of course you did understand statistics, I wasn’t accusing you of being ignorant, I was accusing you of being dishonest. Did you read properly beyond the title of this post, or is this more of your disingenuousness?

    Everything you say in relation to the sex industry is grotesquely dishonest; your ‘popular science’ book was riddled with inaccuracies and dishonesties; your take on pornography is laughable; you took an opportunity to talk about the real violence men commit against prostitutes, and instead used it to bash a massive straw radical feminist of your own creation; you throw the term ‘hooker’ around as if it wasn’t a label that harms large numbers of women; the Guardian had to add a footnote to your CiF piece because of your misrepresentation of an organisation; and you couldn’t even get the date right on twitter about that Julie Burchill quote you had to dig up to ‘prove’ that feminists ‘hate prostitutes’.

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