Punish the Johns but Not the Prostitutes?

That seems to be the consensus among readers of our new piece on trafficking in the U.S. The most up-voted comment:

Over the course of his tenure, [Detective Bill Woolf with the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force has] interviewed over 300 victims. In many cases, those who have been exploited believe that they are offenders, Woolf told me. “They fear law enforcement…because they’re technically committing a crime and that is prostitution,” he said.

Which is one reason why prostitution should not be a crime, and laws against prostitution play into the hands of the traffickers. Just as with drug laws, and prohibition laws about alcohol, all laws forbidding consensual sex for pay should be struck down. The prostitute needs to be able to get help from the police, and should not be subject to criminal penalties.

Another reader emails a long piece published in The Washington Post by Maggie McNeill, a former call girl and blogger: “This essay seems like a good place to start a discussion on fuzzy and conflated definitions, as well as shoddy research and misrepresented findings, found in alarmist articles about commercial sex work and sex trafficking.” Here’s McNeill:

Sex-work prohibitionists have long seen trafficking and sex slavery as a useful Trojan horse. In its 2010 “national action plan,” for example, the activist group Demand Abolition writes,“Framing the Campaign’s key target as sexual slavery might garner more support and less resistance, while framing the Campaign as combating prostitution may be less likely to mobilize similar levels of support and to stimulate stronger opposition.” But as sex worker rights organizations have repeatedly pointed out (as have organizations like UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International), those who are truly interested in decreasing exploitation in the sex industry would be better off supporting decriminalization of prostitution.

New South Wales, Australia, decriminalized sex work in 1995, and a subsequent government-sponsored 2012 study found “ . . . no evidence of recent trafficking of female sex workers . . . in marked contrast to the 1990s when contacted women from Thailand were common in Sydney . . . ” New Zealand legalized prostitution in 2003. A study by the New Zealand Ministry of Justice five years later found “no incidence of trafficking,” and sex worker advocates say the law has made it easier for sex workers to report abuse, and for law enforcement to make arrests for crimes against sex workers.  

McNeill also insists that “most of the scary articles about sex trafficking are larded with inflated figures and phony statistics that don’t survive any serious analysis.” A few of her examples:

Another common claim is that there are 100,000 to 300,000 children locked in sex slavery in the U.S. (For just a few examples, see here, here, here, here, and here. ) That number is a distortion of a figure from a 2001 study by Richard Estes and Neil Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania, which estimated that number of “children, adolescents and youth (up to 21) at risk of sexual exploitation.” (Emphasis added.)  “Sex trafficking” was the least prevalent form of “exploitation” in their definition. Other forms included stripping, consensual homosexual relations, and merely viewing porn. Moreover, two of the so-called “risk factors” were access to a car and proximity to the Canadian or Mexican border. In a 2011 interview, Estes himself estimated the number of legal minors actually abducted into “sex slavery” was ” very small . . . {w}e’re talking about a few hundred people.”

Yet the myth persists. The Dallas Morning News recently took the figure to new levels of preposterousness, claiming in an editorial last November that, “In Houston alone, about 300,000 sex trafficking cases are prosecuted each year.” As defense attorney Mark Bennett pointed out on his blog, the actual figure was two. Not 200,000. Just two.  The paper did print a correction, though the correction simply deleted the original 300,000 figure from the editorial. The paper still didn’t bother to mention the actual number, perhaps it didn’t support the alarmism in the rest of the editorial.

One of the most prolific skeptics of the new crusade against sex trafficking is Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown. In a November piece for her magazine, she makes a direct parallel to the disastrous War on Drugs:

The tactics employed to “get tough” on drugs ended up entangling millions in the criminal justice system, sanctioning increasingly intrusive and violent policing practices, worsening tensions between law enforcement and marginalized communities, and degrading the constitutional rights of all Americans. Yet even as the drug war’s failures and costs become more apparent, the Land of the Free is enthusiastically repeating the same mistakes when it comes to sex trafficking. This new “epidemic” inspires the same panicked rhetoric and punitive policies the war on drugs did—often for activity that’s every bit as victimless.

Forcing others into sex or any sort of labor is abhorrent, and it deserves to be treated like the serious violation it is. But the activity now targeted under anti-trafficking efforts includes everything from offering or soliciting paid sex, to living with a sex worker, to running a classified advertising website.

What’s more, these new laws aren’t organic responses by legislators in the face of an uptick in human trafficking activity or inadequate current statutes. They are in large part the result of a decades-long anti-prostitution crusade from Christian “abolitionists” and anti-sex feminists, pushed along by officials who know a good political opportunity when they see it and by media that never met a moral panic they didn’t like.

What do you think? Are skeptics like McNeill and E.N.B. misguided? Drop us an email and we’ll post the strongest counterpoints.

The Divide Over Prostitution on the Feminist Left

That seems to be the consensus among readers of our new piece on trafficking in the U.S. The most up-voted comment:

Over the course of his tenure, [Detective Bill Woolf with the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force has] interviewed over 300 victims. In many cases, those who have been exploited believe that they are offenders, Woolf told me. “They fear law enforcement…because they’re technically committing a crime and that is prostitution,” he said.

Which is one reason why prostitution should not be a crime, and laws against prostitution play into the hands of the traffickers. Just as with drug laws, and prohibition laws about alcohol, all laws forbidding consensual sex for pay should be struck down. The prostitute needs to be able to get help from the police, and should not be subject to criminal penalties.

Another reader emails a long piece published in The Washington Post by Maggie McNeill, a former call girl and blogger: “This essay seems like a good place to start a discussion on fuzzy and conflated definitions, as well as shoddy research and misrepresented findings, found in alarmist articles about commercial sex work and sex trafficking.” Here’s McNeill:

Sex-work prohibitionists have long seen trafficking and sex slavery as a useful Trojan horse. In its 2010 “national action plan,” for example, the activist group Demand Abolition writes,“Framing the Campaign’s key target as sexual slavery might garner more support and less resistance, while framing the Campaign as combating prostitution may be less likely to mobilize similar levels of support and to stimulate stronger opposition.” But as sex worker rights organizations have repeatedly pointed out (as have organizations like UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International), those who are truly interested in decreasing exploitation in the sex industry would be better off supporting decriminalization of prostitution.

New South Wales, Australia, decriminalized sex work in 1995, and a subsequent government-sponsored 2012 study found “ . . . no evidence of recent trafficking of female sex workers . . . in marked contrast to the 1990s when contacted women from Thailand were common in Sydney . . . ” New Zealand legalized prostitution in 2003. A study by the New Zealand Ministry of Justice five years later found “no incidence of trafficking,” and sex worker advocates say the law has made it easier for sex workers to report abuse, and for law enforcement to make arrests for crimes against sex workers.  

McNeill also insists that “most of the scary articles about sex trafficking are larded with inflated figures and phony statistics that don’t survive any serious analysis.” A few of her examples:

Another common claim is that there are 100,000 to 300,000 children locked in sex slavery in the U.S. (For just a few examples, see here, here, here, here, and here. ) That number is a distortion of a figure from a 2001 study by Richard Estes and Neil Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania, which estimated that number of “children, adolescents and youth (up to 21) at risk of sexual exploitation.” (Emphasis added.)  “Sex trafficking” was the least prevalent form of “exploitation” in their definition. Other forms included stripping, consensual homosexual relations, and merely viewing porn. Moreover, two of the so-called “risk factors” were access to a car and proximity to the Canadian or Mexican border. In a 2011 interview, Estes himself estimated the number of legal minors actually abducted into “sex slavery” was ” very small . . . {w}e’re talking about a few hundred people.”

Yet the myth persists. The Dallas Morning News recently took the figure to new levels of preposterousness, claiming in an editorial last November that, “In Houston alone, about 300,000 sex trafficking cases are prosecuted each year.” As defense attorney Mark Bennett pointed out on his blog, the actual figure was two. Not 200,000. Just two.  The paper did print a correction, though the correction simply deleted the original 300,000 figure from the editorial. The paper still didn’t bother to mention the actual number, perhaps it didn’t support the alarmism in the rest of the editorial.

One of the most prolific skeptics of the new crusade against sex trafficking is Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown. In a November piece for her magazine, she makes a direct parallel to the disastrous War on Drugs:

The tactics employed to “get tough” on drugs ended up entangling millions in the criminal justice system, sanctioning increasingly intrusive and violent policing practices, worsening tensions between law enforcement and marginalized communities, and degrading the constitutional rights of all Americans. Yet even as the drug war’s failures and costs become more apparent, the Land of the Free is enthusiastically repeating the same mistakes when it comes to sex trafficking. This new “epidemic” inspires the same panicked rhetoric and punitive policies the war on drugs did—often for activity that’s every bit as victimless.

Forcing others into sex or any sort of labor is abhorrent, and it deserves to be treated like the serious violation it is. But the activity now targeted under anti-trafficking efforts includes everything from offering or soliciting paid sex, to living with a sex worker, to running a classified advertising website.

What’s more, these new laws aren’t organic responses by legislators in the face of an uptick in human trafficking activity or inadequate current statutes. They are in large part the result of a decades-long anti-prostitution crusade from Christian “abolitionists” and anti-sex feminists, pushed along by officials who know a good political opportunity when they see it and by media that never met a moral panic they didn’t like.

What do you think? Are skeptics like McNeill and E.N.B. misguided? Drop us an email and we’ll post the strongest counterpoints.

‘I Told Her She Had to Have an Abortion’

My wife and I married young; I was 23 and she just 19. Just enlisting in the U.S. Army, we packed our bags for Europe. Prior to getting married though, we both agreed that we weren’t interested in having children of our own. We both took preventative measures via birth control pills and the religious use of condoms until I was ready to commit to a vasectomy. For four years we partied and lived carefree (between deployments, of course), completely content in just each other’s company. However, as she was heading back for a routine tonsillectomy, a last-minute pregnancy test confirmed that despite our best efforts to avert this situation, she was pregnant.

Disbelief, shock, anger, anxiety, dread—I remember a flood of emotions that day. But out of all those negative feelings, I noticed a glimmer of excitement of the thought of having a baby. There was one hitch, however: My wife was currently taking a very strong medication that, according to her doctor and the FDA, causes severe abnormalities in 100 percent of births. Now off the market, it was such a dangerous drug that it required a pregnancy test before each monthly refill.

Our first OB appointment was surreal. I saw what I nicknamed “my peanut” at just a couple of months via ultrasound and again, felt that twinge of excitement. Even though it had a heartbeat, I knew it was still just a bundle of cells. So imagine my surprise when I noticed that not only was I feeling true excitement, I was feeling love towards this living, growing thing.

Unfortunately the excitement was cut short by our OB who asked, “So what is the plan?” We were stationed in Germany at the time and the medical care was amazing, but the approach to abortion a lot different. Ending the pregnancy never really crossed my mind, until the doctor gave us the rundown on all the terrible conditions our child could be born with. It wasn’t even an IF he was born with an abnormality; it was WHAT KIND, if not many—all being severe and all ensuring our child was going to grow up knowing nothing but pain and suffering.

Through many sleepless nights and long conversations, we decided on a “wait and see” approach. The hope that he might be born healthy was still there for the both of us, but it was short lived. The doctors explained that many disabilities, including the more severe, wouldn’t manifest till later on in the pregnancy which would be past the point of legal abortion in Germany. Insistent that our baby WAS going to be born with many health issues, our medical team relentlessly pressed us to end the pregnancy.

Being extremely young and independent, turning to our families for advice was a hard decision in itself. I already knew my father’s stance; growing up with a severely handicapped brother (also due to medication taken while in utero) took a very hard toll on him and my grandmother. He reminded me of the pain that my uncle lives with everyday, not to mention the severe financial struggle they endured because of the long-term medical care he has needed. “If you love the baby, don’t bring it into this world to suffer,” he would say. Everyone had their own opinions of course, but in the end it was my mother-in-law that had one simple answer: pray.

My wife and I believed in God, but weren’t the best in living a “Godly life,” and our beliefs state that “all life is precious and shouldn’t be taken unless extreme circumstances.” So where did we fall in? So even though we were unsure if we’d even get an answer, we prayed with torn hearts for almost two weeks.

Then one random afternoon we got our answer, at the same time we looked at each other and knew what needed to happen.

The office visits became fairly routine after our decision: Listen to the baby’s heart—CHECK; measure the babies growth—CHECK; ask to reconsider an abortion—CHECK CHECK. Up until my wife was almost five months pregnant, she was constantly asked to reconsider our decision. “If you’re going to do it you need to go ahead because after five months I have to send you to the Czech Republic,” her OB would always add and always with assurance we declined.

I’m not saying we KNEW our baby was going to be perfectly healthy, but what we did know is that no matter what happened, we could handle it. I knew it was going to be tough (to put it lightly), taking care of a child with severe physical and mental handicaps. But I was at peace with our decision and I knew without a doubt that there was a reason we needed to forego the abortion. And in my eyes, no matter what the capabilities of a child are, each child is a blessing and I was going to love him unconditionally, no matter what.

Fast forward: NOW my child is an extremely intelligent, funny, handsome nine-year-old little boy. He was born absolutely healthy, without even a small indication that things could have easily turned out different for us.

I know many facing this situation and ones similar aren’t religious, and I’m not attempting to imply that “all you need to do is pray and it will make everything a-okay!” But this is what worked for us, and without prayer, things could have turned out much differently.

I know my story got long, but it’s one I feel strongly compelled to tell, mainly because I’m grateful for two things: One, because of my mother-in-law’s advice and realizing I didn’t have to make a blindfolded decision. I could make one that not only was I confident in, but one that wouldn’t fill me with regret later. Second was the fact that I WAS able to help make the decision regarding my child, one that many fathers don’t receive. Fathers have virtually ZERO rights in determining the outcome of THEIR child.

Coming from my perspective as a man and also experiencing similar situations via close friends of mine, it seems as though we get lost in the arguments of “a women’s right to choose.” What about the man’s rights? Fathers often get overlooked and many don’t realize that for some men, the decision of an abortion is JUST as emotionally painful, with many carrying their guilt their whole life just like so many women. It can be equally devastating and heartbreaking learning your partner has terminated a pregnancy without your knowledge, especially in cases that I’ve seen firsthand, where the father would’ve HAPPILY taken the child and had the means to raise it in a comfortable and loving home.

But these fathers are often overlooked in the constant debate of women’s rights vs. child’s rights. If the child is kept and raised by the mother, many times the father is taken to court and through child support, legally bound to ensure the child is receiving proper care. The fathers in these situations are denied a choice, so why does it seem that so much attention is giving to the “mothers choice”?

Some may deny any parallels, considering it’s the women’s body and therefore her right to choose. So in considering this, there really isn’t an easy answer or fix. I just hope and pray that in the near future we can AT LEAST recognize the fathers’ feelings and one day perhaps give them a voice too.

My girlfriend and I found out we were pregnant recently, in the last week of January 2016. We have been in a happy, healthy, and committed relationship for a year. We were already openly talk about the possibility of starting a family together in the future—“future” being the key word, as we are both in our mid-to-late twenties at the start of careers, and my girlfriend is about to start graduate school in the fall while taking out student loans. In our plans, we didn’t see the possibility of raising kids for another 2-3 years, when we would be more secure with our finances and relationship.

Our situation was even more complicated due to the fact that we are currently in a long-distance relationship until Summer 2016, since I had previously committed to a temporary work contract in another state before we had even met the year before. Fortunately, my job brings me back to our hometown frequently so I can see her.

During one such work trip back home, my girlfriend expressed concern that her period was two weeks late. Although we use condoms every time, we immediately went to buy a pregnancy test, which came back positive. I immediately felt in shock, and I was distraught that I had not tried harder to convince her to use additional methods of birth control such as pills or an IUD. She was also in disbelief. As these thoughts swirled inside both of us, we outwardly tried to calm each other and talked about our options.

My girlfriend quickly decided to terminate the pregnancy. Although I immediately gave her my support in whatever she chose, my feelings were still in a jumble, and I seriously entertained the idea of having a child. Having a family is one of my main goals in life, and I felt conflicted to not embrace this opportunity, however surprising and untimely it was. After a good night’s sleep, however, pragmatism set in and I was 100 percent behind the decision to terminate.

Her health provider did not perform abortions, but they offered referrals to clinics. Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood did not have an available appointment for two weeks and I was scheduled to return to work out-of-state the next day. Her provider had agreements with another clinic that had an appointment available two days later, which my girlfriend preferred. I also wanted to be there through the process to support her and ensure her health, so I changed my flights on my own dime and stayed home.

The worst part was not feeling like I could tell my work and my family why I had extended my stay. Although I work for a liberal organization and come from a liberal family that is incredibly supportive, I still felt a taboo in discussing what we were going through. The clinic experience was fast, safe, and comfortable for her, which was amazing, but even the clinic did not have resources available for men to talk about their trauma.

It has been five days since the abortion and I have since talked to my sister and have plans to talk with a couple friends in person this coming weekend. I also plan to talk to my parents in the coming weeks once I have fully wrapped my head around what just happened, but I am still hesitant to talk to my boss. My girlfriend and I talk every day like we always do, although we are both experiencing a mild depression and feeling out of sorts at work, which we assume is normal. She is eager to get an IUD soon so we don’t go through this again. Ultimately, we’re both satisfied with our decision and are actively working to make this experience bring us even closer together.

Part of me wants to reveal my name to break the chain of taboo, but I know my girlfriend is not ready to share this with the public, and in all honesty I worry that this could impact my career. I feel weak requiring you to keep my name anonymous, but also empowered that I was at least able to share my experience and read those of others.  

Why Should Married People Get Extra Support?

A reader addresses our question through the lens of the military:

I have always wondered why a marriage saves you money but never really cared about it until I joined the Army. Then I got angry.

By age 26, I had been through college and was responsible for calling in airstrikes. However, as a SINGLE soldier, I had to live in a barracks with 18- and 19-year-old kids. A barracks is equivalent to a college dorm except you are stuck on a military post. If you are a married soldier, you receive a tax-free housing allowance, a tax-free food allowance, and extra pay when deployed. You can move off post and rent or buy a house.

So, as a 26-year-old sergeant, I was technically making less than a married 18-year-old private. Even more frustrating is to hear married folk complain about their finances or having to fix their house that they just bought since their housing allowance can cover a mortgage.

To further add salt to my wound, a married soldier with the same rank as me STILL makes more. If married, your housing and food allowance is slightly increased over a single soldier’s pay. Not to mention a break on your taxes.

While in the military, marriage is placed on a pedestal.

Pre deployment you have to attend meetings that inform wives on the upcoming deployment … even if you’re single. Oh and the military considers you “single” so long as you’re not married. Dating or engaged isn’t recognized, nor is cohabitating with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Additionally you also get the smart-ass comment from married soldiers on how easy single life is compared to theirs (although I’m sure that happens at civilian jobs as well)

However, there is a silver lining to this, in my opinion. I am generally more financially secure and happier than my married colleagues. Now that I’m a staff sergeant, I can live off post and receive a housing allowance but I don’t pay rent while deployed. I actually only have a phone bill and a car payment to worry about. I don’t have children and I don’t have a spouse who, since he or she is married to a soldier, statistically makes less than someone married to a civilian.

I also don’t have to deal with the strain a deployment puts on marriages and families. I only have to worry about my situation, not my wife’s or my children’s. I don’t have to worry about a Dear John letter or find out that my wife is leaving me for someone else while I’m on the other side of the world.

I’ve come to realize that being single is financially unfair but emotionally better for me as a solider. I’m way more happy with the single life in the military than I would be married. I do wish that I was financially equal to my married counterparts, but I’ve come to see that what society views as the benefit to marriage isn’t a benefit to me.

I do have a girlfriend at the moment, and we’ve already talked about why marriage doesn’t need to happen for us to be happy. We don’t need a piece of paper and a tax break to reinforce our relationship as valid and enduring.

Thanks for the rant.

Another reader is likely to solicit more rants with this rhetorical bomb:

Society puts a premium on being married because society and civilizations future depends entirely on raising stable healthy kids, and marriage (same sex included) is the best social institution in which to raise kids. Single people are basically freeloaders, since they will inevitably depend on the support of younger generations that they didn’t provide for or help raise.

Freeloaders can respond via hello@theatlantic.com. Update from one of many readers already responding:

I had to deal with this as well, since others are being compensated for a life choice that is outside of their job duties. As for your reader who said they are freeloaders, I paid SS tax just like everyone else, and the idea that having a job but no kids when you are 22 means you won’t ever have kids and thus deserve less pay for equal work is insane. I’m 34, and I’m having kids in a year. This does not mean my quality of life as a soldier when I was 25 should be negativity impacted.

An unrelated issue which also concerns me is your lack of a comment section in Notes. This disturbing trend came about as a way to not require comment moderation, but when sites like The Atlantic do it, you provide cover for less scrupulous sites to do the same—and the result is that the Internet becomes like what it replaced: TV.  It becomes one way and non interactive; it becomes a radio tower blaring out propaganda with no ability for citizens to challenge the information being put forth, and this is a very bad thing for humanity. Half the planet hasn’t even gotten online yet, and before they do, the version of it that they become familiar with will be a lesser version than the original one. I shouldn’t have to mother-may-I just to make a comment.

Update from another reader, who gives the other side of the “comments or no comments” debate (something we perennially debated for years at The Dish, and our readers repeatedly voted down the idea of a comments section):

For the person who thinks Notes needs a comments section: All I have to do is turn to The Atlantic’s articles that have comments sections and say no, no, no. The idea in Notes of inviting and moderating comments on particular issues is about promoting intelligent discussion while the open comments sections inevitably devolve into shout-fests.

I want to read intelligent discussion. I do not want to wade through pages of nonsense to find a few reasonable thoughts on a topic. I believe strongly that there are plenty of people out there who can enliven a discussion and bring new thoughts to the table.

I’m one of those people who loved Coates’s comments sections. I also know that moderating a discussion section is hard, hard work and, when much of the discussion deals with race, it’s got to be terribly depressing. Unfortunately, unmoderated or barely moderated comments sections are places where people vent, not places where people can read and discuss and learn.

I love the way the Notes section brings in discussion to the old pre-internet, read-and-learn model. Keep it up.

Track of the Day: ‘Love to Love You Baby’

Howard Dean was once the revolutionary progressive from Vermont. Now, his own PAC is supporting Bernie Sanders despite Dean’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. For Dean and Sanders, it’s complicated.

It would be difficult to find a more dynamic and well-rounded Democratic political creature than Howard Dean. One year after the infamous Dean Scream, the beloved longtime Vermonter and former medical doctor stepped up as chair of the Democratic Party, a position he would hold from 2005 to 2009. In 2005, Dean also founded Democracy for America, a progressive PAC and advocacy group that is thriving in the 2016 cycle. This is all in addition to his many years in the Vermont legislature, his six consecutive terms as governor of the Green Mountain State, and his service as head of the National Governors Association.

And now that America is on the precipice of what will inevitably one of the most polarized and unpredictable general elections in recent history, Dean has become a sought-after political pundit, appearing frequently on cable news and quoted often in print media. In the present political climate, Dean has a unique perspective on his fellow Vermonter, Bernie Sanders; on Hillary Clinton, whom Dean has endorsed; and on the shape of the Democratic electorate itself. In fact, if there were an emperor of progressive Democrats, Dean would be the man—except of course his fellow Vermonter, Sanders, is now that man. Unsurprisingly, Dean’s feelings about Sanders are… complicated.