Posted on | December 7, 2011 | Comments Off on Anti-White Slavery and the Regulation of Sexuality in the Progressive Era
One of things I love about historical research is that when you are at the front end of a project, as I am with this one, you are led down many interesting streets and alleys, most of which you were unaware of until you began the research. Of course, one of the difficult problems each researcher faces is the question of how many of those streets and alleys to visit and which ones to spend more or less time in. After all, there is only so much time available to us when we are working on any project and so too much time in unfruitful pursuits, no matter how interesting they might be, is counter productive.
A direction my research is taking that is decidedly not counterproductive is an investigation of the late-19th century origins of the anti-White Slavery movement. I’ll have much more to say on this subject over time, but for today’s post I want to point to three sources, two of which I’ve now read and the third of which I’m awaiting from Interlibrary Loan. The missing source is one of the founding documents of the anti-White Slavery movement, W.T. Stead’s The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, a book of scandal journalism published in the U.K. in 1885, in which Stead offered up many lurid details of the kidnapping of otherwise virtuous young women and girls who were then sold into bondage, either in the U.K. or abroad, to satisfy the lusts of older, wealthy men. Stead’s book apparently touched a nerve, both in the U.K. and in the United States and became a motivating force for the passage of various anti-vice laws in both countries. Once I’ve read it, I’ll have more to say on that.
The other two sources I want to mention today are journal articles. The first, Roy Lubove’s “The Progressives and the Prostitute,” in which the author examines the “sex panic” of the last decades of the 19th and first decades of the 20th century in America. Lubove argues that Progressive vice reformers in America saw prostitution as the result of two things: “low wages, harsh working conditions, squalid housing, [a] lack of wholesome recreational facilities, and antiquated court and correctional procedures…” that conspired to force women into lives of prostitution and “sinister ‘interests’ who manipulated [women] as a tool for their own profits.”1 These sinister interests had created a “commercialized system, organized and managed by men who worked incessantly to augment both the demand for prostitutes and the supply.” Because all of these reasons were external to the women themselves, anti-vice reformers focused their efforts on attacking not the prostitutes, but those who debauched and controlled them, including pimps, dance hall owners, madams, proprietors of saloons, and so on.2
Judith Walkowitz, in “The Politics of Prostitution,” examines this same era and argues that the anti-vice campaign in the US and the U.K. against those controlling the prostitutes “helped drive a wedge between prostitutes and the working-class community. Prostitutes were uprooted from their neighborhoods and had their lodgings in other areas of the city…Their activity became more covert. Cut off from other sustaining relationships, increasingly they were forced to rely on pimps for emotional security and for protection against legal authorities.”3 The result was that prostitution shifted from being a female dominated industry to being a male dominated one. Like Lubove, Walkowitz is critical of the sex panic of the late 19th century for the same and for different reasons. The different reasons have to do with her views on the suppression of female sexuality that were part of the anti-vice campaign.
Clearly, there is a rich vein here to be mined and I’m looking forward to casting a critical eye on the issues raised in these sources.
- Lubove, Roy, “The Progressives and the Prostitute,” The Historian, 24/3 (May, 1962): 310 [↩]
- Ibid., 312 [↩]
- Walkowitz, Judith, “The Politics of Prostitution,” Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 6/1 (1980): 128 [↩]
Posted on | November 21, 2011 | Comments Off on The Bureau of Social Hygiene and Prostitution in Europe
When I was working in the League of Nations Archives in Geneva earlier this month one of the organizations whose name kept coming up in the documents I was looking at was the Bureau of Social Hygiene, based in New York City. According to the Rockefeller Archives Center, the Bureau “was incorporated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1913 as a result of his service on a special grand jury to investigate white slavery in New York City in 1910. The purpose of the Bureau was ‘the study, amelioration, and prevention of those social conditions, crimes, and diseases which adversely affect the well-being of society, with special reference to prostitution and the evils associated therewith.’.”1
One of the ways the Bureau came up in the League documents was multiple references to a report on prostitution in Europe by Abraham Flexner.2 To my surprise (given how new our library is) I found a copy of Flexner’s report in the George Mason library this past week and have had an entertaining time reading it. Flexner’s main concern in the report was to cast a clear light on the state of prostitution in Europe in the second decade in the century, in part to see what lessons could be learned for the United States, in part to see what lessons could be learned about the “White Slave Trade”, and in part to better understand how venereal diseases were spread in Europe, especially as a result of prostitution.
One of the things I found especially interesting in the book was Flexner’s unflinching description of sexual activity at what was the very end of the Victorian era. In particular, I was struck by his willingness to discuss homosexual prostitution, making his report the only one I’ve found from the period before 1939 that openly discusses homosexual prostitution.3 All the other authors I’ve seen thus far seem to prefer to pretend that men don’t have sex with men or women with women.
Flexner is, of course, a man of his day and is a creature of the organization funding his study. He is firmly convinced that through the “cultivation of social inhibitions” and proper moral education, the evils of what he calls “irregular sexual activity” (meaning sex before or outside of marriage) can be reduced.4
Now I have one of those historian’s dilemmas. Do I travel to Westchester, NY to visit the Rockefeller Archives and research the bureau in more detail? Or, do I use the time I have over the break to spend time in the National Archives here in Maryland to focus on documents from the State Department related to the traffic in women and children and the League of Nations?
- Bureau of Social Hygiene Archives, 1911-1940: http://www.rockarch.org/collections/rockorgs/bsh.php [↩]
- Prostitution in Europe, Bureau of Social Hygiene, New York, 1914 [↩]
- 31-32 [↩]
- 48-49, 57 [↩]
Posted on | November 12, 2011 | Comments Off on A Database and a Community
The database, Lonsea.org, is an amazing resource on the League of Nations. The database, still under construction, will not only be a comprehensive database of everyone and every organization associated with the League. In addition to a wealth of information about these people and organizations, the site includes several excellent tools for data visualization, from the simple — basic connections between people — to the complex — graphics showing every possible connection across many levels that a person or organization might have. Unfortunately, the Committee on Trafficking in Women and Children has not yet made its way into their database, but many of the people whose names I’ve come across already show up there in other ways.
The community is the kind of group I’ve been searching for since I began this phase of the project: a collection of researchers working on the League. Once I get home, I’ll be signing up and, I hope, find a professional community to begin bouncing things off of.
Posted on | November 10, 2011 | Comments Off on A Long List of Questions
Picking up on where I left off yesterday, here is my long list of questions from the preliminary research I did in the League of Nations Archives:
- I need to sort out and make sense of all the different “voluntary associations” working to combat the traffic in women and children, including their various agendas, bases of support, and relative levels of influence and success. It seems that they were primarily an Anglo-American group, with one or two French associations thrown in;
- Women’s groups make an explicit link between trafficking, prostitution, and public health, saying they are inextricably linked and so much be fought simultaneously. Eric Drummond (Secretary General of the League) wrote to one of the groups in 1919 to suggest that these three ought to be uncoupled because trafficking is an international issue, but the other two are domestic issues and so beyond the scope of the League’s mandate.1 How did this issue play out over time? Clearly it’s still an issue, because here in Switzerland–a country very active in anti-trafficking efforts–prostitution is very legal;
- Each year signatories to the treaty of 1921 filed reports on the extent of trafficking in their countries. Did they ever report significant problems? These reports will make an interesting comparison to the current U.S. State Department’s Traffic in Persons reports;
- Of the countries (like the U.S.) that did not sign the 1921 treaty, how compliant were they with the League’s efforts?;
- How was the Mann Act in the United States a response to the 1910 treaty versus a response to pressure from the public at large?;
- I came away from my first foray in the archives with the sense that the Committee on Trafficking in Women and Children was a small, fairly intimate group who worked closely on this issue for decades. To what degree is that impression accurate?;
- At what point in the 19th century did trafficking become a source of popular panic? I know it was the mid- to late 1880s in the UK, but how fast did that public perception of a problem spread to other countries and how did that perception manifest itself?;
- In 1930 the League began a process of attempting to add a clause on what today we’d call pimping and another on raising the age of consent to the 1921 treaty, a process that ultimately resulted in a formal amendment to the treaty in 1931. This effort was clearly an attempt to influence domestic legislation in the member states (see #2 above). That the League had some success in this effort indicates that, at least in this case, it was expanding its influence. To what degree is that impression correct?;
- There is an interesting transition that takes place in 1919-1921 between the “White Slave Trade” and the “Traffic in Women and Children.” For instance, it was the British delegate to the Committee that proposed dropping the word “white” from all conversations about the traffic.2 How and why did this transition happen?;
- In 1922 a great deal of concern appeared in the Committee deliberations about young women going abroad to work in “theatrical” jobs such as theater, music halls, etc., and many delegates argued that stringent emigration controls should be placed on such young women. Women’s organizations argued that these “protective” rules should be applied equally to men or should be dropped. Why the concerns about theatrical work? What evidence did they have that this was a problem area?;
- Many of the voluntary associations proposed wholesome recreation as a needed alternative for young people so they wouldn’t be led into lives or prostitution or for the men frequenting prostitutes. I need to know more about the “moral debate” on this issue;
Eleven substantive questions seems like enough for now. My next step, when I get home, is to schedule some time at the State Department archives to work through how the U.S. government viewed what was happening in Geneva. I’ve also made a tentative contact with archivists in the U.S. who curate the Grace Abbott papers and it will be interesting to see if she has correspondence that speaks to her time in Geneva.
- Proposal sent to the Paris Peace Conference by Miss C. Nina Boyle, (1919), League of Nations, Sec. 23, Dossier 2244) [↩]
- CTFE 45, July 4, 1921 [↩]
Posted on | November 9, 2011 | Comments Off on First Foray in the League of Nations Archive
I spent a very fruitful day on Tuesday in the League of Nations Archive plowing through the correspondence of the League of Nations committee charged with oversight of the struggle against the “traffic in women and children” as it was known in those days. Those first eight hours made me very glad that my MA was in American diplomatic history, because I had to reclaim my skills at reading diplomatic sources in the first 30 minutes. There is definitely an art to reading and analyzing such sources and since I only had two days for this first foray into the League collections, I would have hated to waste my time trying to figure out how to read the sources I was looking at.
As always with archival research, the first foray into a collection raises more questions than it answers. For instance, one thing I did not have a clear appreciation for before I arrived in Geneva was just how closely linked the efforts of the League members and the “voluntary societies” (today we’d call them NGOs) actually were. I was surprised to find, for instance, that when the League formed its Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children (CTFE to use its French acronym), several members of the voluntary societies were made permanent “assessors” (non-voting members) of the committee and their input was clearly highly valued by the diplomats sitting on the Committee.
Why were the voluntary societies given so much of a role? Where did their funding come from? For example, the American Social Hygiene Association made at least $200,000 in donations to the Advisory Committee for various studies undertaken by the Committee into the traffic in women and children. That was a lot of money to be throwing around in the interwar period, especially when you realize that $125,000 of that was given to the Committee in 1932 (maybe you’ve heard of something called the Great Depression?). After I got back to my hotel, I poked around a bit online and found that among the early supporters of the Association was one John D. Rockefeller. So, that partially solves that mystery, but now I need to know much more about those voluntary societies. Archives are a dangerous thing to open…
A second question I am left wondering about is why the United States would seat a permanent representative on the Advisory Committee — Grace Abbott, the great American social reformer — when we were so opposed to formal connections to the League? I’m now going to have to dig into the State Department archives on that one. At least those archives are much closer to home.
These are just two of the 14 new questions I wrote down in my research notebook while I was opening box after box of diplomatic correspondence.
On the substantive side, I learned that one of the most difficult issues facing the Advisory Committee from day one was the question of the age of consent in member states. Members of the Committee, as well as various social reformers working with the committee felt it was very important to raise the age of consent to at least 18 around the world. In this they ran smack dab up against local opposition. For instance, the government of British India remained obstinately opposed to raising the age of consent in India to 18 because to do so would put the government at odds with the complicated traditions of Indian society.
As second thing I learned was just how concerned the early anti-trafficking movement was with the activities of “procurers,” i.e., those men and women who enticed women and girls (they almost never mention boys or men) into prostitution, or into situations where the victims were forced into prostitution. The big concern in the 1920s was what happened on steamships as young women were moving from one continent to another. But to read the descriptions of how these women were tricked by the procurers is to be reminded of the current descriptions of how women (and men) are lured into similar situations today. Much is different, of course, but much is the same.
Finally, I’m going to have to get my hands around the intersection of concerns about trafficking, about sexual morality, about the “protection” of women, and about public health (the spread of venereal diseases). Right now it’s a little difficult for me to sort out the relationship between these issues–but related they certainly were.
Every time you open a box in the archive, you take the risk that you are going to have to do a lot more learning…
Posted on | November 4, 2011 | Comments Off on On to Geneva
This coming week I’ll be working in the League of Nations Archives in Geneva. My specific goal is to investigate the circumstances around the formulation and signing of the 1921 agreement signed by 33 countries to help suppress what was then known as the “traffic in women and children.” The 1921 agreement was an expansion of an earlier agreement from 1910, which was an expansion of one from 1904.
That 1904 agreement, which was focused on what was then called the “white slave trade,” stated in Article 1:
Whoever, in order to gratify the passions of another person, has procured, enticed, or led away, even with her consent, a woman or girl under age, for immoral purposes, shall be punished, notwithstanding that the various acts constituting the offence may have been committed in different countries.
As you can see, from the start, international concern over what is now called the “traffic in persons” began with a concern about the prostitution of underage girls or women (underage being defined as under 21 in the first agreement). Labor trafficking was not on the early agenda–just as it is not nearly as much in the forefront of the current agenda, despite the fact that those analyzing the current state of human trafficking argue that many more people are trafficked for labor than they are for sex.
Also interesting is the notion that the real problem lay in the trafficking in underage women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Only later does the international community widen its gaze to include not only those over 21, but also men and boys.
When I get into the archives next week, it will be very interesting to see how these arguments were framed by the negotiators. For instance, did anyone argue for a convention covering all females, regardless of age? Or did it never come up? Why the break at age 21? Already by the time this treaty was ratified, 18 was the age of consent, as well as the age at which one became eligible for military service or the vote in many countries, so why age 21 for sexual exploitation? These are just some of the questions I’ll be asking the sources and I’m sure they’ll suggest others once I get there and start reading.
After I return from Geneva, I’ll slip over to College Park to the National Archives to see what American observers in Geneva had to say about this particular convention. The U.S. did not have an official delegation at the League of Nations, but there were observers on many of the key committees. One assumes those observers reported back to Washington with some regularity.
The League of Nations is also a bit of a cypher in the historiography. Generally derided as a grand failure by most historians, there are not many sources to work from in the secondary literature…a blessing and a curse for the historian. Because the subject I’m there to research was more of a side issue for the League–as compared to the main goal which was to promote peace around the world–I’m finding it more than a little difficult to come up with good secondary sources to react to in this phase of my research.
Posted on | October 7, 2011 | Comments Off on When Governments Promote Sex Travel
One of the things scholars working on human trafficking spend a fair amount of time thinking about is what role governments have in combatting the traffic in persons. Are their measures effective? Do they have the will to really fight the traffickers? And so on.
But what happens when a government promotes sex travel, even if in a tongue in cheek way?
Back in 2005 the Polish tourism agency rolled out a campaign promoting travel from France to Poland, using the iconic “Polish Plumber” and “Polish Nurse” as the hooks that would induce French tourists to come to Poland and spend their money.
What made these tongue in cheek was the fact that these two stereotypes were common in France at the time–the result of French anxiety about unchecked labor migration from Eastern Europe, especially in categories of work seen as trades or lower skill in France, i.e., nurse rather than physician.
Is this promoting sex travel, even if it is making fun of French anxieties about labor migration? Even if it is not, it skates very close to the edge of thin ice. As a historian of Eastern Europe (or what we used to call Eastern Europe), I’m especially interested in these kinds of examples of how places like Poland are portrayed in “the West.” This example turns that on its head, because it is Poles using those images for their own purposes, with the specific intent of profiting on those images.
At some point, I’d love to find a follow up survey on whether this campaign produced what was intended–greater French tourist spending in Poland? But I’d also know if Polish police or NGOs working on the issue of sex trafficking noted an increase (or not) in sex travel to Poland?
Posted on | October 3, 2011 | Comments Off on Thoughts on Glenny McMafia
I’ve just re-read Misha Glenny’s McMafia and with the re-reading have found some points I either missed the first time around, or that I want to return to. Although the book is about much more than human trafficking, it is a useful primer into what the author calls the “global criminal underworld” in its post-1989 variants. That alone makes it worth reading, even if the end result is a sense of depression about just how powerful and ubiquitous these syndicates are.
For my own research purposes, it is interesting to note that already in the early 1980s elements of the Bulgarian secret police had decided that that game was up for the communist regime and that it was time to get into a new line of work.1 While I’m less convinced that the Bulgarian secret police, one of the most effective of the state services in Eastern Europe, had given up on their own government quite so early, that does not mean they weren’t at least hedging their bets. I’d be interested to know what other scholars–scholars with more of a specialty in the late history or the Bulgarian communist regime–have to say on this point.
More relevant to the study of sex trafficking, however, is Glenny’s claim that sex trafficking as we know it today and globalization are inextricably linked. He says: “And along with the increased inflows and outflows of capital and goods came the personal acquisitiveness that underpins globalization and which presumes that money can fulfill any whim or desire. Combined with the ubiquitous images of male and female sexuality, this consumerism encourages the sense (certainly among men and increasingly, it would seem, among women too) that sex is less an expression of intimate relations and more a marketed commodity subject to the same rules governing the sale of hamburgers or sneakers…”2
This strikes me as a provocative claim.
First off, I’m not sure that “personal acquisitiveness” is the primary underpinning of globalization. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it is. In other words, humans want more and better stuff at all times and are almost never satisfied in their desire for more and better stuff. Marx had a good bit to say on this subject and I’ll leave it to others to decide if human nature really does impel us in this way. But let’s say that it does, again, for the sake of argument.
I’m less convinced, however, that a straight line can be drawn between “ubiquitous images of male and female sexuality” and the belief that sexual relations have become a commodity for sale. To take Glenny’s argument to an extreme, one could then argue that beer commercials, with their heavy emphasis on cleavage, tight pants, and a wink-wink suggestion that if you drink beer X or Y women will want you, are somehow implicated in the rise of global sex trafficking. As I just said, this is to take his argument to the extreme, but given the way the argument is framed, it’s not an outlandish reformulation of his point.
I’m not saying Glenny is wrong. I’m just saying I’m not convinced there is evidence to show that he’s right.
Glenny does offer a useful reminder of something we’ve seen more than once in other books on sex trafficking–that women are also involved in the industry, either as recruiters of trafficking victims or as consumers of the services traffickers have on offer.
Finally, I think the book is strong on the issue of how powerless traditional state actors have become in the face of these global criminal networks. At the moment, the criminals are more sophisticated at taking advantage of globalization than the governments attempting to suppress their criminal behavior. Will the governments always be playing catch up? This we can’t answer today, because, as Glenny shows in the book, government action finally broke the back of the traditional Italian mafia. If that can happen, then it is also possible that the Russian, Chinese, Pakistani, or other new global networks can also be broken.
Posted on | September 22, 2011 | Comments Off on Origins of the “massage parlor”
Because the focus of my work is on the historical trajectory of the human trafficking industry, one of the ways I began my research was by searching for first uses of various terms, a process of historical research greatly facilitated by the scanning and marking up of vast quantities of text by organizations such as Google, JSTOR, various national archives and libraries, and publishers. Searching across these various databases gets easier each year and I am very grateful to these organizations for making my life as a researcher much easier.
Those who work on the sex trafficking side of human trafficking know that the massage parlor, as distinct from the legitimate clinic or business providing therapeutic massage, is often a locus of sex trafficking. Around the United States and the world, business establishments, most of which are legally licensed to some degree or another, provide sexual massages (generally, but not always illegal in the local context). And in a large but indeterminate number of these establishment, the women and men providing those sexual services are doing so without compensation and without the option to leave their place of work. In short, they are sex slaves, often providing sexual services to many clients in a given 24 hour cycle.
Using the various searches available to me now, I looked for the term “massage parlor” and the earliest instance of the term I found was in the Journal of the American Medical Association.1 The article where I found the term was focused on the state of Illinois’ attempts to regulate unlicensed health care businesses trying to pass themselves off as something like a hospital. The relevant paragraph reads:
For the purposes of the ordinance a “hospital” is defined to mean any place used for the reception or care, temporary or continuous, of the sick, injured or dependent (including women awaiting confinement) or used for the treatment of mental or physical disease or bodily injury. Under this definition it is held that “faith cures,” quack “dispensaries” and “institutes,” “massage parlors,” “anatomical museums,” lying-in establishments, opium and drink “cures,” and kindred institutions must obtain licenses and come under the supervision of the Department of Health, or cease business.
That the Illinois Department of Health singled out massage parlors along with other putative health care providers means that there were enough of these establishments in operation that they merited mention in the licensing debate. But this particular example is not of a place where sexual services necessarily happen. The concern of the Board of Health seems to be more with what they might have called “quackery.”
Much more in line with my interest in the history of the massage parlor as we know it today is the case of Dunlop v. United States2 Dunlop was the editor/owner of the Chicago Dispatch and was accused of distributing a publication (newspaper) “containing obscene, lewd, lascivious, and indecent matter.” Among the naughty content were: “advertisements by women, soliciting or offering inducements for the visits of men, usually ‘refined gentlemen,’ to their rooms, sometimes under the disguise of ‘Baths’ and ‘Massage,’ and oftener for the mere purpose of acquaintance.”3
Because the Chicago jury ruled that the “acquaintance” being made between the women placing the ads and the men responding “depraved the public morals,” Dunlop was initially convicted of obscenity. He appealed to the Supreme Court and lost in a unanimous decision and spent 21 months in prison. No word on what happened to the women advertising in his paper.
So, for now, it seems, I’ve found a good example of “massage parlor” and a sexually oriented business being connected, which makes me glad that Mr. Dunlop appealed his case to the Supreme Court. What’s not clear from this case, or at least from the records I’ve found thus far, is whether the women placing those ads were what we might call “independent contractors” or were under the control of a pimp.
One of the research questions I’m going to be following in this project is at what point the massage parlor as we know it transitioned from being a place where local women worked, either of their own accord or under duress, to a place where traffickers bring women from other cities, states, or countries. At this point, that is still just a question, but I have at least a few ideas I’m pursuing.
Posted on | September 19, 2011 | Comments Off on Thoughts on Kara, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
Way back in the 1970s I conceived of a plan to become a serious journalist, writing about American politics for a major newspaper somewhere. I was a sophomore in college and had spent a good part of my freshman year writing, writing, writing for our campus newspaper, which came out daily. The discipline of writing on deadline and the thrill of the chase was much more interesting and energizing to me than most of the classes I was taking.
Perhaps the most transformative book I read that year was The New Journalism, an anthology edited by Tom Wolfe, in which I encountered for the first time writers who were pushing the boundaries of what constituted “journalism” — people like the legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and Joan Didion, perhaps the best writer I’d ever read. What particularly tantalized me about their writing was how personal it was, how the author was part of the story, and how much such an approach challenged the most hallowed principles of print journalism as we knew it in the 1970s and 1980s. After reading their work, I tried writing myself into the story, only to have such nascent attempts as being a “new journalist” quashed by my editors.
This journey down memory lane is all by way of saying I understand and am sympathetic to Siddarth Kara’s very personal approach to his subject. In many ways he follows a trail laid down for him by writers who once upon a time were “new journalists” and so his “writer is part of the story” approach is no longer new (in fact it has become very mainstream).
There is much to recommend this book, largely because Kara applies his business school training to the sex trafficking industry and in this respect, the book provides a nice supplement to Shelley’s Human Trafficking, which is also grounded in seeing trafficking as first and foremost a business, governed by laws (such as supply and demand) and local conditions such as any other business. For all its strengths, which like mostly in the way the tale is told, there are, it seems to me, some significant shortcomings in this book.
As my students and I learned last week when we tried to follow the trail of a footnote in Shelley’s book, it is absolutely essential for those writing about trafficking to be as precise as they possibly can be when it comes to the information they provide. Unfortunately, Kara offers up a great deal of information as fact without providing anything like adequate sources to support his claims.
For example, on page 33 Kara writes, “Depending on assumptions related to frequency of purchase per consumer, anywhere from 6 percent to 9 percent of males in the world over the age of eighteen actually purchase sex from slaves at some point each year.” This is quite a claim, because it emphasizes not merely the purchase of sex, but the purchase of sex from slaves. In other words, the percentage of adult males world wide who purchase sex each year is greater than 6-9 percent. According to the U.S. Census, in 2008 (when Kara wrote the book), there were approximately 2.126 billion men worldwide over the age of 19. If Kara’s estimates are correct, this means there were between 13-19 million sex transactions between adult male customers and sex slaves. Kara claims there are approximately 1.2 million trafficked sex slaves, so if his data are correct, these slaves must be having sex with a customer something like once every two or three days. Given what we know about sexual slavery (and what Kara describes in the book), the fact that a slave, on average, is having sex with a customer only once every few days seems to make little sense. Because Kara doesn’t cite any sources for his assumptions, the 6-9 percent claim doesn’t hold up to careful scrutiny.
Similarly, the “data” he cites on various tables in the introductory chapter are not sourced and so are not actually helpful to serious researchers trying to make sense of the dimensions of the sex trafficking industry. The problem here is not that he is presenting estimates of the dimensions of the industry. After all, estimates are all we really can present given that this is a criminal enterprise he’s writing about. The problem is that he presents these estimates not as estimates, but as facts. Someone with an MBA should know better.
The more useful parts of the book are those we might call “new journalism.” Kara’s travelogue of his adventures in the world of the commercial sex industry are very useful to those needing an introduction to that industry. Here he is on much firmer ground because he is writing about his own experiences, experiences that do not require the same level of sources. However, the recent controversies over the veracity of Greg Mortensen’s Three Cups of Tea should offer us pause as we decide how best to use Kara’s book in our own work on trafficking. I suppose the best approach is to apply the same rules I’ve always used for sources: triangulate, substantiate, and verify.keep looking »