June 7, 2005

What other people are saying about the same things I'm saying stuff about

• Rise and shine, Landesman, you have a new -- and far more formidable -- foe to freak the fuck out on. Jack Shafer revisits The Girls Next Door with the latest official human trafficking numbers in hand. The gist: estimates have dropped from a high of 50,000 women and children were trafficked here annually "for sexual exploitation" to 15,000 people trafficked annually for all purposes -- making the figures significantly lower than Landesman suggests. Jack has always been more concerned with the numbers than I have. To me, what made PL's article sensationalistic was not that he chose to use the highest estimates he could find -- a fairly common bit of journalistic spin -- but that he chose to build a narrative out of elements -- underage American girls, torture, murder, Disneyland -- that were both perfectly picked to shock and utterly impossible to substantiate. [Update: Guess who's back in the comments...]

• IVF blogger Julie says some very funny and true stuff that I left out of or only touched on in my recent Snowflakes miniseries. BTW, I'm going to be writing something on this subject for at least one magazine in the near future.

• Rapid Teens has a hilarious review of Radar from an unusual perspective [hint: mildly NSFW]. Don't miss the video preview [hint: extremely NSFW]. BTW, my mother called me Danny Rado once. Once.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Jack Shafer? Please. That guy needs to get out of his parents' basement for once and see the world.

It's not a pretty sight, let me tell you.


Re: Jack Shafer/Slate column: “Sex Slaves Revisited”, June 7, 2005

I find it curious the way Mr. Shafer continues his 16-month campaign against my New York Times Magazine story on sex trafficking (‘The Girls Next Door’, January 25, 2004). Mr. Shafer formulates his latest set of complaints not as an argument with me but with the victims. “Because sexual slavery is the most depraved form of involuntary servitude,” Mr. Shafer writes, “one would expect that if sex slaves existed in the numbers Landesman, Bales, and Miller would have us believe, more of them would have applied for the heavily publicized "T-1 visa." If only. In the real world, this is akin to suggesting to a 15-year old inmate of Bergen-Belsen, after being raped by her captors 20 times a day for a year, that she hurtle past the guards, electric fences and dogs into a foreign land, and beg for help in a language she does not speak. How many of these young women know what a T-visa is, do you think? Did Mr. Shafer know what a T-visa was before he began surfing Google? Methinks Mr. Shafer needs to get out more.

This story was not about numbers. This was an exhaustive investigation into the process of recruiting and transporting sex slaves into this country. The issue of numbers was exactly two sentences in an 8,500-word piece. That said, it is, admittedly, difficult to quantify any sort of underground commerce or black market. ‘The Girls Next Door’ made no attempt to be definitive about this; I simply reported how big the problem could be, according to those who study it and are mandated to combat it. Sex traffickers do not register their victims with the INS. But neither do weapons and drug traffickers call in their profits and inventory to the IRS. So what are we to make of Mr. Shafer’s silence (and presumably blind acceptance) when he reads the abundance of articles that quote government estimates on worldwide illegal drug and weapons sales?

Mr. Shafer goes on to attempt to discredit two experts I quoted by saying they pulled their numbers “out of thin air”. Mr. Shafer conveniently left out a few pieces of pertinent information. The State Department “official” Mr. Shafer refers to, John Miller, is actually the Director of the State Department’s office on human trafficking, and Washington’s ambassador on this issue to the international community. The other, a long-time and roundly respected researcher named Kevin Bales, has devoted years to attempting to quantify the commerce and personal horror of human trafficking. His algorithm – which I’ve attached below -- is actually reasonable if complicated, and predicated on the fact that the numbers we do have are really the tip of the iceberg, which no one could reasonably deny. Last year, while Mr. Shafer was making his ad hominem attacks, Mr. Bales sent Mr. Shafer this exhaustive explanation of his math. The explanation obviously didn’t jive with Mr. Shafer’s thesis or agenda; he has simply chosen to ignore it rather than pass it along to his readers.

Since the beginning of this 16-month episode, while Mr. Shafer has continued to over-reach, dozens of experts and officials I have spoken to in the State Department, the Department of Justice officials, various federal prosecutors, and the Department of Health and Human and Services, and local case workers, not to mention victims themselves, identify ‘The Girls Next Door’ as a watershed moment in the public discourse of a reprehensible and vastly misunderstood problem. Federal, state and local task forces and initiatives were established in both the U.S. and Mexico in the story’s wake, including in Los Angeles and San Diego, two principle gateways for sex traffickers into this country. Arrests and prosecutions of some of the trafficking networks named in the story were made. (The principles of one of the largest Mexico-based trafficking mechanisms, the Carreto network, which I exposed in the story, were raided and arrested shortly after the story’s publication; they were convicted in Federal court in the Southern District of New York last month. Federal authorities have since surveilled and raided the San Diego trafficking network exposed by the story, rescuing dozens of its captives. Embarrassed by the story’s revelations, the Mexican government – through its intelligence agency, CISEN -- founded a task force to fight sex trafficking in Mexico.) The Overseas Press Club has cited this piece in the category of Best International Reporting on Human Rights Issues. In response, Mr. Shafer continues to thrash, committing the very sins he accuses others of: exaggeration, manipulation of fact and information. With respect to this story, Mr. Shafer and Slate have done their readers and colleagues – not to mention the many victims of sex trafficking -- a disservice.

Peter Landesman
Contributing writer, New York Times Magazine

Free the Slaves’ Kevin Bales’ algorithm on counting sex trafficking victims in the United States (via email):

“…The estimate of 30,000 to 50,000 people being held in forced labor in the United States for purposes of sexual exploitation was arrived at in this way: firstly, we used the State Department’s estimate of 18,000 to 20,000 people being trafficked into the US each year. (Admittedly, the State Department has not explained the methodology by which they arrived at this estimate, so we use it in the hope that they will soon make their research methods clear.) Secondly, we adjusted this estimate according to two surveys we have recently conducted. The first survey was of all media reports of trafficking cases in the US over the past four years. These reports covered 136 separate cases of forced labor, 109 of which noted the number trafficked totaling 5,455 individuals. As with most crimes, the number of known and reported cases is a fraction of the actual number of cases occuring. To the best of our understanding the proportion of known to actual cases for human trafficking is low. In this survey 44.2% of cases involved forced labor in prostitution and 5.4% involved the sexual abuse of children, totaling 49.6%. As this is a rough estimate I rounded this up to 50%. In a second survey of forty-nine service provider agencies in the United States that had worked with trafficked persons, we asked how long each trafficked person they had worked with had been held in forced labor. The minimum reported time was one month, the maximum was 30 years. The majority of cases clustered between three years and five years.

So, if 9,000 to 10,000 of the people trafficked into the US each year will be enslaved for sexual exploitation (50% of 18-20,000), and they are likely to remain in that situation for three to five years, then the number of people enslaved for sexual exploitation at any one time in the US could be between 27,000 and 50,000 people. Since a number of people working in the area of human trafficking have stated that they believe the State Department’s estimate is low, I chose to make our estimate based on the upper end of the State Department figure, thus giving an estimate of 30,000 to 50,000.”

Is it just me, or is Peter much more fun when he doesn't sleep on it before pressing send?

As I said, the numbers are Shafer's beat so I'll let him respond, but as long as you're posting here, Peter, feel free (still, again) to offer an equally thorough point-by-point response to my challenges, which, in all our correspondence, you have yet to do.

Oh, I can't resist. "The issue of numbers was exactly two sentences in an 8,500-word piece." It's actually between five and seven sentences, depending on how you count. Hardly makes a difference, of course, except that it's useful to know what PL means by "exactly."

Your lack of professionalism and understanding of what confidential sourcing is and requires disqualifies you from this conversation. There isn't a single point about this story that hasn't been addressed by me, the Times, and others. But feel free to wax on about your other favorite subjects.

How convenient: New York Times readers disqualified from conversations about New York Times articles! I'm sure I read exactly that in the recent report on "preserving our readers' trust." Oh, no I didn't. I read that the paper should promote "a give-and-take with readers," and that readers should have "greater access to key source documents [and] interview transcripts." That's what you were referring to, right? My outrageous request to see your interview transcripts?

By the way, since not a single point about this story hasn't be addressed elsewhere, can you please show me -- to choose just one example -- the explanation of the mysterious web site where sex slaves were supposedly auctioned off for 30 grand apiece. Oh, and also the proof that "Mexican children, especially, were so disposable that it was possible to kill them and actually it not being that big a deal." I'll settle for a letter from a police officer acknowledging that they find lots of bodies of Mexican girls but don't investigate them because, really, who cares? I'm sure this won't be any trouble since, as you say, it's all been addressed already -- I just somehow missed it.

On the website: one more time, for the record (this was, in fact, addressed in the Editor's Note): my editors and I decided that revealing the name of the website would be unethical, as it would inspire interest in a reprehensible enterprise. Revealing it was also possibly illegal, as it might have entailed participating in a conspiracy to commit a felony. The website was examined by the Federal government's Cybercrimes unit, as I reported in the story, deemed authentic and criminal, and was subsequently investigated. Furthermore, this story was thoroughly factchecked by the Magazine's factchecking department; that includes this website. In other words, authorities much higher than Daniel Radosh have confirmed not only the information but the activity itself. If you really do doubt the existence of this website, or ones like it, you, like Shafer, need to get out more. Fyi, the Federal government broke up a similar Russian-American cyber enterprise in an operation called Blue Orchid.

I have come to find all this amusing. You and Mr. Shafer driven less by cynicism than naivete.

I'm glad this amuses you now. Maybe this time you won't bail before the discussion is over.

You might want to re-read Marzorati's letter to Shafer (not, as you say, the editor's note) before you use it to back up your claim. For instance, while you say, "The website was examined by the Federal government's Cybercrimes unit, as I reported in the story, deemed authentic and criminal, and was subsequently investigated," what your own editor actually says is, "Was it real? The special Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent thought it looked real. Landesman wrote 'supposedly'. Many times throughout the article Landesman carefully hedged his statements with qualifiers, but you seem to understand that the use of qualifiers is not to show care but rather to create vagueness." In other words, he's saying that you're safe because you never completely commit to it, the way you seem to be doing now. (True, Marzorati says the web site "exists," but his evidence is not that he's seen it but that he "know[s] the name.")

In my response to Marzorati's letter, I pointed out that he actually credited you with more "care" than was justified, and, more to the point, I raised about a dozen questions about the web site that had never been addressed, that would not require revealing the name, and that would go much farther toward convincing me than simply repeated "trust mes." It is those questions which I was referring to above. Feel free to answer them if you like. Other readers are invited to read that post and weigh in on whether the questions are legit. [Nb, you might want to copy and paste that link rather than clicking on it]

FYI, Blue Orchid was a kiddie porn ring. It sold photos and videos, not slaves. That's terrible, but it's not, for our purposes, "similar." In bringing it up you do EXACTLY the same thing Dan Okrent says you shouldn't have done in your story, in which you referenced Operation Hamlet: "If your material is strong enough ...you don't need to bring in tangential references to other forms of sexual horror that have nothing to do with slavery."

Re-reading Okrent's note, I'm reminded that among the people who complained were several Times reporters. I bring this up not to raise an argument from authority -- they may be wrong for all I know -- but to remind you that you can't dismiss all your critics as people who "need to get out more," and you'd do better to address the substance of our questions.

Seen the website. Been in the website. So has Federal Cybercrimes.

Well, that's good enough for me.

Oh, wait, no it's not. You see, despite what you seem to think, I've never accused you of flat making anything up. I'm sure there is A web site. The question is, what kind of web site is it? My best guess -- and it's only a guess because (and this is the whole point) you don't provide enough information about it -- is that it's a run-of-the-mill torture-porn site, with a fake auction to heighten the fantasy. Maybe it's even something like this, where a lone psychopath has kidnapped and tortured women against their will for his own pleasure. What I doubt is that there was any actual auctioning of sex slaves, or that this site was in any way connected to the international trafficking phenomenon that is supposedly the topic of the article.

What's more, I have come to suspect -- and this is only a hunch -- that you and your editors more or less knew this (hence Marzorati's backingpedaling), but chose to put it in the story because it's the kind of detail that adds texture, that helps make this world you're showing us feel more lived-in. A certain amount of that is appropriate to a magazine article. It's one of the things that distinguishes feature writing from straight news reporting. And of course the factcheckers sign of on it because nothing you say in untrue per se. But when the proportion of texture to substance -- of sizzle no steak, if you will -- is too great, well, that's when careful readers -- whether they get out enough or not -- get crotchety. And we worry that less careful readers who don't ask all these questions will come away with a false impression of the situation -- even if the factcheckers did their jobs properly.

So, tell us more about this web site. It's now been about two years since you alerted Federal Cybercrimes to its existence. You say they investigated? What did they find? You mention Blue Orchid. I know how that operation worked; "Blue Orchid customers would wire cash, then send an e-mail with instructions on where to send a videotape, according to officials. Videotapes were shipped via private courier or the postal service." I know this because authorities with names told it to CNN and provided documents to back it up. How did your "cyberauction" site work? You know where to find my specific questions.

Landesman: "Your lack of professionalism and understanding of what confidential sourcing is and requires disqualifies you from this conversation."

Well, then maybe you shouldn't have invited him into the conversation by *posting on his blog*.

Landesman: "There isn't a single point about this story that hasn't been addressed by me, the Times, and others. But feel free to wax on about your other favorite subjects."

Oh, is Daniel allowed to talk about whatever he likes on his personal web page? Truly, you are the heart and soul of largesse, Peter.

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