February 24, 2006

Primetime Lies

Earlier this month, Primetime Live ran a segment on "thousands of young American girls who authorities say have been abducted or lured from their normal lives and made into sex slaves." That turns out to be 100 percent true: Authorities do say that. They say it a lot these days to excitable media outlets. But as investigative reporter Debbie Nathan points out in an important new exposť, "the claim is specious. To make it, you have to play with language and omit facts — or bend them so far that they break."

Nathan, you'll recall, is the woman who led the way in debunking the ritual sex abuse scare of the 1980s and who has been a friend of this site since she demolished a key section of Peter Landesman's notorious comedy of errors. Peter is name-checked in her new article as well, which I love because you just know he's got a Google alert for himself.

The Primetime segment tells two stories about, yep, Girls Next Door, who became sex slaves. Considering that there are supposedly thousands of these cases, you'd think that they could find two that are exactly what they purport to be, to wit: "many victims are no longer just runaways, or kids who've been abandoned. Many of them are from what would be considered 'good' families, who are lured or coerced by clever predators." And yet as Nathan reveals, neither of Primetime's poster girls are quite ready for framing. Here's Primetime on Girl #1:

Debbie's story is particularly chilling. One evening Debbie said she got a call from a casual friend, Bianca, who asked to stop by Debbie's house. Wearing a pair of Sponge Bob pajamas, Debbie went outside to meet Bianca, who drove up in a Cadillac with two older men, Mark and Matthew. After a few minutes of visiting, Bianca said they were going to leave. "So I went and I started to go give her a hug," Debbie told "Primetime." "And that's when she pushed me in the car."...Unbelievably, police say Debbie was kidnapped from her own driveway with her mother, Kersti, right inside. Back home with her other kids, Kersti had no idea Debbie wasn't there.

Unbelievably is right. Here's what Nathan found:

Phoenix Police Department press releases describe Debbie as a runaway. Police spokesman Andy Hill told me earlier this week that she was having problems with her family. She left home willingly with a friend, the girlfriend of a pimp, and a few hours later was herself dragooned into prostitution. Debbie's is a story of gross coercion, but clearly there's some background here. The vast majority of US kids who get involved with prostitution are runaways; this has been so for a very long time. That fact makes for yet another stale story. So it was left out of Primetime's because it didn't fit the boogie-man theme pushed these days when sex trafficking gets discussed -- in the media and lately by the feds as well.

Nathan does confirm that the horrific ordeal Debbie suffered after going willingly with her friends is true. The same can not be said for Girl #2. Primetime sets up her story with a quote from the director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "There are many of these kids who are seduced, thinkingÖ that they're gonna have economic opportunities, that they're gonna be a model, that they're gonna be in show business somehow. And then, later, discover themselves in a situation in which they have no control, and they're, they're slaves."

While there's no question that desperately poor women — and men, for that matter — often find themselves economically coerced into doing things they'd rather not, that's an unusually definition of slavery. Primetime's Girl #2 is Miya, who is approached by a shady couple at a mall about a modelling gig and soon finds herself held captive by them and forced to work without compensation as a prostitute. Nathan writes:

That's the Primetime version, but the "sex slave" part is a hoax. Police in Mesa, Arizona and Union City, California, say that Miya -- who was 19 and thus legally an adult -- willingly went to California and willingly had sex, both with the couple she was with and with others. Said Tom Haselton, investigating sergeant for the case in Union City, "I can understand the family might be embarrassed and want to tell a different story. But by the time we were done talking with [Miya] we determined that what she did was consensual. There was no force used on her and she had plenty of opportunities to leave. And when she did leave, who did she call? Not the police, but a friend, just saying she wanted to get home to Arizona." No charges regarding Miya were filed. The man she'd been with was charged because the female member of the couple was 16 -- underage. Creepy, exploitative and illegal, but she wasn't coerced either. "She seemed to be in love with the pimp," says Haselton. "It's an age-old story."

After Nathan contacted Primetime, editors corrected the Web version of this story to acknowledge that there were no charges regarding Miya, but the tone remains the same, and of course very few viewers will ever see it.

So what's the point of all this? Since Nathan and Jack Shafer and I all agree that sex slavery does exist and is a real problem, why harp on a few exaggerations if they help get the message out? Because as Nathan points out once again, this media frenzy is a calculated campaign to shift (even more) the nation's approach to sex work from harm reduction to moral condemnation:

Now, white-slave panic is being reincarnated by the federal government. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was launched five years ago with much fanfare from evangelicals in the Bush administration, feminists (many of who earlier worked with conservatives to try to outlaw pornography), and liberals concerned about forced-labor trafficking in general. Proponents predicted that thousands of forcibly sex-trafficked immigrant women would be found. Instead, a couple of hundred have turned up, at most.

But there are plenty of U.S.citizens who spend a little or a lot of time in prostitution. Quite a few are minors -- as many as 300,000, estimates the new TVPA, which was enthusiastically rolled out by President Bush at a ceremony in January. Legally speaking, minors are always considered victims, even if they are not coerced. The new TVPA earmarks funds to label them as sex slaves.

No matter that most of these new "trafficking" victims are runaways and throwaways: often minorities, often poor, and often gay. No matter that they are seldom kidnapped or forced into prostitution, rarely fit the image of the girl next door, usually don't think of themselves as "trafficking victims," and typically distrust the police. No matter that we lack social services for them so they can live on their own and thrive if home is unbearable. These children are just an old story. They're not ready for prime time.

But they are ready to fuel a movement most of the public hasn't heard of yet. The domestic trafficking language of the TVPA was lifted from another piece of legislation, the "End Demand Act." That bill aims to crack down on all prostitution in the U.S., by defining every bit of it as "domestic sex trafficking," even when it's between consenting adults. End Demand is sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX (who recently equated gay marriage with humans copulating with box turtles). The act has bipartisan support but has not yet been passed. End Demand's wording about minors, however, was imported into the latest TVPA.

The government has not yet turned consensual adult prostitution into a federal crime. But last summer, the feds and other organizations, many of who have supported the End Demand Act and the new TVPA, started working the zeitgeist by pitching to the media about American kiddie slaves on Main Street. Primetime responded. Defending last week's story, ABC spokeswoman Paige Capossela said that "Our producers found two cases that illustrate what the FBI, other law enforcement and child protection agencies described to us as trafficking." That's a nice excuse for some high yellow journalism. And, no doubt, for some high Nielsen ratings as well.

And in case you're wondering where this going in the long term, consider the February 3rd episode of the Focus on the Family radio broadcast about the "connection between pornography and sex trafficking." Without actually proving any connection (how could they), the anchor interviews Donna Rice Hughes, who is behind much of the current sex slave hype, paraphrasing her message as "pornography and trafficking [are] the same thing." That's right, Jonno is locking girls into shipping containers as we speak. An FoF goon adds that, "Unless the president really gets tough on the trafficking of obscenity here in the US, Iím afraid weíre not going to see any real results in trafficking actual human beings." Laughable. Except, of course, that these are the folks who got the president and a third of Congress into office.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


More expert quotes:

"I think that human beings are inclined to create stories that satisfy a lack of news and closure to things. People have a set of norms they associate with worst-case scenarios, including the breakdown of social order and acts of raw brutality. As rumors get passed along in such an atmosphere, people often 'validate' what they've heard by claiming to have witnessed it themselves."
- Patricia Turner - at the University of California at Davis

The War on Sex provides an ideal comparative case study into how wars are regularly concocted out of lies.

Virtually none of the government's or MSM's "facts" or "statistics" re the war on sex can be reasonably accepted at face value. All are suspect. Most prove embellished or hyperbolic when scrutinized with rigor.

The fact that government's and MSM's assertions they are readily accepted ascribes to Adolf Hitler's Big Lie technique of telling a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe anyone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously". That, and to tell it often and ubiquitously. Or, as Joseph Goebbels later put it, to "lie big" and "stick to it".

Study of this hyper-puritan blue law frenzy reveals that the act of warring on sex is itself a form of sexual act. Study of these fanatics at press conferences often shows them to be in various stages of sexual arousal as they rail against sex in its many forms and iterations. Many anti-sex warriors are quite giddy, with upper lips curled-up in clear sexual arousal, as well as displaying flushed skin, etc.

As one blog poster named Nanook elsewhere wrote recently:

"For many people sex isnít any fun unless itís dirty. Those who consciously perpetuate Patriarchy are more obsessed with sex than anyone elseĖbut there has to be guilt and shame in it, and Wrongdoing. If Pleasure is Sin, then Sin is Pleasure, do you see. Itís a small step from there to the point where pain and punishment are sexualized."

Warring on sex becomes these people's only "legitimate" access to such culture and yet this allows them to somewhat indulge in same, albeit from somewhat on the margins.

The MSM are collaborators and stand to receive a mammoth revenue stream as they did in the War on Drugs.

Also sex stories are sensational and well, sexy.

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