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Saving the children


Neighboring Johnson County just did a big prostitution bust and arrested a lot of people. To hear law enforcement tell it, this was aimed at saving minors who had been forced into prostitution. The actual arrest numbers tell a different story. Sixteen people were arrested. Only one of them is accused of pimping a minor or otherwise exploiting underage people. So why were the other fifteen arrested? Let’s check the spin.

So far, human trafficking arrests in Iowa are rare. Once we start recognizing the crime is occurring and we know what to look for, it’s much more likely we’ll prosecute them.

As the world has become smaller and we have become more global, I think the prostitution trade has changed a great deal. We don’t have the same problem with street walkers that we did decades ago. Now people can advertise online, and it’s a different challenge for law enforcement to be able to discover those kinds of crimes.

Our concern is that people don’t have a realistic opportunity to leave if they decide it’s not what they want to do.

We have a lot of young people who are able to get online, and they are ripe for recruitment.

These quotes are from Roxann Ryan, a state police spokesperson. Taking her at her word seems to be the basis for the bulk of the article. She admits that there have been very few actual busts for human trafficking in Iowa and only one conviction since the law was passed. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that there isn’t much trafficking going on. (For prostitution anyway. There are plenty of exploited immigrant workers in fields and factories in Iowa.) The fact the one person they busted wasn’t part of any organized ring, but pimping her younger sister gives credibility to this theory. She cites a study showing 1200 hits a month on a website in Georgia promoting underage prostitution, but this doesn’t make a lot of sense. This isn’t a huge number. I have almost twice that many hits already this month and it isn’t even over. I am not Internet-famous. This is two orders of magnitude below anything notable. Not all those hits were potential customers, either. Hufu got a lot of web traffic, and I doubt many of them were actually looking to buy a human meat analog. Did they even know it was a place to specifically find underage prostitutes when they came? How many were bots? Besides, some minimal level of demand doesn’t prove there’s a substantial supply, especially if the customers would settle for something a lot less risky.

More importantly, even if sex trafficking were a major problem in Iowa, those other fifteen people arrested have apparently nothing to do with it. It doesn’t follow that a general crackdown on prostitution is a good way to deal with this. When there’s a rash of car thefts, they don’t arrest everyone who lists a car for sale on Craigslist, then use the couple who were selling stolen cars to justify the whole operation, nor do they put up used car ads and arrest everyone who responds and point out that the prospective buyers never asked if the cars were stolen. Doing so would pretty much erase any chance that people would volunteer information when they knew about crimes, in fact, as reporting would just be a way to get yourself arrested. For some reason, this makes sense for prostitution busts, though. Don’t take it from me, though. Listen to Coralville police spokesperson Shane Kron.

Prostitution is a cover for the trafficking of minors, which is our real bottom-line focus. We are trying to rescue kids.

Nobody asked us if we were old enough.

Guys try to convince themselves that it’s not their problem, and it’s not their fault. It absolutely is.

So even though they uncovered no evidence that most of the people they busted had anything to do with exploiting minors, he gets to assert unquestioned that prostitution in general is a cover for the trafficking of minors. His comment about the johns not asking is really disingenuous, since they were responding to Craigslist ads, which require an age in the original post. They had basically no reason to suspect that their prospective prostitute was underage and they had already claimed not to be. Why should they ask? If they had shown up to meet with someone who looked really young, this might be a valid criticism, but that’s not what happened here and this is hardly a reasonable claim about johns in general as Kron makes it out to be. It is clear that there are some johns who seek out underage prostitutes, and we should condemn such people. This has fuck-all to do with people who pay for (or get paid for) sex in general.

The real cover here is not being provided by the consenting adults who are engaging in commerce with their own money and skills, but the criminalization of prostitution and the related prison-industrial complex. The “rescues” the police are providing consist of a bit of jail time and a mark on your criminal record that makes it really hard to get a job in a socially respectable field. This actually traps people in prostitution who’d rather do something else and demonizes the people who do choose it. Besides the constant threat of arrest, they can’t go to the police if they do get exploited by a john or a pimp without risking arrest themselves. Any john or prostitute who knows about a third-party being exploited is far less likely to report that to the police, either if doing so would implicate themselves in criminal activity.

If you want to see underage workers being taken advantage of in Iowa, look at the agriculture industry. In fact, agricultural jobs are exempted from child labor laws here. Exploitation of minors is pretty much a proud tradition, but we can’t have anyone upsetting Iowa’s gravy train. However, since no one wants to publicly support prostitutes (unlike those salt-of-the-Earth farmers that resent everything great about America) and there aren’t a whole lot of them, they make a far more convenient target. If they only arrested the people causing the real problems, they’d have a lot fewer arrests and the police would look less efficient. People (including our local media, apparently) care more about some vague appearance of police effectiveness than the people that our laws actually affect.

From → politics

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