Folks in government regularly lie with statistics.
A ReasonTV interview by historian Thaddeus Russell of Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker, illustrates this well. Russell quoted a U.S. State Department website that claims there are presently “up to 27 million slaves in the world,” and asked Ms. McNeill where that number on “human trafficking” came from.
An expert at a UN conference concocted the startling figure from a complex formula based on government reporting, his own arbitrary compensation for likely under-reporting, and extra points thrown in for media coverage.
Not scientific. At all. “When you are using media reports in the middle of a panic,” McNeill argues, “your numbers are going to keep increasing.”
Further, she notes that there is no way to know the real number of sex workers, voluntary or enslaved — the very fact of prostitution’s illegality not unreasonably engenders distrust amongst sex workers in medical as well as police officials.
“Stand up and be counted” appears ominous when “counted” really means “jailed.”
Human trafficking numbers are also over-estimated because government officials tend to define all criminal sex work as involuntary, lumping call girls, escorts and streetwalkers in with actual sex slaves. The argument, of course, is that voluntary sex workers are “victims”; their decisions downgraded on a theoretical level — because of disapproval.
Sure, they are all “victims” in some sense. (A preacher could marshal the argument better than I.) But there remains a difference between a person who goes into an illegal trade seeking a comparative advantage, and somebody kidnapped, imprisoned, and threatened to do the work.
Recognizing such distinctions makes for better public policies than fuzzing them up.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.