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#Budget2016: Thatcher would be proud

Use this Feminist Ire Budget Calculator to assess how #Budget2016 affects you!

Are you a multinational company paying little to no corporation tax, or one of the richest people in Ireland? You are? Excellent, then you’ll have even more money.

Are you an ordinary person earning an average wage or a person surviving on social welfare payments? You are? If you’re waged, you may come out with a fiver extra a week but the Government will want it back from you in property tax and water charges, and the increase to minimum wage probably won’t mean much because Labour (the party of work) haven’t done anything about zero hour contracts.

Are you living in your car with your child because you’re scared to go into a homeless hostel? You will get €5 extra in your children’s allowance. NAMA will fund private developers to build houses now but tough shit you’ll never be able to afford it.

Budget 2016 is an exercise in appalling political cynicism. People voted for Labour and Fine Gael because they wanted something different. What they got was years of austerity. Howlin and Noonan were at pains to tell us that this was a pro-family non-austerity budget but it’s just more of the same. The great big giveaway budget we’ve heard so much about means people entitled to fuel allowance will get an extra €2.50 in each payment. Congratulations, that will get you an extra briquette each week, burn it wisely!

The extra €5 a week in child benefit will do nothing to meaningfully address the quality of life that children living in poverty currently have. It is not an investment in children, it’s an investment in electioneering soundbites that members of Labour and Fine Gael will use when they’re dressing up their brutal neoliberal politics as warm and fuzzy family friendly economics.The income disregard of those on JobSeekers Transition Allowance has been increased, but it won’t make much difference to one parent families who are really struggling. You can’t tell people you want to improve families’ lives when you don’t invest in childcare and afterschool care. Two weeks paternity leave is welcome but it is not going to make it easier for women to work.

What tiny increases that have been given are barely fit to call crumbs from the table of the corporate bodies and their private developer mates and landlords who have inflicted utter misery on people in Ireland for decades.  The Government have given a tiny amount to everyone in an effort to buy the election, but not everyone needs a tiny amount. The 1,500 children living in direct provision who receive €9.60 a week- a payment that hasn’t been increased in sixteen years – they need more. The 1,496 children living in emergency accommodation need more. The Traveller families living in dangerous conditions, forgotten and dismissed as if their lives are considered disposable by this Government; they need more.

They are telling us they’re giving  €900m extra for the health service when in real terms it’s about €100m which isn’t even enough to provide the same level of service in 2016. People will still die on trolleys.  They’re allocating the minimum number of extra teachers to cope with increasing numbers of children that are going to school and have the nerve to dress this up as a great policy move. As if providing their bare minimum of teaching staff was a gift to the population of children under twelve, thousands of whom will still attend school in a prefab.

Labour and Fine Gael gave commitments to not raise student contribution fees before the last election. They have raised them to €3,000 and actively pushed students out of education, not to mention how they made it more difficult for students to get grants in the first place a few years ago. They give with one hand and take with the other. There is a vague commitment to invest €3m in the Student Assistance Fund to provide support to struggling students however the exact figure won’t be confirmed until Spring 2016. The number of recipients of SAF monies has gone from 7,681 students in 2009 to 15,166 in 2014 which has resulted in an actual reduction in monies allocated to each student in real terms. The government persist in dressing up paltry sums and tell us that they’re doing vulnerable people a favour.

There’s no increase in the basic rates of social welfare payment or to dole payments to under 26s. I still can’t figure out how those under 26 need to eat less than the rest of us, but I’m all ears if someone in Labour wants to fill me in.

For every euro that the Government has given away in capital gains and corporation tax, it is money taken away from the people that actually need it. It is a shameful insult to the people to tell them that this budget is a good thing when the biggest beneficiaries from it will be the likes of Facebook and Google and other multinationals who’ll be handed even more tax avoidance mechanisms.

The gloating speeches from government benches were stomach churning. That might sound a bit hyperbolic, but there is something genuinely very nauseating about watching Ministers bleat on week in week out about how we could combat bullying in schools, and then they sit and sneer from the government benches. Richard Boyd Barrett only has to stand up for the snide comments to start. If some of Labour suddenly started pelting him with lumps of chewing gum one of these days, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me.

To make it worse, Ministers and their TD colleagues now expect cookies and a pat on the back for allocating €17million to homeless services when they allocated €50million to commemorations. It will take you 57 years to be reached on the housing list? Diddums, wrap yourself in this copy of the Proclamation to keep warm. Your autistic child doesn’t have an SNA? Well that’s too bad, but here have a tricolour instead. There’s always a lot of squabbling among Irish politicos about what the leaders of the Rising would have wanted but you really don’t need to be a genius to know that James Connolly would probably say that ending homelessness would be a more fitting commemoration of the ideals of the Proclamation than this. On the other hand, Margaret Thatcher would find it quite fitting.

@stephie08

What TORL aren’t telling you about those “trafficking” stats

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Earlier this week, the Central Statistics Office published its latest reported crime data, which included a figure of 33 “human trafficking offences” – up from 22 in the last report.

Predictably, this was seized on by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign to bolster its call for the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients:

Now as I’ve noted a number of times, Irish “trafficking offences” can encompass quite a number of things that have nothing to do with sex work – including unlawful sexual activity with a minor and helping a person enter the State to seek asylum. So, quite apart from the obvious point that we don’t know whether the increase relates to sex trafficking or labour trafficking, we don’t even know if it relates to trafficking in the Palermo Protocol sense at all.

So, I decided to do something I’m pretty sure never occurred to TORL to do: I emailed the CSO’s crime data section to ask for further detail on these offences. Within a few hours, I had a reply inviting me to telephone them to discuss my query (see how easy that was, TORL?).

Unfortunately, the very helpful person who answered the phone was unable to provide any detail, because the CSO don’t have it: the figures were reported exactly as they came to them from the Gardaí. I asked if they could even be broken down into which statutory offence was reportedly committed, but the answer was no: literally all the CSO were told was “33 human trafficking offences”.

Furthermore, the CSO told me, this doesn’t necessarily even represent things that are legally defined as human trafficking: “It’s a Garda definition, not a legal definition.” So anything the reporting Garda considers trafficking would go into that figure. The lack of any kind of standard renders the statistic wholly unreliable evidence of anything at all.

And, finally, I was told that the figure may include inchoate offences, such as conspiracy. So there is no need that any actual trafficking had taken place – it is enough that there was an agreement in place to do so. Presumably, the figure may also include complicity offences, such as aiding and abetting.

What is apparent then is that the “33 human trafficking offences” need not relate to 33 separate incidents of (whatever kind of) human trafficking, i.e., 33 victims. And since the same was true of the previous report’s 22, we can’t judge the significance of the 50% increase in any meaningful sense. It’s a number on a page that tells us nothing about anything – except, of course, the willingness of crusaders to manipulate data for their own ends.

Lies, damn lies, and TORL statistics

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Guest post by Laura Lee

Following Stormont’s passing into law of Lord Morrow’s prohibitionist measure not so cunningly disguised as saving the victims of trafficking, it’s not surprising that the various anti sex work groups in the Republic have jumped on the back of that. Why, less than twenty four hours after the law came in, the ICI are claiming that this has already resulted in a mass exodus of sex workers across the border. You’ll forgive my instant suspicion of any statistics coming from the ICI, but as they are members of Turn off the Red Light with such illustrious partners as Ruhama, they have a vested interest in creating unfounded moral panic.

On the 5th of December last year, an article appeared in the Connaught Tribune which stunned me into silence, a real feat indeed. That article claimed that in Galway, 87 women were advertised “for sale” [sic], 97% of whom were immigrants and therefore trafficked. Wow. A quick check on Escort Ireland of today’s figures shows 42 sex workers in total, and that includes men and people advertising as “transsexual/transvestite”. All trafficked ? I think not.

Yesterday saw the publication in the Belfast Telegraph of yet another festival of made up statistics from the ICI. To break them down, they claimed that –

  • Donegal has increased from 14 advertisements to 24 – there are 18 today.
  • Louth has increased from 18 advertisements to 25 – there are 21 today.
  • Leitrim has screeched from 2 ads to 9 – there are 2 today.

If we take a snapshot of the number of sex workers advertising in the border counties, the numbers change dramatically all the time. That’s because by its very nature, the sex industry is fluid, with sex workers moving from location to location. In the short period from 19/11/2014 to 3/12/2014,* the number of female sex workers advertising in the southern border counties varied each day between 45 and 67, with the numbers tending to increase in the run up to Christmas. And the same is true for the rest of Ireland, from Wexford to Belfast to Kerry and all points in between.

Looking at Galway during the period 19/11/2014 to 3/12/2014, the numbers fluctuated there too but not once did the total exceed 57. So where were those 87 sex workers, 97% of whom were trafficked, and why weren’t the Gardai helping them? ICI wouldn’t just be making statistics up, would they? Make your own mind up.

 

*stats available on request

A favourite piece of research for Swedish model advocates throws up a few surprises

Guest post by @pastachips

Does legalized prostitution increase human trafficking?“, a 2012 study by Cho, Dreher and Neumayer, is cited everywhere as evidence that ‘legalised prostitution’ increases trafficking into the sex industry. This article from last month is a recent example. The study’s conclusions have already been called into question, basically because the paper doesn’t distinguish between different meanings of the word trafficking, either in terms of taking account different countries’ laws – are we comparing like with like? – nor in terms of making a distinction between something-that-might-be-legally-trafficking-but is-essentially-undocumented-migration, and something more like cross-border kidnapping. Making that kind of distinction is pretty important if you’re trying to say something coherent! As is comparing like with like! The papers’ authors caution against treating its conclusions with too much weight, noting that “the quality of data is relatively low”, and that more research “will require the collection of more reliable data to establish firmer conclusions” (p26), but I think their data is actually way worse that they’re letting on.

They focus in on comparing Denmark, Germany and Sweden, and tell us: “in terms of human trafficking victims, the ILO estimated the stock of victims in Germany in 2004 to be approximately 32,800 – about 62 times more than in Sweden” (p25). I looked up their reference for that 32,800 figure, and found that the ILO paper cited as the source – Danailova-Trainor & Belser, 2006doesn’t even mention Germany. I discovered that by reading it, but you can also test it by clicking through and doing a command-f search for the words “German” or “Germany”, which you might reasonably expect to occur in a document that mentioned Germany.

The same 2006 paper is also cited as the source for the numbers on Denmark, where the claim is made that “… the ILO estimates the stock of human trafficking victims in Denmark in 2004 at approximately 2,250, while the estimated number in Sweden is about 500”, and the bracketed reference reads: “Global report data used in Danailova-Trainor and Belser, 2006” (p24). Again, I looked for those numbers (or any mention of Denmark) in vain in the Danailova-Trainor & Belser 2006 paper. I also checked out the “Global Report” mentioned as the source for Danailova-Trainor and Belser’s data, which I figured was probably a reference to the ILO’s 2005 report titled ‘A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour’ – there’s nothing else published that it plausibly could be; I checked. The 2005 Global Report doesn’t contain any country estimates, let alone numbers like those cited by Cho, Dreher and Neumayer.

I assumed that the 32,800 figure regarding Germany must have come from somewhere, so I dug around for ages on the ILO site, and found that the ILO seems to mostly resist giving country-specific numerical estimates (cf this 2005 report on trafficking in Germany, which really won’t be drawn on numbers). The only figures I could find for trafficking in Germany in 2004 were these official lists of identified victims that put the 2004 number at 972 (for all officially identified trafficking victims, not just sex trafficking victims). Obviously a list of ‘officially identified’ victims is unreliable – for instance, surely everyone knows these lists massively under-represent the number of men trafficked into agricultural work. But I feel like at least that list has an available methodology, which you could for instance replicate to see if you would get a similar number, or critique or challenge (as I would). How do you assess the validity of the process which produced an unreferenced 32,800, that appears to have come from nowhere?

It’s probably worth noting that I’m not invested in “defending” Germany’s record on ‘sex trafficking’ (scare-quoted because I think a lot of what is referred to in that phrase is more complicated that is generally allowed). I’ve focused in a bit on Germany because the study does. I don’t support Germany’s legal model in terms of sex work, and nor do any sex worker-led organisations in Ireland or the UK that I’m aware of; sex workers are perfectly capable of articulating why and how laws like those in Germany harm us, and disproportionately harm the more marginalised of us. I just feel like having references that go somewhere is quite a low bar in terms of the social sciences – especially when you’re citing very large numbers that apparently don’t appear anywhere else! – and I’m pretty surprised that the Cho/Dreher/Neumayer study seems not to clear that bar.

I also noticed that the study’s info on sex work laws around the world (167 countries! such big study wow!) is from, uh, 1995. (See p46.) The authors of the study are aware of some potential problems with this, noting: “for some countries, prostitution law changed during the 1996-2003 period: … Germany (2002), Denmark (1999) … Netherlands (2000), New Zealand (2003), and Sweden (1999). Our results are robust to the exclusion of these countries” [emphasis mine; some countries removed because if you want to see the full list you can follow up my reference] (p37). Norway implemented the sex purchase law in 2009; Iceland in 2007. In short, the effects of the ‘Nordic model’ are not actually included in the data of this study, and nor is the effect of the New Zealand model. “Our results are robust to the exclusion of these countries”. This might arguably make the study a not-totally-solid citation for you, if you’re looking to argue that the Swedish model is great and the New Zealand model is 💩. Here’s maybe the most interesting surprise. Cho, Dreher and Neumayer include a handy list of all the countries they’ve “looked at” (scare-quotes because hmmm), sorted into categories according to whether those countries have “very high”, “high”, “medium”, “low” or “very low” trafficking ‘inflows’. (See p44.) Sweden is listed in the “medium” category, along with … New Zealand.

Now, I don’t think that’s actually meaningful! Because I think that the data used to produce the conclusions of this study was 🌸 garbage 🌸. In general I think you get information that’s meaningful about sex work, trafficking, migration and exploitation by asking migrants who sell sex about their experiences and their policy suggestions. This study is a good example of that. But if you do think the conclusions of the study are meaningful – for example, if you’ve cited this paper as part of your argument in favour of laws like Sweden’s – then it should probably concern you that a study-you-apparently-consider-reliable ‘reveals’ Sweden is actually no ‘better’ at tackling trafficking than New Zealand. Whoops!

I know “the point” of this study is that it’s not “just about” individual countries; it’s trying to see patterns on a macro scale. But – that’s kind of a design problem with the study? In order to have relevance to policy debates, you have to organise your data in a way that is coherent with the terms of the debate – or at least, not egregiously incoherent. The global sex worker rights movement isn’t arguing for the (massively varied!) laws that this paper puts in the pile it calls “legalisation”; we’re not campaigning for “oh, laws that look something like the ones they have in Nevada, or Amsterdam, or Germany, or New Zealand; the details don’t matter, we don’t really mind”. We do mind! We’re trying to work towards (and improve on) the sex work laws they have in New Zealand. Sorry if this idea is complicated, but: aggregate data from Germany, Denmark, New Zealand and the Netherlands doesn’t make sense if no one is arguing in favour of the legal system in Germany, Denmark or the Netherlands, and when people who are pro-criminalisation refuse to understand this, they don’t derail us so much as make it obvious that they don’t care about the detail of the laws because they won’t be affected by them. Which isn’t that great an advocacy look, tbh. My focus on comparing New Zealand to Sweden in this study’s (broken and out-of-date) data isn’t because I’m scared of what will be ‘revealed’ by the aggregated global data (except in the sense that I’m finding this study scarily incompetent); but because I think it makes sense to talk about legal systems in a way that’s precise enough to be coherent.

Plenty of people have cited the Cho/Dreher/Neumayer paper as if it closes the argument, or as if it has some kind of weight or meaning. People who have been using it (presumably without reading it) probably need to decide whether the study – once read beyond the abstract – shows that New Zealand and Sweden have pretty much the same outcomes in terms of ‘sex trafficking’, or whether it’s actually so unreliable and badly put together as to be functionally useless (ding ding ding). While they decide which angle to take, I’m gonna write to the journal that published this paper and raise a few concerns.

Journalists’ Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem

Guest post by Matthias Lehmann

More often than not, advocacy for sex workers’ rights and the acceptance of sex work as work puts one at odds with members of that part of the anti-human trafficking movement that rejects these ideas, considers prostitution as inherently harmful, and brands anyone disagreeing with them as a member of some imaginary pimp lobby. Another group one finds oneself at odds with are journalists who report about – and, like the former, conflate – human trafficking and prostitution, as their articles frequently include false, inaccurate or misrepresented information.

Chimpanzee Typing - Image by New York Zoological Society (1907)

As sex workers and their allies will confirm, one could easily spend all day writing rebuttals to counter the influence on public opinion of the many sensationalist reports, but one has to pick and choose. The following is a response to Kyla Ryan’s article “Cambodia’s Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem” in The Diplomat. Before I start, however, I would like to state that I am not an expert on the situation in Cambodia, although I previously conducted research and field work in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. I can read, however, and my rebuttal of Kyla Ryan’s article will for the most part analyse one of the very sources she used in writing her article.

Far, very far indeed, be it from me to deny that children are being sexually exploited and, as German politician and human rights activist Volker Beck once put it, “every trafficking victim is one too many”.

However, a quick glance at the source of Kyla Ryan’s alarming statements, a report by ECPAT-Cambodia, reveals that what she should have focused on is the rape of children in settings that are not related to human trafficking.

Let’s look at the data and let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that the research conducted is methodologically sound and all of the findings accurate.

Rape

The report by ECPAT-Cambodia states that in 2011, “658 cases of rape were referred to the 33 participating NGOs, involving 671 victims”, 483 of whom were minors (71.5%).  While about half of these 483 victims were teenagers, 169 were aged between 7-12 (35%) and 77 between 1-6 (16%).

The report continues to state that the next highest age group, those aged 18-25, which ECPAT labels as ”young people”, accounted for the majority of adult victims, meaning that grouped together, victims aged 0-25 accounted for 90.5%.

I am not going to dismiss the fact that such an overwhelming majority of rape victims was rather young or even very young, but one should not overlook the fact that ECPAT-Cambodia labels youth here as “children” and adults as “young people”. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that the organisation’s self-interest plays a role here, regardless of how honourable its goals might be. The report does emphasise that “the majority of victims (approximately 1 in 3) were in the 13-17 years age group”, but I’ll come back to that later.

The report found that, “consistent with all previous Database Annual Reports”, “rape offenders in Cambodia are generally not total strangers to the victims, and usually know the victim fairly well”. The report suggests “that police and judicial investigations, as well as authorities and NGOs, should consider parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from rape”.

In the year 2011, 98.8% of the offenders were Khmer, with 0.9% foreign and 0.2% Cham/Muslim. (No further details are provided.) The total number of offenders was 770, therefore, the 0.9% correspond to 7 foreign offenders (rounded up) in the cases referred to the participating NGOs.

Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation

Looking at the data about trafficking reveals that in 2011, “71 cases of sexual trafficking were referred to the participating NGOs, involving 88 victims”, 66 of whom were minors (75%). While 55 of these 66 were teenagers, 10 were aged between 7-12 (15.2%) and 1 was aged between 1-6 (1.5%).

The report continues to state that “the number of child victims in the very young age groups of 1-6 years and 7-12 years was relatively high, with nearly 17% of the total child victims belonging to these two age groups”. As above, the report also states that, when grouping victims aged 0-25 together, they accounted for 92%.

Once again, every trafficking victim is one too many and I am not going to dismiss the fact that 11 children under 12 years of age were trafficked for sexual exploitation. One should not overlook the fact, however, that in the text of the report, ECPAT-Cambodia uses percentages rather than the number of cases and again joins age groups together, since, obviously, 17% is a more useful number than 11 to raise awareness – and funds! – and the same goes for anything in the 90% range.

The report does not provide details on the offenders who exploited the trafficking victims as customers but only on the 76 recruiters involved in the 71 cases.

Again, the report found that, “consistent, in general terms, with all previous Database Annual Reports”, “recruiters of sexual trafficking in Cambodia are generally not total strangers to the victims, and usually knew the victim fairly well” and suggests that “police and judicial investigations, as well as authorities and NGOs, should consider parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from sexual trafficking”.

Listing percentages only, the report states 50% of the recruiters were Khmer, 10.5% Vietnamese, 7.9% Thai, Other Asian 5.3%, European 10.5%, and American 3.9%. The report states that “there is limited consistency across the years in regards to the nationality of recruiters” and that “it is too soon to determine whether the drastic increase in European/American recruiters in 2011 constitutes a new trend”.

Granted, a combined 14.4% for European and American recruiters is quite a marked increase from 0% the year before. Once again, the use of percentages is somewhat conspicuous, however. Converted into actual numbers, the 14.4% correspond to ten recruiters/traffickers. All foreign recruiters listed in the table accounted for 38.1% or 29 recruiters/traffickers.

It is interesting to note that in 2011, 51.6% (or 39) of the recruiters/traffickers were female, while 48.4% (or 37) were male.

Misrepresenting the Problems

Let’s look at Kyla Ryan’s article at The Diplomat then.

Ryan (or her editor) chose as the headline “Cambodia’s Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem”, when in fact, the ratio of rape to trafficking victims in Cambodia in 2011 was roughly 7.5:1 (671:88), at least according to the very source Ryan’s article is based on.

The byline states that “the country still sees a trade in girls as young as five years old”. While that may be true, the report this statement is based on lists a single victim aged 1-6 years old and doesn’t actually reveal the gender of the two-year-old victim.

Speaking of gender: nearly 20% of the overall trafficking victims in 2011 – the report doesn’t provide figures broken down by age groups – were male, and the report does state that the “data is a reminder that boys and men are also victims of sexual abuse and exploitation … although this may often be contrary to popular belief”. Articles such as Ryan’s are one of the main reasons why such popular beliefs exist.

Ryan is also guilty of perpetuating the common “male foreign perpetrator, female local victim” paradigm when she writes that Phnom Penh is “where foreign men come to seek sex with young girls”. While I cannot deny that men, foreign or local, may seek sex with young girls, the data on which Ryan bases her article says nothing at all about foreign men who bought sex from young girls. Instead, the report does say a lot about rape, but Ryan chooses to mention rape only in connection to brothels. The only foreigners mentioned in the report are the 29 recruiters/traffickers in 2011, eleven of which were European or American.

While Ryan does allude to the “complicated” situation where family members are involved in human trafficking, she curiously writes that “many young girls are not forced into the trade by criminals, but by family members”. I never knew that being a family member and being a criminal were mutually exclusive. One may disagree with me here, but it appears that Ryan prefers to blame “foreign men” for the crime, with family members merely being complicit in it.

Nobody should dismiss or trivialise sexual violence against children, youth, young adults, or adults in general. My issue with articles such as the one by Kyla Ryan is that they misrepresent the problems and fuel the rampant, and harmful, anti-trafficking panic while largely ignoring the actual problems.

Ryan fails to mention the fraudulent and exploitative activities of Somaly Mam – her organisation AFESIP was one of the NGOs contributing to the ECPAT-Cambodia report – and the underlying problem that more often than not, only lurid stories make for effective fundraising for anti-trafficking organisations, a problem which also seems to affect the way ECPAT-Cambodia wrote its report. Ryan also leaves out ECPAT-Cambodia’s recommendation to give greater consideration to “parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from sexual trafficking”. I must assume it didn’t fit into the narrative she wanted to engage in.

The report by ECPAT-Cambodia states that 1 in 3 rape victims and 2 in 3 trafficking victims were in the 13-17 years age group. Where rape was concerned, all offenders were male and nearly all were Khmer, but where trafficking was concerned, a slight majority was female and the majority was Khmer, though 38.1% (or 29 people) were foreign.

To summarise: according to ECPAT-Cambodia’s report, the bigger problem in Cambodia is rape, not trafficking; the main victims of both rape and trafficking are youth aged 13-17; and the offenders are overwhelmingly locals – where rape is concerned this is entirely the case, and where trafficking is concerned they comprise the majority.

Kyla Ryan’s article paints another picture. “Read The Diplomat, know the Asia-Pacific?” Hardly.

Epilogue

I said above that for argument’s sake, I would assume that the report by ECPAT-Cambodia is accurate, but I strongly recommend anyone truly interested in the subject to read further, because regardless of its wording or use of percentages, the report does provide a number of interesting facts, e.g. who was classified as recruiter/trafficker – included were owners or employees of brothels or massage parlours – or the reasons why “92% of victims agreed to go with the recruiter” – 29.2% stated they “wanted money to buy things” – or that “the majority knowingly entered sex work”. Admittedly, 42.1% said they were promised other occupations and then forced into sex work. One mustn’t discount, however, that some respondents might well have hesitated to admit they knowingly entered sex work, for fear of the stigmatisation they would face as a result of that. By suggesting that, I certainly do not mean to dismiss any actual cases of sexual exploitation. But equally, one must not ignore that due to the stigma attached to sex work, people selling sex frequently experience discrimination and violence, which even extends to their children and other family members, exacerbating their health risks and isolation and depriving them of their basic human rights.

Matthias Lehmann is a doctoral researcher at Queen’s University Belfast. His prior research and field work dealt with human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and human rights violations against sex workers in South Korea. His current research focuses on prostitution legislation in Germany. His blogs can be found here and here.

What the “sex buyers” survey found. And what it didn’t.

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There’s been much in the Irish media this week about a new report on sex workers’ clients, based on research conducted in five European countries (Ireland, Finland, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Lithuania). Unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, the media coverage has ranged from bad to abysmal. For a prime example of the latter, see this piece in the Irish Examiner, which starts off with the claim that “Ireland’s sex trafficking trade is worth an estimated €250m a year, a new study shows” – despite the fact that no such claim is made anywhere in the report. The journalist appears to have mistaken a made-up stat cited by a speaker at the report’s launch for an actual research finding, which I suppose is an easy enough error to make when you just repeat things NGOs tell you without ever cracking open a report yourself.

As for most of the other coverage, in general its worst sin is making the report out to be somehow shocking or revealing or breaking new ground, when it actually tells us very little – at least where Irish clients are concerned. By the time I finished reading it, my reaction was such a big fat “meh” I actually wondered if I should write this piece at all, and risk drawing more attention to something deserving so little.

Having decided (with some reservations) to proceed, I’ll start at the beginning. The report is an effort by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the NGO behind the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, in partnership with like-minded groups from the other countries mentioned above. There is no attempt to hide the report’s agenda; Chapter 1.1 openly identifies it as part of an overall project that aims to

Reduce demand for the purchase of sexual services

and while this clearly gives the authors an incentive to find data that presents clients in the worst possible light, I don’t think they’ve actually achieved this – at least not when it comes to the Irish clients (whose responses I will limit this post to). The main reason for this is that their sample is so small as to be virtually meaningless: only 58 Irish clients took part in the survey, which was conducted entirely by means of an online questionnaire. (They actually did attempt to do face-to-face interviews but, as this excerpt relates, failed in almost comical fashion.) You’d need a pretty small population size for 58 to be remotely adequate enough to tell us anything about clients as a class – and the authors can hardly claim simultaneously that the population size is small enough, and that it spends €250m a year. After all, if the respondents amounted to even 10% of the sex-buying population of Ireland, that would still require them to pay an average of €431,034 per year for sex – something clearly impossible at the income levels reported (nearly three-quarters earn less than €40,000 per annum, and only 13% earn above €60,000). Add this to the finding that nearly half of respondents had paid for sex either “just once” or only “a few times”, and clearly the Irish sex industry is either a hell of a lot less lucrative than TORL advocates make it out to be, or those profits are coming from far too many clients to make this sample size sufficient. They can’t have it both ways.

While there are some disclaimers about the inferences that safely can be drawn from the report, they are both too little and too late. The “Research methodology” section (Chapter 1.2) explains that non-probability sampling was used, but suggests the only weakness of this approach is that it cannot

determine the percentage of the respective populations who had purchased sex

Nowhere does it explain that non-probability sampling cannot, by its nature, ensure a representative sample, and in fact at several points the report uses language that seems to assume the respondents are representative of Irish clients as a whole. Near the end, in Appendix 3, it concedes the risk of self-selection bias – where the sample is skewed by certain shared characteristics of those who choose to participate it – but then suggests this concern is unwarranted on the basis of

similarities between those who participated in this research and those who engaged in previous similar studies

Which previous similar studies they mean is unclear; looking through the report’s bibliography, I can’t find any previous research on clients in Ireland. This is a strange omission, in a report that everywhere else carefully references all the research it refers to.

To be clear, the report isn’t devalued by the use of non-probability sampling. Sometimes there isn’t any other way to study a particular group, and the information you get may still be useful even if it can’t be extrapolated to the group as a whole. For example, five Irish respondents said “a bar” was the location where they found the last person they paid for sex with; this is notable for indicating the need to study the poorly-researched phenomenon of bar-based prostitution, even if it can’t tell us what percentage of the industry that sector comprises. But in a report aimed at a non-academic audience, it’s important to make these limitations clear, and I don’t think this report adequately does this. Public pronouncements by the NGOs behind this report have certainly not done this – like this article from the Immigrant Council, which repeatedly equates “clients who completed this survey” with “men who pay for sex”.

The report also examines the meaning of “demand” in the relevant international law instruments, which require member states to reduce the demand that fuels human trafficking. The purpose of this chapter is to argue that “demand” in this context should be interpreted as demand for paid sex rather than demand for paid sex from a trafficked person. Obviously I disagree with them on this point: the current interpretation is in line with the requirement to reduce demand in non-sex sectors, and this is how it should be. Nobody suggests we need to reduce demand for agricultural workers just because some of them meet the indicators of trafficking.

Beyond that, though, I think there is much to criticise in the way the “demand” argument is made. Exploring the understanding of that term in academic research, the report relies heavily on the work of Bridget Anderson and Julia O’Connell Davidson, which is absolutely essential reading. Unfortunately, it elides one of their central arguments: that sex work and trafficking are not purely demand-led, and that supply itself may create the demand. Here’s a direct quote from the Anderson and O’Connell Davidson article setting out this position, which is entirely contrary to the impression of it given by the report:

“There is certainly demand for cheap and vulnerable sex workers, but it is by no means clear that this kind of demand acts as a stimulus for trafficking. It could equally be that a supply of cheap workers stimulates demand.”

There are a number of other, similar sleights-of-hand in this study. It cites a 2013 report by a Council of Europe anti-trafficking body, GRETA, in a manner that would lead the reader to believe – wrongly – that GRETA endorsed the Oireachtas Justice Committee’s anti-sex work proposals. It mentions that the Finnish Ministry for Justice recommended criminalising payment for sex, but fails to mention that the Finnish Government rejected that recommendation (though in fairness, that was a very recent decision). And it acknowledges that the failure to recruit more Irish clients may have had something to do with the

ongoing, very public discussion on the future of prostitution legislation in Ireland

but conveniently omits the fact that there is an ongoing, very aggressive campaign to make the research subjects into criminals, which campaign is being led by the authors of the study themselves. It seems to me that the interests of full disclosure should have required some mention of this.

But the study’s biggest flaw is the way it deals with the question of potentially trafficked or exploited sex workers. The online survey, which is reproduced in full in an Appendix, asks the question:

16. Have you ever changed your mind and walked away because the person seemed:

and a list of options follows, including “scared”, “controlled”, “unwilling”, “unhappy” and “too young”. “Trafficked” is not one of the options, but we are told in the Appendix that the options were chosen because they are

physical manifestations of exploitation [and] indicators of trafficking

In other words, a client who admits to walking away from an appointment because the escort seemed “unhappy” is assumed to have walked away because he believed she was trafficked! Quite plainly, this is absurd.

But it gets worse, because in the main body of the report, the question itself is completely rephrased to reach the finding the authors want to reach. Instead of reporting Question 16 as it’s actually worded, it reports it as if a significantly different question had been asked:

Around one-quarter of Irish buyers said they had encountered sellers they believed were being exploited.

This leaves no room for doubt: a client who might have ticked the box for “unhappy” because he’d walked out of an appointment with an independent escort who was in a bad mood would now be recorded as having encountered a sex worker who he believed was exploited or trafficked. This is not a conclusion that follows logically from the research question. It is a gigantic leap that undermines whatever credibility this survey might otherwise have had.

Next, the survey asks:

17. Have you ever considered reporting your suspicions that someone was being trafficked or controlled?

The only options given are “No” or “Yes”. There is no “Not applicable”. This is a classic “Have you stopped beating your wife?” type of question: there is no way to answer without allowing an unpleasant conclusion to be drawn. Though it was possible to skip the question entirely, and about a third did, it’s not clear whether respondents were explicitly told they could do so; thus the possibility can’t be ignored that some who would have selected “n/a” picked the next best option instead.

If the survey was designed so that Question 17 only popped up once Question 16 was answered affirmatively, this wouldn’t be a problem. But there’s no indication that it was. The sequential numbering (rather than as, say, Q.16 and Q.16a) suggests that it wasn’t. The text of the report also suggests that it wasn’t, and that Q.17 was asked of all respondents:

Buyers were also asked whether they had ever reported suspicions that someone was being exploited or controlled.

This is where it becomes really important to distinguish the actual findings from the spin. In the Immigrant Council article linked to above, their spokesperson writes:

“As well as profiling buyers the Immigrant Council of Ireland examined if the men ever came across women they believed were being controlled by pimps, were frightened or were trafficked. The results are startling, with over one in four admitting they had come across women and girls they believed were in such situations. A significantly lesser number considered to report this to the authorities, dispelling the myth that buyers are helpful is [sic] tackling human trafficking.”

“A significantly lesser number”? The report found that around a quarter of respondents had ticked one of those so-called trafficking indicator boxes. In a sample size of 58, that’s 14.5. The article above says “over one in four”, so we’ll round up to 15. It also found that 21% of respondents had considered reporting such a situation to the authorities. In the same sample size, that’s 12. The difference between 15 and 12 in a sample size of 58 may or may not be statistically significant (I’ll let someone else do the math), but it is hardly significant in layperson’s terms. The Immigrant Council’s use of that word in that article seems to be designed to mislead. And of course, when you consider the rephrasing of Q.16 (so that some of those 15 who walked away may not have done so because they thought the sex worker was being exploited), the difference could actually be even lower.

It is shameful how readily the Irish media allow themselves to be used as a vehicle for what can only be described as propaganda masquerading as research.

Another part of the survey that has drawn attention is a question asking clients what would deter them from paying for sex. Interestingly (though again bearing in mind the non-representative nature of the sample), “a bad experience or a disease” ranks first. Criminal penalties and the publication of their photo are also ranked highly. Predictably, this is treated as “evidence” that these measures would be successful in ending demand.

The problem with questions like this is that the answers are necessarily speculative, and human beings do not always behave as they expect themselves to. How people say they would react to the abstract hypothetical possibility of something happening, and how they actually do react when that something finally occurs, may not line up as neatly as the authors want us to think they will. The report fails to consider the phenomenon that criminologists call “initial deterrence decay”, whereby the effectiveness of a measure drops significantly after first appearing successful, as those who were originally deterred by it learn not to fear the penalties or find ways to get around them.

There are also some issues of concern with how the study was conducted. We are assured:

At all times, the research teams were aware of the ethical sensitivity of the issues being looked at.

However, there is no indication that any institutional ethical approval was sought or given. We are told that “training” and “guidelines” were given for the face-to-face interviews in two of the countries and for the handling of research data, but it is not clear whether full disclosure was made to any of the respondents about the nature and purpose of the study – a key ethical consideration when working with human research subjects.

A few other things struck me while reading the report, but I’ll leave it at this for now. One final comment: as the report’s real purpose is to advocate for the Swedish law of criminalising sex workers’ clients, it would be interesting to see a similar study carried out in Sweden. Presumably if the authors are going to accept these findings as authentic, they would have to do the same for an equivalent study on Swedish clients. I suspect the answers might surprise them.

Comparing “trafficking” statistics: why it’s a waste of time

I thought it might be useful to make a simple chart to demonstrate why it’s meaningless to claim that one country has more trafficking than another, based on their official statistics. Seeing as this comes up all the time.

You can click on it to enlarge:

Trafficking definitions

There are a few explanations and disclaimers I need to get in:

  1. The chart is based on my own interpretation of each country’s laws. There is undoubtedly scope for disagreement in some of the details – but not, I believe, on the overall picture.
  2. The big centre column refers to adult trafficking only. I included an age qualifier for Germany because its law treats 18 to 21 year old adults as children.
  3. For “Elements of Trafficking”, I’ve used the three-part schema derived from Article 3(a) of the UN Trafficking Protocol. The headers are a common shorthand and are not to be interpreted literally (“control” doesn’t only mean actual control but can include deception, for example).
  4. Even within a single element, definitions can vary widely; eg, in the UK the “movement” element strictly requires travel, while the Irish definition adheres more closely to the broader Protocol criteria.
  5. Finally and most importantly, the chart reflects what the law actually says – not necessarily how it’s interpreted in practice. It’s theoretically possible that the reporting bodies in each country actually apply a more uniform definition in the process of collecting statistics. But that’s for the people who put faith in the official stats to demonstrate – and to my knowledge, not one of them has done so.

All that said, I think this chart makes one thing crystal clear: when countries tally up their “trafficking” figures, they aren’t necessarily counting the same thing. And unless these distinctions are controlled for in comparative studies, which they haven’t been so far, the evidential value of those studies is pretty close to nil.

 

Sources:

Ireland – Criminal Law (Human Trafficking Act) 2008

UK – Sexual Offences Act 2003

Sweden – Chapter 4 § 1 a of the Penal Code (2010:371) as translated in this Swedish police report

Germany – §232 StGB Criminal Code (original German here; translations courtesy of Ralph in this comment, Sonja Dolinsek of Menschenhandel Heute and Google Translate)

Netherlands – Article 273f of the Criminal Code