Anti-slavery laws don’t help many sex workers, and may end up harming them

Some people blame sex slavery, or trafficking, driven by pimps for keeping young girls in prostitution. Young girls are drawn in and brutalised by pimps, the conventional wisdom goes, and tackling this is the best way to reduce the number of girls trapped in prostitution. The Modern Slavery Bill in the UK is motivated by this kind of assumption.

A new study of underaged sex workers in New York City and Atlantic City seems to suggest that this is actually very rare. Using the largest data set ever gathered in this kind of work in the US, researchers surveyed pimps and sex workers to find out how common pimping was. Figures 1 and 2 below show how few underaged girls are introduced to sex work by pimps and how few actually have pimps on an ongoing basis:

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Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 17.58.55In fact, poverty and lack of access to work, housing or education seem to be what keep girls in prostitution:

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 18.01.22None of this tells us that anti-slavery legislation is bad, but it does seem to miss the point somewhat. However, one fact cited by the authors does mean we should think twice about anti-slavery laws: only 2 percent of underaged sex workers said that they would go to a ‘service organisation’ if they were in trouble, because ‘the anti-trafficking discourses and practices they would encounter in these organizations threaten to criminalize their adult support networks, imprison friends and loved ones, prevent them from earning a living, and return them to the dependencies of childhood.’

If only a small number of sex workers count as being trafficked, and anti-trafficking laws alienate others from the services set up to protect them, then anti-slavery legislation may end up having very perverse consequences indeed.

 

Tough on the causes of crime

Let’s be very reductionist and say that the prevalence of crime is affected by people’s biology, their upbringings, social environment and finally the crime and punishment system. In many ways the hardest things to change are their biology, so let’s just ignore these for the time being (although see 1 2).

Then what we have are upbringings/society and the crime and punishment system. Being very broad brushed we could say that before 1800 people put little faith in the former and lots in the latter. Nowadays people tend to be split between whether they place their faith in being tough on crime or tough on the causes of crime (can’t resist dropping this link here).

I favour both approaches, but outside of the fact that being just selected into a better school makes you a bit less likely to commit crimes, most social interventions we know don’t seem to have much effect. It might be a dead end. Start with the fact that 65% of UK boys with a father in prison will go on to offend. That’s easy to understand on the social-upbringing account: these people probably lack nurturing environments, live in bad neighbourhoods and so on.

The problem is that these just-so explanations don’t seem to fit the data.

  • Parenting: here’s a 2015 US paper showing “very little evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal behavior before controlling for genetic confounding and no evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal involvement after controlling for genetic confounding”.
  • Family income: here’s a 2014 Swedish paper showing “here were no associations between childhood family income and subsequent violent criminality and substance misuse once we had adjusted for unobserved familial risk factors”.
  • Bad neighbourhood: here’s a 2013 Swedish paper finding “the adverse effect of neighbourhood deprivation on adolescent violent criminality and substance misuse in Sweden was not consistent with a causal inference. Instead, our findings highlight the need to control for familial confounding in multilevel studies of criminality and substance misuse”. (In fact, this weird 2015 US paper found that low-income boys surrounded by affluent neighbours committed more crimes).

I realise there are other studies saying different things—I don’t want to sci-jack or be the Man of One Study—but many of these use caveman methodologies that don’t even attempt to account for the potential that some people are born different to others (e.g. some have more testosterone). And I think we can be cautiously confident in these findings because they fit with other things we know.

So we’re left with enforcement. Can that make a difference? Today black Americans commit many more crimes per capita than whites, despite committing fewer than them in the late 19th Century. It’s possible that the results above are only true for a narrow range of environments, and thus that social-familial affects are driving this.

But in any case do we really think that blacks in today’s USA live in worse environments than the blacks of the post-bellum USA? If environments are improving and people are pretty much the same genetically, then the criminal justice system may be the big changing factor.

I think the criminal justice system looks like the area where research could most plausibly lead to improved outcomes. Consider the imposition and enforcement of restrictive drug laws, which coincided with the crime wave, and which may increase violent crime (e.g. by inducting people into the criminal life, or by providing a lucrative trade to fight over).

Some way of changing improper or inadequate enforcement—e.g. liberalising drug laws—may be a can opener to assume but it’s nothing like the assuming the can opener of changing genetics or magic social interventions that actually work.

Of all the idiot suggestions

Of the idiot policies that politicians have tried to bake over the years this one rather takes the cake:

Scottish Labour MP Thomas Docherty is calling for a national debate on whether the sale of Adolf Hitler’s “repulsive” manifesto Mein Kampf should be prohibited in the UK.

Docherty has written to culture secretary Sajid Javid about the text, pointing out that it is currently “rated as an Amazon bestseller” and asking the cabinet member to consider leading a debate on the issue. An edition of Mein Kampf is currently in fifth place on Amazon’s “history of Germany” chart, in fourth place in its “history references” chart, and in 665th place overall.

“Of course Amazon – and indeed any other bookseller – is doing nothing wrong in selling the book. However, I think that there is a compelling case for a national debate on whether there should be limits on the freedom of expression,” writes Docherty to Javid.

Excellent, let us have that debate.

The answer is no.

On the simple grounds that freedom of speech really does mean what it says. People, even dead people, are free to spout their opinions however absurd, racist, hateful, jejeune or potentially damaging they may be. They may not libel and they may not incite to violence but within those constraints freedom really does mean freedom.

“This is not a debate around political books or manifestos or books which cause offence … What Mein Kampf and books like it do is specifically set out to incite hatred. It is literally the manifesto for Nazism.”

And that is why this is so important for this specific book. Yes, Hitler really did write down what he was going to do and when he gained power he went and did it. Which is why this specific book must remain available. So that we all remember that people often do have their little plans and it’s wise to make sure that certain people don’t get to enact them. As with that other little book that contributed so much to the tragedies of the 20 th century. Sometimes those who talk about the elimination of the bourgeoisie as a class really do mean it. Better to be warned and avoid, no?

Restating the case for freedom of speech

One thing that’s becoming clear in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy is that when it comes to mockery, a lot of politicians and spokespeople have the backbone of a paramecium.  All these people trying to defend us against the insensitivity of mockery have missed something vitally important: Not only is there usually nothing wrong with mockery, there is, in actual fact, often something very good about it – because mockery is frequently a powerful tool for highlighting the absurd and the inane. In such instances the reason mockery usually cuts so deep to offend is that it is exposing some absurdity or inanity in the belief held. To silence mockery is to be in danger of suppressing the wit that exposes the kind of beliefs that can only be held by surrendering the mind to reject evidence and rational enquiry. If we rightly endorse free speech as one of the great human necessities, we should insist the same kind of endorsement for mockery too.

Free speech is one of those issues about which it is difficult to say anything original. It has been written about so well by people like John Milton, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine and George Orwell. John Milton’s Areopagitica is perhaps the best of all works on this – being acutely perceptive not just about free speech but about the need for a free press too.

Alas, even though these great men make it difficult to say anything original on free speech, if what they’ve said has been forgotten by modern politicians to the extent that the qualities they propounded are gradually being eroded away by our ever-increasing nanny state authorities, there will always be the need for a reminder.

The general wisdom that has been distilled from these great writers on our liberty of free expression is that we will not agree with every opinion being proffered, but we should defend everyone’s freedom to proffer those opinions. We should do this not just to protect the right of the person with the opinion, but also to protect our right to hear opinions too. In other words, in denying someone the right to voice an opinion, we at the same time deny ourselves access to that opinion, so we decline the opportunity to hear something that may differ from the consensus or challenge widely held viewpoints.

We may not agree with everything we hear, and some of the things we hear may be vile, controversial or damn stupid, but we do ourselves an injustice if we fail to hear the dissenting voices, because even the most discordant and discrepant opinions may contain within them at least a grain of truth. Therefore we should be impelled to consider them carefully, for in doing so we force ourselves to question how we know what we do and whether the sources from whence our knowledge came were reliable and verifiable.

When it comes to free speech and mockery, then, so long as no threat is being made, or slanderous or libellous lie about a person being told, or employer/employer protocols breached, it is in our best interests to have complete freedom to say/write/draw whatever we wish, however controversial or repugnant.

Sadly, it becomes ever more apparent nowadays that these important principles regarding free speech are being gradually forgotten, or in some cases deliberately eroded away, by the kind of charmless busybodies who would call for the arrest of a Tweeter or the sacking of an MP or journalist or the condemnation of a satirist who says, writes or draws something they don’t like. As is evident to anyone with even the sketchiest understanding of human nature and basic philosophical familiarity, the more censorious we become the more we become prisoners of our interference.

Non-discrimination laws matter least in helping women advance

On January 12th, the International Labour Organization – a specialized agency of the United Nations – published its global report “Gaining Momentum: Women in Business and Management.”

The report -

looks at the most recent statistics and information at a global level, and provides a unique insight into the experiences, realities and views of companies in developing countries.

It aims to create greater understanding of the barriers to women’s advancement in business and management. It points to possible ways of tackling the issue, highlighting good practices among private sector businesses and organizations that represent them.

Unlike a lot of reports that focus on the underrepresentation of women in the workforce, the ILO’s puts a refreshing emphasis on facts and figures, rather than resting on the assumption that all inequality comes down to inherent sexism on the part of male employers.

The data it compiles provides a huge range of insight into the state of female involvement in different areas of public life – exploring why less than 5 percent of CEOs are women while also explaining how a third of the world’s enterprises have come to be run by women.

But the most telling table in the report looks at “company respondents to the ILO company survey conducted across developing regions” who “ranked what they considered the most significant barriers in order of priority” to women’s leadership and promotion:

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It will be surprising (dare I say frustrating) for many people to learn that the top two ranked barriers to women’s leadership had everything to do with traditional views of women in society and the their role in the family unit, and nothing to do with employer discrimination (inherent gender bias ranks 12th on the list!).

It often seems in western society that radical gender equality advocates want the reason for gender inequalities – especially in the workforce – to be sexism. To be honest, I’m somewhat sympathetic to what, I assume, is their reasoning. If inequality in the workforce is mainly driven by something as awful as sexism, then we can shout about it, legislate against it, demand board quotas, demand companies publicise payroll figures according to gender. Combined, we can legislate and ban the discrimination away.

But this just isn’t the case: all regions in the ILO’s survey, “identified inadequate labour and non-discrimination laws as the least significant barrier” to women leadership and promotion. (Bolded is my emphasis.)

In places like the UK, gender inequality has very little to do with male bias – after all, women in full-time work aged between 22 – 39 are now, on average, are earning 1.1 percent more than their male counterparts. The reality is that women’s life choices are determining how far they succeed in their career, including the kind of degree they pursue, when and how they go about having kids, and how long they spend out of the work force.

We shouldn’t harp or judge women for the choices they decide to make – different people have different priorities, and that’s okay – but if we want to attack the institutionalised sexism that still exists in our culture today, it would be far more productive to target the teaching, training, and conditioning of women to become ‘mothers and wives’ than to go after the employers who, based on all recent evidence, seem to be giving women an equal and fair shot at having a career.

That’s a big ask, I know. Solving sexism by reforming ourselves and our traditions will be a big change from legislating things.