I’ve been following the Village Voice v. Ashton Kutcher story for a while and I remain deeply unsettled by it. Not because I think child prostitution is yippy-skippy, but because, you know, I think child molestation sucks and I think anyone who would ritually abuse children at a daycare really sucks and yet… you know, we sent people to prison and ruined their lives for ritually molesting children at daycares when, as you know, there never was any Satanic ritual abuse.
Which is not to say that kids aren’t sometimes molested at daycare.
That’s, I suspect, kind of the situation here. Are there young girls being trafficked? Yeah, I think so. But hundreds of thousands of them? I think that’s a number we should back away from very carefully, not just because it seems highly inflated, but because, as we know because we know American history, once you have a problem that large, we must find perpetrators. And in order to find those perpetrators, we must have details from the victims. And if we don’t have victims, we have “victims.”
I’m a feminist so when someone tells me that he or she has been the victim of a sexually-based crime, I believe them. But I’m very leery about believing friend of a friend reporting. The difference between “this happened to me” and “she told me this happened to a bunch of friends of hers” is pretty enormous. Which, again, is not to say that, if authorities are getting stories from kids about stuff happening to their friends, they shouldn’t look into it. Of course they should.
But, like, take this story I learned about over at Radley Balko‘s today. The TBI says Coffee County here in Tennessee is one of four major hubs of child-sex-trafficking in the state. Let that sink in. “The TBI report released in June suggests that Coffee, Davidson, Shelby and Knox counties each have more than 100 cases of human sex trafficking during the past two years.”
Listen, I know what I’m about to tell you and my visceral reaction to reading that sentence is still to kind of feel sick to my stomach. You know what I’m saying? I am about to tell you that that sentence is bullshit. I know it’s bullshit. I read the story earlier today and have known for hours that it’s bullshit. And yet, I read it and I think about some kid my nephew’s age being forced to give some dude a blowjob and I want a gun.
Sentences like that make people feel like a little vigilante justice is okay. Sentences like that make me feel like a little vigilante justice is okay and I know that sentence is false. That’s how powerful and primal the emotions that get stirred up when people talk about this stuff are.
Okay, the sentence before that reads, “However, not a single report from the Tullahoma Police Department completed during the past two years indicates any human sex trafficking incidents.” A few sentences later, it reads, “Although the Tullahoma Police Department and Coffee County Sheriff’s Department were listed as survey participants, officials aren’t sure who – if anyone – received the e-mailed survey.”
So, somehow, Coffee County has had over 50 cases of underage-sex-trafficking a year and yet there’s not a single report from the Tullahoma Police Department that would indicate any incidents? The Tullahoma Police Department is listed as a survey participant, but nobody knows who, if anyone, from the department participated? I’m prepared to believe a lot bad of any police department in this state, but I’m having a hard time believing the Tullahoma police would lie about a problem that, if they had it, would mean tons of money getting thrown in their direction. I mean, look at how the War on Drugs got towns throughout America SWAT teams whether they actually need them or not. Police departments don’t usually lie in a direction that would mean they didn’t get resources they would otherwise seem to be in line for.
So, if there are fifty underage kids a year being trafficked in Coffee County, where are they? We have mandatory reporting. If you know a kid is being sexually abused, under state law you have a legal obligation to report it. So, who are these people who know 50 kids a year are being trafficked in Coffee County and who are answering that on a survey and yet aren’t telling the police? Because we need to put their asses in jail.
Unless there are no kids.
Yeah, it’s disturbing. There are kids. There are. But in Coffee County? Maybe not. Definitely not 50 a year. I mean, my god, Coffee County, according to their own website only has two towns. Twenty-five kids a year brought to each town?! Every other week someone is shipping a kid into each of these towns in order to facilitate their rape? I mean, just even at a county level, in a county with two acknowledged towns (Wikipedia generously gives them four), we’re supposed to nod along with and believe that once a week someone is bringing a different kid into that county so that someone else can rape him or her? And someone in that county who is high enough up that they can fill out a TBI survey knows about it but never mentioned it to the police?
I assume you can see why this bothers me. If kids need help, we need to try to help them. But it’s not unproblematic to just make up numbers. Money that Tennessee might send to Coffee County would not go to, say, Shelby County, where there are underage prostitutes. Or, worse, what if the state were to say to Coffee County, “Okay, now that you have this money, we’d better see results.” Would pressure to find perpetrators result in witch-hunts?
I think we all know the answer is yes.
Can we have a discussion about child prostitution as a country without it devolving into a witch-hunt? I think so, but I worry, you know?