Child Trafficking and the Internet

Chatting with a seatmate on a flight, I learned she was attending a conference, hosted by Shared Hope International, on domestic trafficking in minor children. Naively and optimistically, I asked if this problem has been diminishing.  No, quite the contrary.  Why?  The reason appears to be economic, having to do with technological change and technology transfer.  With the internet, it is much easier to engage in transactions — nothing needs to be done face-to-face, thus reducing the risk to traffickers. Also, organized crime is getting involved since the trade is so profitable, as at-risk children can be traded repeatedly (unlike an ounce of crack cocaine). With some modifications, an established drug network can be used as a child-sex network.  Disgusting, horrible, and a negative side-effect of technological progress.  (HT: JM)


Human trafficking is very different from drug trafficking in several key ways, though:

-It's a lot harder to hide people than to hide drugs.
-Drugs can't make noise or run away.
-The demand for sex slaves is much lower than the demand for drugs.
-If there's a crackdown that makes it harder to traffic in sex slaves, customers can't substitute alternatives.
-The incentives on law enforcement are aligned so that they always search exhaustively for drugs--not for sex slaves.
-Hollywood doesn't make comedies or thrillers glorifying the sex trade industry or its customers. Even gangster rappers stop short of bragging about pimping children.

It's been argued that if we legalize drugs, violent drug gangs will just switch to human trafficking. In light of the above, I think most of them would go out of business anyway.

I'm kind of curious about the demand side of human trafficking, and bewildered at the lack of reporting about it. Nothing in the universe is distributed evenly, so too neither can be those who'd pay money for a child sex slave. I'll bet there's an 80/20 rule at play here. Which small group of people is creating most of the demand for child sex slaves? If the answer to this exists somewhere, is it being kept from us?



*Meant to say: "...Hollywood doesn’t make comedies or thrillers glorifying the sex SLAVERY industry..."


PS. Another point: human trafficking is listed as the second biggest criminal industry in the world, after drugs. This is misleading, because these rankings are determined by how much money changes hands in these industries.

They rank the industries this way for several reasons, some of them having to do with what information is easier to acquire and some of them having to do with big dollar amounts selling more newspapers.

I'm more interested in criminal industry rankings by number of transactions. Ranking them this way would provide a better idea of how much of it is going on, which is what we really want to know about.

Enter your name...

I engage in a "transaction" to acquire tap water several times a day. The actual water costs me about $5 a month. Does that make it a bigger industry than the one that results in a $600 car payment?

I buy fresh produce about three times a week. I spend about $200 a month on it. Does the fact that I engage in 150 transactions to buy produce make that a bigger market than a car, which I buy (on average) once every eight years?


The number of transactions would be a good metric if the crimes you were comparing created comparable amounts of suffering or damage to society. One child being enslaved, raped, and otherwise abused and deprived of basic human rights does not constitute one act of crime, or actually call it, a "transaction." If you were to operationally define a transaction as a single criminal act, a person who engages in the sexual enslavement of a child would commit many, many different felonies a day. And this often goes on for years and years. So while we couldn't possibly measure this, one act of child sexual enslavement would reasonably be considered equal to hundreds or even thousands of transactions. And that is just for one victim. You could say the same thing about an illegal drug transaction. But indirectly contributing money to the Taliban or a drug cartel or contributing to gang violence is often an unintentional secondary result of purchasing an illegal substance. Whereas a person who intentionally enslaves another person for the purpose of illegal sexual acts against a child is directly committing crimes against that person many many times with intent. And t is always directly related crime. Thus, using a transaction metric to compare the drug trade to the child sex trade is ridiculous and vastly underestimates the problem and the impact that it has on people and societies.


Maggie McNeill

It's not like y'all to buy into moral panics. I'd suggest you do a lot of reading on this subject before believing in it (hint: compare to the Satanic panic of the '80s and '90s). There's a lot of good debunking on the internet; I won't include links because I'm not sure of your policy on 'em, but Googling "sex trafficking moral panic" should turn up a lot of good, critical stuff. You might also search on my name and also Laura Agustin, Ronald Weitzer and Ann Jordan.

B Magnanti

You asked if this problem had been diminishing and found the contrary? Actually, what is far more likely is that you found scare stories about the scale of the problem are not diminishing. The problem itself is small and long has been.

If one young person is forced into sex against their will - paid or unpaid - this obviously is a problem. However we have the confounding "efforts" of groups like Shared Hope International whose very funding relies upon convincing law enforcement and policymakers that the problem is far more widespread than it is.

This leads to what I call the "haystack of needles" problem. If law enforcement are told to look carefully for this hidden crime, they may have a chance of discovering the actual cases. If however they are erroneously told it is everywhere, they don't look very hard at all. And in fact this is reflected in the statistics: 97% of the people arrested under the FBI's “Innocence Lost” initiatives are consensual adult sex workers - not children, not traffickers.

Unfortunately the available evidence shows us that much of the anti-trafficking effort is really abolition of prostitution by any other name. Unable to convince us that consensual adult activity needs policing, the anti-sex work lobby have successfully convinced many that most sex workers are not adults and not consenting: statements which are demonstrably untrue. And the media and public are buying it - literally, with millions in tax dollars spent on executive salaries and conference junkets - hook, line, and sinker.



Yes, it's just like the drug warriors, or many another cause. These people's incomes, their status, and the maintenance of their self-image all depend on whatever they've chosen as their cause. They have a vested interest in persuading you that there really is a significant & growing* problem.

*Though personally, I'd be inclined to support a group if it said "We reduced our problem by X% last year."

Skip Montanaro

> Yes, it’s just like the drug warriors, or many another cause.

Education reform, perhaps?


I wonder if this will be a market for bitcoins, as they have shown popularity in other black markets as a faceless transaction mechanism.


"at-risk children can be traded repeatedly (unlike an ounce of crack cocaine)"
Um, why can't cocaine be traded repeatedly? Do you think users buy directly from producers, with no middlemen?


I think he means that cocaine can only be consumed once.


Domestic trafficking in minor children is almost entirely a myth (I am sure there have been one or two cases) As is sex slavery of adult women.

Remember Ariel Castro who enslaved those three women. That was bonified sex slavery. Now tell me that there are thousands of such cases involving children, but for some odd reason they never make the news.

There are arrests. Women in the sex industry who have children. Illegal aliens and their families, etc. They don't make the news because the evidence is so flimsy. They make the arrests because the Fed provides money for task forces to make these sweeps for child trafficking.

Enter your name...

I think that whether it's a "myth" depends a lot on how you define "trafficking" and "slavery". Pimping 17-year-old runaways is something that pretty every urban police force has encountered.


Odd you mentioned pimp.

"Using the English estimate as a median between the higher American and lower French figures, and applying it to our standard 15% estimate of the percentage of all whores who are streetwalkers, we arrive at a figure of roughly 1.5% of all Western prostitutes who are controlled by pimps. This is a far cry from the “vast majority” claimed by the anti-whore propagandists who infest government and the feminist movement, and similar to most estimates of the number of women with abusive husbands or boyfriends."

Of course police arrest pimps all the time, the assumption is that any man who keeps company with a whore and isn’t a customer must be a pimp


You mean to tell me that a woman who was spending several days and several thousand dollars to go to a conference dedicated to a problem told you that the problem is getting worse, not better?

Let me guess, next she told you that the resources we're devoting to it fall short by orders of magnitude.