New Credibility Gap in Sex Trafficking Estimates


3:01 am - October 21st 2009

by Unity    


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There’s no two ways about it, what I’ve got to say this evening is likely to upset, annoy and even anger more than a few people who are notionally on ‘our side’, but there are some thing that simply have to be said…

…so don’t say that you haven’t been warned.

My starting point for this evening is Nick Davies’ stunning exposé of the near abject failure of the Home Office’s highly touted ‘Operation Pentameter Two’ investigation into sex trafficking in the UK. Over the course of six months, hundreds of  brothels/sex workers were raided, in the clear expectation of finding a thriving underground trade in trafficked sex workers, as part of campaign that involved government departments, specialist agencies and every single police force in the country…

…and turned up next to jack-shit – a total of five bona fide, honest-to-goodness trafficking convictions in total.

Nick’s article has already sparked off a pretty lively and entertaining row on Newsnight between Denis McShane and Jeremy Paxman and drawn a response from Rahila Gupta of Southall Black Sisters (which I’d cheerfully fisk if I thought it would make the slightest bit of difference) none of which, in any sense, detracts from the fact that neither of the Pentameter investigations has come anywhere near close to substantiating any of the claims that the Home Office or Home Affairs Select Committee interests have made about the alleged scale of sex trafficking to, and within, the UK.

To some that’s clearly a controversial observation – it shouldn’t be.

The truth, such as it is, is that sex trafficking is a real enough phenomenon and one from which the UK is certainly not immune but, and its an important but, its a phenomenon for which we lack sufficient credible evidence to make any reasonable inferences about its prevalence in this country. To a scientist this is unfortunate but not especially problematic. It just tells us that we need more research and, in all likelihood, a better and more innovative range of research methodologies with which to attack the problem.

To certain politicians, however, it is problem because, not to put it too finely, it strongly suggests that the estimates they’ve been relying on to swing public opinion behind their preferred prohibitionist agenda may easily have been concocted on the back of a fag packet for all that they’re underpinned by anything other than bunch of numbers pulled at random out of their own arses…

…which, if you look at how some of these figures arose may conceivably not be that far from the truth.

Rahila’s article mentions an estimate of 5,000 trafficked women and children referenced in a recent report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is allegedly ‘based on an aggregation of the figures provided by those working in this field’.

The origins of that figure are set out in paragraph 28 of the full report as follows:

28. Neither the NGOs nor government agencies were willing even to guess the total number of trafficking victims in the UK. Chief Constable Maxwell, Programme Director of the UKHTC, one of whose main responsibilities is to obtain accurate information about the scale of the problem, admitted “at the minute I do not think we have got a real handle on what the figures are”. The same few statistical studies in specific areas (the Poppy Project’s analysis of information provided by victims of sexual exploitation who had been referred to it, Kalayaan’s analysis of responses from its migrant domestic worker clients, ECPAT UK’s research on child victims in three UK regions) were cited to us time and again. The nearest we came to an overall total was when we added up the result of these studies and suggested to Anti-Slavery International that they implied that there were more than 5000 victims in the UK; Anti-Slavery International concurred.

All of which puts us firmly into guesswork territory even before we refer to the oral evidence sessions on which this paragraph is directly based, where we find that what Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, the programme director of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, actually said, in response to a question from Ann Cryer about the estimated scale of sex trafficking was:

Chief Constable Maxwell: It is a very difficult to thing to estimate. We had a report in 2003 that said there were 4,000 victims. In P1 we looked at 10% of all visible sex outlets and from that we rescued 88 people. The best piece of research I have seen is from the South-West Regional Intelligence Unit, and what I want to do is try and use that methodology to give us a picture across the UK and try and get something which is a fairly firm figure around what we are dealing with, because at the minute I do not think we have got a real handle on what the figures are.

Pay careful attention here to the statement in bold text given above and now watch the birdie as we move on the evidence given by Klara Skrivankova of Anti-Slavery International (but introduced to the committee as a representative of the UK Human Trafficking Centre Prevention sub-Group) in an exchange with the committee’s chairman, Keith Vaz…

Q2 Chairman: Do we have numbers, for example, for the UK? Would you know how many people are currently in the UK who have been trafficked here?

Ms Skrivankova: There are some minimum estimates and they are very conservative estimates from the government. You will be aware of the number of 4,000 women that are trafficked at any given time into the UK, which is the government estimate and is a very conservative estimate.

Q3 Chairman: When you say “at any given time” at the moment you estimate—and we know that these are going to be estimates—you estimate that it is about 4,000?

Ms Skrivankova: That is the government estimate and that is only on women trafficked for sexual exploitation. So what is important to point out is that this number does not include people who are trafficked for labour exploitation.

Q4 Chairman: Do you have a rough figure as to how many those are?

Ms Skrivankova: The only number on people who are trafficked for labour exploitation that we currently have comes from the statistics of an organisation called Kalyaan, and they provide assistance to migrant domestics that were in forced labour or were trafficked. According to their data they have recorded within a year that over 300 people were trafficked in London—only in London—for the purposes of domestic work. So that is quite a high number over a short period of time.

Q5 Chairman: So roughly 300 for domestic workers and roughly 4,000—and you are saying it is a conservative estimate—

Ms Skrivankova: That is a very conservative estimate.

Q6 Chairman: … of women in the UK at the present time who are here in the sex industry?

Ms Skrivankova: The sex industry and domestic work; the number does not include any other forms of labour exploitation. We have discovered people who are trafficked into construction, processing, packaging and into agriculture and in the catering industry. We now have information about people who are trafficked for committing illicit activities and we do not know that number.

Q7 Chairman: But it is more than 5000?

Ms Skrivankova: I would say so, yes. We have enough information to conclude that it is a significant problem, that it is in thousands. If you look at the number of cases that were recovered in the recent police operation, Pentameter, that ran over a period of, I believe, four to six months, within that they have just in a small area recovered over 80 cases, and that was over a short period of time of a focused action.

If Vaz tried to pull that off in court he’d quickly get pulled up for leading the witness but that aside what we actually have here is concrete evidence that the figure of 5,000 cited by the Home Affair’s committee is a combined figure for sex trafficking, trafficked domestic labour in London and trafficking in children and, more importantly, that the 4,o00 estimate for sex trafficking alone is a ‘government estimate’ the actual source of which is disclosed in the Home Office’s regulatory impact assessment of ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings:

The overall scale of human trafficking remains unclear although internal research conducted in 2003 suggests that at any one time there were approximately 4,000 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK.

Everything I’ve read while researching this article is entirely self-referential and lead back to this unpublished internal Home Office review from 2003, the validity of which cannot be established, or even scrutinised, because despite it cropping up in just about everything published by the Home Office on the subject of sex trafficking in recent years, this research has never been placed into the public domain.

That said, this same document continues with this, now rather embarrassing observation:

More recent intelligence estimates from the police led Operation Pentameter 2 are consistent with the earlier research findings, suggesting that the scale of this form of trafficking has remained relatively stable over the past 5 years.

On that utterly flimsy basis, the government is putting down estimates of the costs and benefits of implementing this convention; £1.8 million per year in prosecution costs and £2.1-£3.4 million for a national referral system and specialist victim support services against £1.2 million a year recouped from projected seizures of traffickers’ assets and from placing victims into legal employment during a 12 month temporary residence period that would follow on from their initial crisis and reflection/recovery support, all of which is based on this new system dealing with 500 trafficked adults and 360 trafficked children a year a figure that appears, like the estimated unit cost of providing these support services, to have been derived exclusively from information provided by the Poppy Project.

The new system from dealing with victims of trafficking, which would offer victims 5 days crisis support, 45 days reflection/recovery time and a full years temporary residency in the UK, including a work permit, is a considerable advance on the previous ‘system’ under which trafficked women were frequently at risk of short-order deportation. As for whether the estimates attached to this system have any basis in reality, who knows for sure – certainly not the Home Office if the available evidence is anything to go by – and anyone who finds themselves feeling seriously vexed by Nick’s article should perhaps consider that the absence of any credible estimates for the prevalence of sex trafficking might just as readily leave this new system woefully underfunded as produce the opposite outcome.

None of this. however, detracts from the fact that there are some serious questions to be asked about the origins of the government estimate of the scale of sex trafficking and the unpublished internal Home Office Review from which it purports to have originated, particularly in light of Keith Vaz’s overt and suspiciously enthusiastic efforts to place this estimate on the offical record and into the report of the Home Affairs Committee, where its referenced as having merely been cited in the
Government’s Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking. Nowhere in the final report, does the Committee disclose the fact that this figure is derived from an unpublished internal Home Office review.

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'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


Various problems with this article.

Firstly, just because this operation didn’t turn up whatever numbers you expected, it doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.

As Rahila Gupta points out (but you oddly choose to ignore):

In spite of these problems, we discover from a parliamentary answer from Alan Campbell in June that 267 people have been prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which led to 109 convictions, a remarkably high percentage. This fact does not appear in Nick Davies’s article, despite his extensive research.

The second problem is your own conflation. What actually happened was they failed to get trafficking convictions. That is very different to finding loads of people who may have been involved (or they rescued loads of women) because getting convictions is never easy.

The same happens for example in forced marriage cases where its very difficult to get convictions… sometimes because the victim doesn’t want to press charges for fear of reprisals. Again, this will apply here too, especially if the people doing the trafficking are part of dangerous gangs. Rahila herself points out:

I have interviewed police officers who say it is extremely difficult to use the trafficking laws to bring people to justice.

And lastly, your article bizarrely ends with:

None of this. however, detracts from the fact that there are some serious questions to be asked about the origins of the government estimate of the scale of sex trafficking

No, the serious questions need to be around: how do we get more convictions for trafficking, how can we make it harder to traffic women into the country and how can we break these criminals gangs. That trafficking takes place is a fact.

So by trying to cast doubt over this, what you’re actually doing is feeding into the misogynist narrative that this is all overblown and we can go back home with nothing to worry about. There is in fact plenty to worry about – and yet you’ve just avoided the nub of the problem and instead focused on blowing up some “expose” which is more dramatic than it is nuanced (and doesn’t understand the complexities of law).

I knew someone who worked at the CPS and dealt with forced marriages cases. Similar problems applied – where the law was unclear or badly drafted or confusing – letting too many people off the hook when the police had some evidence but the CPS rejected it because they felt it wasn’t sufficient enough given the rough boundaries they had to work within.

Like Nick Davies “stunning exposé” then your article stunningly misses the point too.

World turns out to be slightly better place than previously thought.
Sunny unhappy.

Sunny, why are academics in the field agreeing with Nick Davies?
Also, it has been suggested that certain vested interests resort to legal threats to silence criticism from these academics. Does this not concern you and strengthen arguments that the public debate is distorted?

4. Anonymonymous

I knew someone who worked at the CPS…

I used to work for our local equivalent, and they have limited resources to deal with a very heavy caseload – the coppers are the same. The one thing they don’t need is to be sent off on wild goose chases after tens of thousands of trafficked women who don’t, on the evidence presented, appear to exist.

I don’t think either Unity or Nick Davies are trying to pretend that there is no problem, or that sex trafficking itself doesn’t happen. Both seem to acknowledge that it does. Auditing our estimates of crime rates is essential to tackling criminal activity, and the idea that a downward revision re: trafficking, would be motivated by misogyny rather than practicality in the face of evidence is, frankly, odd in the extreme.

The point is that we should deal with the problems we actually have, and not allow newspapers and politicians to turn criminal investigations into expensive crusades against phantom epidemics. When we do the latter, we not only fail to achieve our goals, but are allocating resources away from areas where they could actually be effective in detecting, prosecuting and convicting criminals.

Naturally, I’ll take these points back if the police come out with evidence to suggest Nick Davies has got this badly wrong, but the evidence presented for his having made major mistakes has so far been pretty thin.

That trafficking takes place is a fact.

Sunny, just saying it does not make it true. What Unity is saying in the article is that the evidence is just not there. If you have it, let’s see it.

My view is that if you define trafficking as assisting illegal immigrants who want to be sex workers to enter the UK, that happens. If you define it as forcing girls to work against their will- kidnapping girls from their homes or deceiving them into sex work, that almost never happens (despite the lurid TV films to the contrary). The reason that it doesn’t happen is that there is an almost unlimited number of East European and South American girls who are eager to work in the UK sex industry because of the money they can earn by doing so.

Why would anyone want the added hassle of trafficking someone against their will?

Now there is a legitimate argument to be had about illegal immigration. There is also a legitimate argument to be had about the relative wealth of different countries and how that gap should be closed. Finally, there is a legitimate argument to be made about the morality of prostitution.

So let’s have these arguments, but we should not be parcelling them together to create a ficticious bogeyman that justifies repressive policing and nonsensical legislation.

If you want evidence that sex trafficking is only a problem that exists somewhere deep in the likes of Harriet Harman’s psyche, the Met Police have recently disbanded their specialist trafficking unit.

The only logical conclusion from this is that they discovered they were wasting their time.

Julie Bindel was talking about how the world cup in Germany in 2006 would bring in thousands of trafficked women to service the sex trade.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/may/30/germany.features11

I heard someone on the TV the other night raising similar worries about the Olympic games in London next year. I didn’t think that athletics, rowing and equestrian fans were known to be users of prostitutes particularly more than anyone else.

The first people I read who were skeptical of the figures that Bindel was quoting were those ‘contrarians’ at Spiked.
http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/424

See notes at the foot of the article for lots of links.

There were these two as well.
http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/2941/
http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/6606/

I did have my doubts about Julie Bindel since I read her saying this:

Some of the best fun I have ever had involved standing outside sex shops, taking photographs of men entering the premises and then shouting at them when they came out.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/nov/23/gender.uk

7. Anonymonymous

Why would anyone want the added hassle of trafficking someone against their will? Now there is a legitimate argument to be had about illegal immigration…

Well, sex trafficking traditionally involves people who voluntarily leave their country of origin and on arrival here are forced into prostitution and prevented from escaping. It most definitely does happen, but like so many crimes that take place far from the public eye, it’s extremely difficult to quantify.

I suppose it is possible to tie it all into illegal immigration, but given the level of degradation and human misery involved, it would make anyone who found the former more alarming than the latter look like a bit of a small-minded tool.

“That trafficking takes place is a fact.”

First of all, let’s get the terms of this debate straight. The question is how much trafficking takes place, not whether trafficking takes place at all.

What are the empirical facts about which we may disagree?

One position is that the quantity of trafficking is in reality so small, that when the police go out and raid brothels etc. trying to find evidence of trafficking, they fail to. This doesn’t mean that trafficking is zero, it just means that its comparatively rare. A corollary of this position is that everybody has been bandying round highy exaggerated statistics, with no basis in sensible research.

Another position is that the scale of trafficking is indeed as large as frequently portrayed, and that the failure of the police to find evidence of it is to do with the difficulties of getting trafficked prostitutes to cooperate with investigations.

Sunny, this is a genuine question, and I’ll be interested in your answer: where did you get the information that lies behind your belief about the scale of trafficking? Why are you so sure of your beliefs? Can you give us some examples of how you came to form your beliefs?

I ask, because perhaps you have had access to some information sources most of us haven’t.

My information sources on this topic are mainly documentaries, campaigners and newspapers articles, all of whom, as a rule, I’d regard as unreliable sources of data, because it’s very rare for sources like these to conduct a proper data gathering exercise (it does happen – just not often). When somebody goes out to make a documentary about trafficking, they seek out women who have been trafficked. This is fine if what you want to do is tell their stories, but it’s a sampling error when it comes to building an accurate picture of trafficking. Journalists routinely dismiss or fail to dig out information that doesn’t fit with their stories.

Aren’t we all aware that people with what they believe is a good a cause routinely exaggerate their case, and don’t look to hard at where the data comes from? Tony Blair talks of 45 minute warnings, aid agencies seek out the most heartbreaking starving child in the refugee camp to photograph, and wildly exaggerate what donating money can achieve. If that data says “between 10 and 100”, depending on the context, peopel will start talking about “up to a hundred” and before you know it, that’s become “100, and maybe more”.

The reason I write all this, is to try and explain why I am quite prepared to believe that the reality of trafficking is far smaller than portrayed. I’m also quite prepared to believe your arguments. This is because I haven’t been to brothels and interviewed hundreds of prostitutes myself, and I regard the sources of information I have as unreliable for the reasons I describe above. I want to know why you are so certain in your views about an empirical question, when unless you know something I don’t, this is exactly the sort of question it’s easy to be wrong about.

What #8 said – not to deny that sex trafficking happens, but the problem is migrants being illegalised by the state and forced into sex work because they have few possible legal sources of income. Legalise all migration and sex trafficking won’t be nearly as big a problem as it is now.

It seems important to read the other article by Nick Davies that accompanies the piece discussed by Unity in his OP. Davies shows how the cautious, qualified estimates of researchers have been rounded up, added to, and multiplied, by various people who ought to know better but apparently don’t.

So, I endorse Unity’s OP and what Luis said @ 9.

And I would like to ask people if they think we are best served by made up numbers.

11. douglas clark

I really do think that policing strategies on this topic should be based around good evidence that there really is a widespread problem. It would seem to me that more research and less heresay is required.

If you want evidence that sex trafficking is only a problem that exists somewhere deep in the likes of Harriet Harman’s psyche, the Met Police have recently disbanded their specialist trafficking unit.

If lack of police resources is valid evidence of the fact that a particular crime is a paranoid fantasy, then what does it say that most police forces in the country don’t have a specialist rape unit?

What does it say about the “evidence” for prevalence of rape in London that Boris has cut funding to rape crisis centres? That he relaised he was just wasting his time with this rape stuff that only exists deep in Harriet Harman’s mind?

Or maybe all of these facts are evidence of nothing so much as the relative importance placed by police and government on the safety and wellbeing of women?

Nah.

13. douglas clark

Or hearsay even.

#9 what a ridiculous argument; If there are few sources of legal income then fix that problem.

This is about as absurd as HH idea to have a go at prostitution because of people trafficking. Fix the problem at hand, and not by creating new ones

Another example of government being unable to obtain accurate and precise figures. Perhaps it is time to obtain figures upon which a reasonable decision can be made. This selective use of statistics to achieve a political result has become endemic and has resulted in many people distrusting any figures unless they have personal experience to support them.

It strikes me that conflating the simple transport of illegal immigrants with what is effectively slave-trading under the heading of “human trafficking” only further clouds an already murky issue…

What does it say about the “evidence” for prevalence of rape in London that Boris has cut funding to rape crisis centres?

Nothing, it simply demonstrates that Boris is an arse.

#14

If the government has deemed someone an “illegal immigrant” then there are no legal sources of income for that person. So they are forced into clandestine work, including the sex trade, to survive. Increasing the legal sources of income would de facto mean legalising them.

#18

“illegal immigrant”

The clue is in the first word.

If someone is an illegal immigrant, not an asylum seeker, then the answer seems self evident.

#19

If the answer seems self-evident, it’s because you don’t have a full grasp of the complexity of the issues.

#21 No, I think you see the issues just exactly as you want to see them, not as they are.

It seems normal to me that the process flows, more or less, as follows:

Someone is suspected doing something wrong, the authorities take action, after hearing evidence some body makes a decision, the decision is enforced. Why should this be any different for an illegal immigrant?

And don’t patronise, it ain’t big and it ain’t clever.

“No, the serious questions need to be around: how do we get more convictions for trafficking”

Well, actually, no, that’s not a serious question. We don’t want to have more convictions for something that doesn’t happen now, do we?

I will admit that I’ve been laughing like a drain over this piece from yesterday.For it’s confirmed a huge amount of what I’ve been shouting about for ages. There are two possible definitions of “trafficking” (actually, quite possibly more than that but two that are currently used).

1) The UN’s definition (under the Palermo treaty/rules/whatever). This is sex slavery. Unwilling participants traded across borders and repeatedly raped.

2) The UK’s definition (and one often used by the Bindels of this world). Illegal immigration or smuggling of people who volunteer to work in the sex trade.

2) is very common: Gary Becker has been pointing out why for decades. Sex work diminshes your human capital (most obviously in reducing the quality of mate you’re likely to get): it therefore tends to be something that is done away from home territory so as to reduce that diminution of human capital. In a more mobile world (think RyanAir) more people are going to do this internationally than before.

1) is not non-existent. But the question is “how much of it is there”? At one point we actually had Bindel claiming that because 80% of tarts in London were foreigners then 80% of tarts in London had been trafficked: which is definition 2) of course. Pentameter seems to indicate that 1) is vanishingly small. No, that doesn’t mean that we ignore it, we carry on prosecuting those who do it and freeing people from their slavery.

But think back a little: a huge part of the debate on whether to criminalise Johns renting those “controlled for gain” was driven by those huge numbers pushed out about how many were “trafficked”. And we were given numbers calculated by definition 2) and told that they were definition 1).

Which leads us to the serious question we really should in fact be asking. What are we going to do with those who have (successfully, the bill is in the Lords I think and will pass) whipped up hysteria and changed the law of the country by retailing a huge pack of lies?

It’s sometimes said that 10% of men visit a prostitute at some stage in their lives. That’s 6 million people or so now (or will be in the future perhaps) who face a criminal charge where the burden of proof is reversed: they have to prove that she was not “controlled for gain”. Over what is, as the Pentameter numbers show us, a voluntary exchange between consenting adults almost all of the time.

So what are we going to do with these people who have lied to us so grievously? Harman, MacShane, Bindel?

Anyone got any ideas?

@ 7 sex trafficking traditionally involves people who voluntarily leave their country of origin and on arrival here are forced into prostitution and prevented from escaping. It most definitely does happen

It’s just that, despite plod raiding brothels up and down the land, they can’t find any evidence of it happening. Presumably, you have some evidence you can share with us?

@9 Legalise all migration and sex trafficking won’t be nearly as big a problem as it is now.

Agreed.

In fact, by definition, it wouldn’t exist.

Tim Worstall 24.
“I will admit that I’ve been laughing like a drain over this piece from yesterday.”

I haven’t. This outcome of Nick Davies report suggests that government policy on the sex trade has been hijacked by zealots who will mislead and threaten to get their way. Their misguided enthusiasm for their cause has harmed the prospects for the large numbers of drug addicted prostitutes who would have benefited from a more evidence based and less ideological public debate on the nature of prostitution and societies response to it.
Not only that, the government has become complicit in attempts to silence academics using legal threats as they are funders of the organisations making these threats. It is one thing to ignore contradictory data, it is another thing entirely to try and prevent its presentation in public.
The media must too share some blame for not highlighting dissenting opinion and evidence from the government/zealot view. There has not been a serious public debate on the nature of these figures until now, despite academic concerns as to their validity being well established for several years.

There has been legislation drawn and policy enacted based on highly dubious sources, academic freedoms have been threatened and the fourth estate, the very thing that is meant to expose the truth, has been complicit in all this.

There is nothing remotely funny about it.

25. douglas clark

Tim Worstall,

If 10% of the male population of the UK is 6 million, then 100% of the male population would be 60 million.

The population of the UK is 61 million. The competition for a mate is going to become something ferocious…

Ah, yes, that is something of a flaw isn’t it….3 million sounds better….

In some ways, the numbers are neither here nor there – it’s the fact that purists around the place have used the numbers that suit them to carry out a general sweep against prostitution – going after kerb crawlers, etc, as well as traffickers.

timf makes the best point on this thread – sort out the immigration issue and you’ll sort out the trafficking issue. People who are desperate to get into this country (and out of their own, presumably) will grab anything that is dangled before them if it looks likely. In the meantime, keep prostitution legal and sex workers visible and protected by law. They’re being pushed further and further underground by this middle-ground-grabbing ‘sex for money is bad’, fuckwittery. Getting paid for sex isn’t bad for everyone, as it happens – I’ve done it, and would probably have done it for quite a while if old age hadn’t set in. Not all women are victims, thanks – and Unity’s numbers would indicate that not many are.

28. Belinda Brooks-Gordon

Nick Davies has addressed the numbers Rahila Gupta uses. He had already demolished them and she didn’t realise he was discussing the same figures.
Home Office internal audit took 1 year and 2 x FoI requests to get, I have done a post on charlotte Gore’s blog analyzing them. They are also being discussed on Bad Science blog.
No one questions that some people are trafficked. Most common form of trafficking is families bringing in domestic staff. The gov. don’t do much about this, yet they have made every attempt to ramp up trafficking figures for sexual exploitation and given huge amounts of public money to organisations that have produced rubbish reports. That they care about vulnerable women is just not good enough to do rubbish science which is used to make the same women MORE NOT LESS violent.
I am off to Josephine Butler Society tonight to see what Alan Campbell MP has to say about this.

29. Shatterface

The OP has met with a great deal less criticism than I was expecting.

There’s actually hope for evidence based policy making!

This whole business has diverted resources from protecting illegal immigrants from other forms of exploitation as well as driven voluntary sex workers further from the protection of the law.

#30 In fact the government have made the situation with families bringing in domestic staff worse by making it harder for domestic staff to leave their employer. Of course, if people are being abused by their employer & leave they become illegal immigrants, and may end up in the sex trade.

#23 Unfortunately it’s difficult not to patronise you if you maintain such a simplistic, utopian perspective.

Even when the legal process has been exhausted, you can’t always deport someone if you can’t prove to the country you’re deporting them to that it is their country of origin. Hence the embarrassing spectacle recently when the government sent a charter flight to Iraq and was forced to take them back again (and it happens a lot with individuals in less high-profile cases). In some cases too, the government may not have granted asylum but may not be able to deport because of legal challenges preventing deportations to certain countries (this was the case with DRC for a while – of course I would argue that people from DRC should be offered asylum anyhow, but obviously the government is a bit stingier in who they are prepared to accept than I am!). There are a variety of other reasons why people can’t just be deported when the legal process is exhausted, but you’ve shown scant ability to have a proper debate, so I can’t be bothered to go into them.

That’s all besides the case though – the point is that making a doomed attempt to limit illegal immigration, and limiting the numbers of migrants employed in the sex trade are objectives which are in opposition to each other, rather than complementary.

Over what is, as the Pentameter numbers show us, a voluntary exchange between consenting adults almost all of the time.

Eh? How do the Pentameter numbers show you that any given British prostitute is “voluntarily consenting”, as opposed to having been beaten up by her pimp or let down by her drug dealer that morning?

Must be nice to live in a world where all crime is perpetrated by shadowy organised cabals of sinister faceless foreigners, or not at all. Here on what we like to refer to as Planet Earth, though, the absence of Factor A from a data set very rarely stands for convincing evidence of the nonexistence of Factors X, Y and Z.

“So what are we going to do with these people who have lied to us so grievously? ”

Probably the same thing we should do to every journalist who has written an innaccurate, hysterical or dishonest article on immigration over the last decade. What do you suggest?

The patented Rumsfeld defence: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

Of course, there are a still loads of problems and basic rights being violated, but it is actually remarkable how few problems there seem to be overall considering how the sex industry is so de-legimitised and how many aspects of it are exposed to criminal elements simply because the full protection of the law is rarely extended to all sex workers.

Tim @ 24

But we really don’t have to worry about Harman’s ridiculous unworkable authoritarian legislation the rationale for which has been proven to be founded in pernicious and willful lies.

The Tories will repeal it when they get in, won’t they?.

(irony alert)

The patented Rumsfeld defence: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

Actually it’s “absence of evidence of trafficking is not evidence of the absence of coersion”.

But I guess that’s unattractively subtle for someone whose rhetorical toolbox runs to such fine-tuned debating instruments as comparing people on a liberal blog to Donald Rumsfeld…

I await the day that cjcjc is actually going to say anything useful and not just troll

gimpy:
Sunny, why are academics in the field agreeing with Nick Davies?

Depends what they’re agreeing with. Once can agree with ND on the facts and still think the problem is being underplayed.

Also, it has been suggested that certain vested interests resort to legal threats to silence criticism from these academics. Does this not concern you and strengthen arguments that the public debate is distorted?

Unless I know more about the ‘legal threats’ is hardly useful for me to assume how they’re couched and then condemn them.

Naturally, I’ll take these points back if the police come out with evidence to suggest Nick Davies has got this badly wrong, but the evidence presented for his having made major mistakes has so far been pretty thin.

the problem is less with what evidence is presented and more with how it’s framed and what assumptions are made from it, as I said in my response above.

which neatly leads me to…

pagar: Sunny, just saying it does not make it true. What Unity is saying in the article is that the evidence is just not there. If you have it, let’s see it.

lack of convictions does not mean the problem does not exist. This is point is being neatly sidestepped though isn’t it? It’s like saying because not enough convictions for rape take place – it’s just not happening.

Of course, there are a still loads of problems and basic rights being violated, but it is actually remarkable how few problems there seem to be overall considering

considering what? As has already been pointed out, lack of convictions does not mean the problem does not exist. You’re measuring two different things.

It’s a simple error but it’s hilarious how many have tried to side-step it by essentially putting their hands on their ears and saying ‘lalalala, look everything is fine in the world and Harriet Harman should just shut the fuck up‘ etc etc.

I agree with TheLady that arresting the men who coerce sex workers should be a police priority. I agree with Sunny that arresting men guilty of coercing female relatives into arranged marriages should be a police priority. And I’ll add that arresting men who rape women or beat their wives or attack women in the street or kill female family members for ‘honour’ should also be priorities for the police.

…Which is precisely why we need articles like those written by Unity and Nick Davies. The government and the police can best protect women if policy is made and resources are allocated on the basis of what is actually happening, not off the back of figures plucked out of the air. The supply of detectives and uniformed police is not limitless, and you cannot simply throw coppers at one crime without reducing the numbers of cops working on other serious crimes.

Sunny, no-one’s saying the problem doesn’t exist.

#33 You say “Legalise all migration and sex trafficking won’t be nearly as big a problem as it is now.”

and you accuse me of being simplistic?

but you’ve shown scant ability to have a proper debate, so I can’t be bothered to go into them.

Some of us have jobs; writing more words than someone else and attacking them personally doesn’t mean you win the argument. Or maybe it does if your other logic is anything to go by.

You may introduce boundary cases but what i say in #24 is still the basis of how things are done (is it not)

40. douglas clark

Sunny,

Check out Belinda Brooks-Gordons’ guest post on Charlotte Gores’ blog, especially the comments.

41. Luis Enrique

Sunny,

you are correct, a lack of convictions does not mean there is no problem. But when the police make a big effort to find evidence of trafficking and fail to do so, and with all the bullshit that’s reported by Nick Davis (see link @11, which I hadn’t read before I wrote my comment, but which corresponds exactly to the story I was trying to tell @9) then there’s a stong case for asking whether the reality of trafficking has been blown out of all proportion. Are you sure you’re not “side stepping” this point, yourself?

[Clearly, it matters that the resources of the government and the police are allocated according to accurate information.]

Belinda’s account of the legal threats is as follows:

Absolutely. After I published this on CiF about vested interests on trafficking figures

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/03/prostitution-humantrafficking

The Guardian received legal letters from Poppy/Eaves after I wrote a CiF piece

I am not allowed to publish the letters but I have shown them to other academics.

To my knowledge, one academic and one journalist have also had threat letters from Eaves/Poppy. The letters sent to Guardian were from Withers a big-name solicitor. It was eventually settled with short disclaimer piece at the top of the article but they were sabre-rattling big time.

Sunny H 39.

“Unless I know more about the ‘legal threats’ is hardly useful for me to assume how they’re couched and then condemn them.”

Some detail in the comments here.

In particular this comment from Belinda Brooks Gordon

“After I published this on CiF about vested interests on trafficking figures
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/03/prostitution-humantrafficking
The Guardian received legal letters from Poppy/Eaves after I wrote a CiF piece
I am not allowed to publish the letters but I have shown them to other academics. To my knowledge, one academic and one journalist have also had threat letters from Eaves/Poppy. The letters sent to Guardian were from Withers a big-name solicitor. It was eventually settled with short disclaimer piece at the top of the article but they were sabre-rattling big time.”

I’ve raised this point in other places, but there are parallels with the Singh/BCA situation in that legal threats are being issued to suppress opinion based on academic evidence. Except this time the threats are from those allied with government. Does this not strike you as worrying – Government funded interest groups suppressing academic freedoms?

One can agree with ND on the facts and still think the problem is being underplayed.

Well I suppose it is not impossible that what appears to be a numerically very small problem can still be underplayed….though Davies presents a fairly convincing case that it has been massively overplayed.

The revelation of which thus ensures that it will indeed likely be underplayed in future…counterproductive, this exaggeration game.

(Bit like global warming really!)

(Bit like global warming really!)

which is why I don’t take people such as you seriously cjcjc.
you only care for ‘evidence’ when it fits in with your prejudices, as is the case with Tim Worstall et al.

To my knowledge, one academic and one journalist have also had threat letters from Eaves/Poppy.

I’m against the law being used to silence debate obviously. But it depends on whether the law was being used to protect Poppy Project’s reputation (and there are plenty of ppl who are desperately trying to rubbish it for ideological reasons) and whether it is to stop disputing the claims made. There is a difference.

Dan: The government and the police can best protect women if policy is made and resources are allocated on the basis of what is actually happening, not off the back of figures plucked out of the air.

I agree, and I think you’ve come nearest to my position. The problem of course is that there are plenty of people above who would rather pretend the whole area is ideologically driven and the govt should stop poking its nose in this sordid industry entirely.

Good on you, Unity. Keep it coming. Vested interests played far too big a role in recent legislative changes in my view. I remember at the time reading that the public majority was not in favour of criminalisation.

Harriet Harman does not represent the views of women, or feminists, or prostitutes. She represents the views of a party snorkeling for middle of the road voters. Poppy’s hysterical output dovetails nicely with that aim, and it was thus they got such a hearing. Look instead to the New Zealand example, where the recent prostitution reform act made all prostitution (and pimping) legal, and has allowed women to actively and openly pursue the protection of the law – health and safety law, employment law and contracts, police intervention when threatened, etc. Sex workers are recognised, and not hidden, or held beneath the radar to suit the political objectives of a puritannical party.

“you only care for ‘evidence’ when it fits in with your prejudices, as is the case with Tim Worstall et al.”

That really is to giggle Sunny, it is to laugh.

Here we’re all talking about the trafficking of women for the sex trade: how much or how little of it there is.

*I’m* the guy who wrote this up for the Register back in January, making explicit the way in which the trafficking numbers were being bigged up. By deliberately confusing voluntary but illegal immigration to work in the sex trade with involuntary. In order to get restrictions upon the sex trade itself passed through Parliament.

*You’re* the guy who seems not to want to believe the figures Davis has come up with: the actual police figures.

And *you* are saying that *I* only like evidence when it accords with my prejudices?

Sunny H 48.

“I’m against the law being used to silence debate obviously. But it depends on whether the law was being used to protect Poppy Project’s reputation (and there are plenty of ppl who are desperately trying to rubbish it for ideological reasons) and whether it is to stop disputing the claims made. There is a difference.”

Desperately trying to rubbish it“!

FFS man, can’t you see their figures have been questioned, to put it mildly, by Nick Davies and various academics? And you see this as a purely ideological dispute? Don’t you think it was ideology that created this mess in the first place – the fact that people apparently thought it necessary to pull numbers out of thin air to support their position?

Academics studying this issue disagreed with the Poppy Project and government figures, they also have concerns about the ethics of the Poppy Projects methodology. They expressed these concerns. They received a legal writ.

Does this not concern you?

Sunny: ‘The problem of course is that there are plenty of people above who would rather pretend the whole area is ideologically driven and the govt should stop poking its nose in this sordid industry entirely.’

No doubt there are, Sunny, but I can’t see that Unity is one of them, and I thought his post was a pretty decent piece of work.

Sunny:

What appears to set of the legal threats from Eaves is the degree of confusion that it creates over how its ‘research’ into sex trafficking and prostitution is funded.

The ‘research’ – such as it is – is actually done by the Lillith Project, whose main source of funding in London Council (what used to be the Association of London Government) and that would be that if Eaves would simply publish under the Lillith Project name.

However, it habitually publishes it reports on trafficking and prostitution under the Poppy Project name, which is its service/support arm and is funded by Central Government.

Consequently, Belinda and others appear to have mistakenly suggested that ‘research’ published under the Poppy Project name was funded by either the Home Office or MoJ, at which point Eaves have lawyered up and started with the threats of litigation.

Now you can look at this in two ways, either:

a. that those writing about this ‘research’ should be a little more careful in carrying out background checks on the funding that goes into Eaves, or

b. that Eaves habit of issuing legal threats in response to honest mistakes predicated on confusion arising out its own publishing practices is rather akin to hiding a house brick under an empty chip paper just outside a school entrance in the sure and certain knowledge that some poor sap of kid is bound to take a kick at it on their way home.

Pot calling kettle, pot calling kettle, over…

On the one hand we have very approximate and qualified estimates supplied by researchers who do the best they can with the limitations they are subject to because of the nature of the problem.

On the other we have those qualified estimates inflated and otherwise distorted or invented (i.e. lied about) by people who ought to know better but clearly don’t (see Dunning-Kruger, and I’m being kind there) and politicians who don’t let the facts get in the way of political expediency (e.g. Harriet Harman & co.).

The real numbers are important because without them we cannot allocate appropriate resources and not doing so may cause more harm than good – not least because some of those resources might be better used elsewhere. Indeed, lives could very well be at risk because of this dishonesty and incompetence.

Furthermore, the distorted and inflated results are used to support policies that, according to Davies, prostitutes claim “will aggravate every form of jeopardy which they face in their work, whether by encouraging them to work alone in an attempt to show that they are free of control or by pressurising them to have sex without condoms to hold on to worried customers.”

(Kelly and Regan’s research was even used to support ID cards in a very flimsy way.)

There is a wider issue too: public trust in their elected representatives and other people in positions of influence and power is corroded each time ‘official’ figures and claims are demonstrated to be bogus.

Support for Gupta’s article surprises and disturbs me. There is a palpable difference between her article and Nick Davies’s – and Unity’s, for that matter. Gupta prays in aid secondary sources – Davies and Unity critically discuss primary sources. I know who I would bet on being closer to the truth.

Here is a good comment that sums up my feelings on MacShane’s peculiar brand of idiocy:

(1) The Mirror is not a good paper.
(2) If you “quite honestly” don’t know how many girls are trafficked into Britain, perhaps you shouldn’t go into the Commons insisting that it’s 25,000.
(3) If a war of statistics is “futile”, then, er, perhaps you shouldn’t go into the Commons waving your statistics.
(4) Rahila Gupta did not “demolish” yesterday’s report. Her comments were far less persuasive then the report she attacked.
(5) No-one is suggesting that “sex slave trafficking do[es] not apply to our blessed isles”. It is merely being suggested that your figures are exaggerated. …

55. Shatterface

“I’m against the law being used to silence debate obviously. But it depends on whether the law was being used to protect Poppy Project’s reputation (and there are plenty of ppl who are desperately trying to rubbish it for ideological reasons) and whether it is to stop disputing the claims made. There is a difference.”

Not if your reputation rests on those claims.

And if those claims are rubbish it doesn’t matter whether they are disputed for ideological reasons are not.

That is the point of evidence based decision making: to take ideology out of the equation.

Decisions made without evidence are far more likely to be ideological than those with evidence to back them up.

Check out Belinda Brooks-Gordons’ guest post on Charlotte Gores’ blog, especially the comments.

I’m not that convinced, given Cath Elliott’s post here:
http://toomuchtosayformyself.com/2009/10/21/talking-of-vested-interests/

Vested interests indeed.

Tim Worstall:
nd *you* are saying that *I* only like evidence when it accords with my prejudices?

You are the global warming denier, yes?

Luis:
But when the police make a big effort to find evidence of trafficking and fail to do so, and with all the bullshit that’s reported by Nick Davis

Let’s be very clear about this. This is one operation, in which the police did not get as many convictions as they had hoped – for various reasons that are still unknown. In some cases they are likely to be gathering evidence for future use.

And on that basis you’re suggesting we run govt policy?

Now you can look at this in two ways, either:

Given you haven’t seen the legal letters, it’s kind of silly to make speculations about it, isn’t it?

Having received several legal threats in the past, I can say some were stupid mistakes and others were blatant attempts at intimidation. But I’m the only one that knows which is which.

Dan Hardie – Unity might not be but there are other people on this thread who actively are.

57. Luis Enrique

And on that basis you’re suggesting we run govt policy

where in blazes did you get that from? I could re-write what I’ve already written in a different way … or you could just re-read it and try again.

58. douglas clark

Well, Belinda Brooks-Gordon ought to reply to that here right enough.

Sunny H. 59.

I’m not that convinced, given Cath Elliott’s post here:
http://toomuchtosayformyself.com/2009/10/21/talking-of-vested-interests/

Vested interests indeed.

Do you have some personal interest in agreeing with Cath Elliott’s point? It strikes me as irrelevant. Belinda Brooks-Gordon may by a hypocrite, she may shill for Peter Springfellow, but that doesn’t change the content of Nick Davies report nor the criticisms that the figures cited by Poppy et al are not reliable. What you are doing here is an ad hom attack rather than argue based on evidence.

You’re behaving like the innumerable and idiotic commentors on my blog who constantly criticise the flaws in evidence based medicine instead of dealing with the lack of evidence for their own chosen position. Attack, attack, attack may be an effective debating strategy in an emotive situation, it is, however, a piss poor tactic when the debate is evidence based.

I’ll repeat my point.

Academics studying this issue disagreed with the Poppy Project and government figures, they also have concerns about the ethics of the Poppy Projects methodology. They expressed these concerns. They received a legal writ.

Does this not concern you?

“Tim Worstall:
nd *you* are saying that *I* only like evidence when it accords with my prejudices?

You are the global warming denier, yes?”

No.

Care to provide any proof that I’ve said anything that damn stupid?

A quick Google turns up these quotes from me. Please do note that this is when I was being paid to write on a site at least partially funded by Exxon.

““Please note, I take the Lomborg line on this. What we do about it is the important question,”

“Some years ago Bjorn Lomborg was generally derided for stating, in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, that while global warming was indeed happening, was indeed being caused by humans…”

“Before I get swamped by screams of outrage, by those calling me a greenhouse denialist, please, get a grip. It is quite obvious that there is a thing called the greenhouse effect, the differences between Venus, Mars and Earth are the only evidence one needs for that contention. I’ve said before and will no doubt have to say it again, I’m broadly of the Lomborg persuasion, that there is a general change in the climate going on, that humans are at least partially responsible for it and the important thing is to find out exactly what is going on and then work out how to deal with it.” ”

That’s from 2006 on Crooked Timber. As I say, that’s what I was saying when the rent cheque was at least partially coming from Exxon: whatever that is it simply ain’t global warming denial.

So, for at least that number of years (actually, rather longer) I’ve been saying that a) climate change is happening and b) that we humans are causing it and c) that the important thing is what we do now.

That having read the IPCC reports, the SRES, the Stern Review (I was the first person in the UK to spot what he’d done with discount rates for example) that I come up with different answers as to what we should actually do than Greenpeace and FoE do does not make me a global warming denier. It just makes me someone who disagrees with Greenpeace and FoE about what we do about global warming.

Now here’s a little task for you Sunny. Please explain (very broad brush, no need to go into detail) the difference between the William Nordhaus solution to climate change and the Nicholas Stern one. I pointed out on a recent comments thread here that I prefered the former to the latter. That doesn’t make me a “denier” of anything.

To give you a hint, the difference lies in two areas of economics. Both are starting from exactly the same point, the IPCC reports about climate change. *I* can give you the difference in one sentence. See if you can manage to actually understand what the difference is: I’ll be fine with a para or two, no need to distill it down to just one sentence.

Sunny: you could always campaign for the police to undertake ‘Pentameter 3’. You could even ask that the investigation is led and staffed by women, just in case there’s any sexism in the investigation process. Or you could campaign that all forms of people trafficking and forced labour should be investigated and prosecuted, of which the sex work industry is just one part – but one that is smaller than we were led to believe.

PS: TheLady @38: Actually it’s “absence of evidence of trafficking is not evidence of the absence of coersion”. – whoa! moving goalposts alert! (funnily enough, this is exactly the same move that one of the interviewees pulled on Newsnight yesterday). One can be coerced without being trafficked, and vice versa. As Davies pointed out, the tendency to conflate being trafficked with working in the sex industry with being abused was part of the process through which campaigners tried to ‘frame’ the argument and justify the change in the law.

The issue is how we spend state resources Sunny. Lets say roughly you have a choice of how to spend 20 million quid- you could spend it on rape investigations or on traficking for sex. One way to assess how to spend that money is how much rape or traficking there is- Nick Davies seems to suggest there is less traficking therefore in my example you should spend the money on rape.

This is an issue about scarce resources ultimately- we cannot solve every problem in the world that we would like to- so what we do is allocate resources by how severe a problem is. The Government and the Home Office don’t have inexhaustible supplies of money- if they need to spend it on two options and trafficking is smaller than 4000 people, I would prefer to spend it on solving rape crimes and raising that conviction rate.

Why fly off the handle when all Unity and Davies are trying to do is establish the real figures so that others can then assess how to allocate resources upon the basis of those figures?

she may shill for Peter Springfellow, but that doesn’t change the content of Nick Davies report nor the criticisms that the figures cited by Poppy et al are not reliable. What you are doing here is an ad hom attack rather than argue based on evidence.

I’m not pointing out that the evidence is wrong. I pointed out from the start that the evidence base is thin and that it is being used to ask the wrong questions. And it suffers from the view that just because enough convictions didn’t take place – that trafficking is not a big issue. You could either ignore my points or you could address them.

Some have addressed them, others seem obsessed by saying that I’m saying Nick Davies is lying or that I’m ok with legal threats. Both are straw-arguments and both have been dealt with above.

redpesto: Or you could campaign that all forms of people trafficking and forced labour should be investigated and prosecuted, of which the sex work industry is just one part – but one that is smaller than we were led to believe.

I believe this already. Not sure how you came to the conclusion I didn’t.

Tim Worstall – go ahead.

anonymous #66: Lets say roughly you have a choice of how to spend 20 million quid- you could spend it on rape investigations or on traficking for sex.

No, part of the problem is that only 20 million quid is allocated (as aan example) only because there is a legion of people and vested interests who downplay these problems.

Boris for example promises Rape Crisis Centres when campaigning and then subsequently cuts the budgets while paying his own transition team and other staff over half a million pounds.

So the money is there – and there’s plenty of money being wasted elsewhere – it’s a question of looking at the broader problem here – that if people trafficking and massive organised gangs generally.

sunny:

redpesto: Or you could campaign that all forms of people trafficking and forced labour should be investigated and prosecuted, of which the sex work industry is just one part – but one that is smaller than we were led to believe.

I believe this already. Not sure how you came to the conclusion I didn’t.

Maybe I skim-read the thread too quickly. That said, others such as Rahila Gupta seem determined to trash Davies and not engage with his articles in the hope that in doing so a continued (over?)emphasis on sex trafficking will determine government policy, especially given the long-term prohibitionist/abolitionist ambition of such writers and groups.

65. Belinda Brooks-Gordon

I am just home from the Josephine Butler Society talk and will try and catch up with all the threads on all the blogs. I will also post some details of the JBS talk at Charlotte Gore. In the meantime, this letter has been published.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/oct/22/sex-trafficking-crime-bill

There are more names to add because it is a busy part of term not all the academics who wanted to sign managed to get back from teaching to read email and send in their comments and names in time. The Guardian may yet add their names and affiliations on the end of this list.

66. douglas clark

Belinda Brooks-Gordon,

Could you please reply to Cath Elliots comments here:

http://toomuchtosayformyself.com/2009/10/21/talking-of-vested-interests/

I am interested in what you have to say. And, remember, I am on your side, I think..

You really have to answer this to be credible.

67. douglas clark

Belinda Brooks-Gordon,

At least hereabouts. 🙂

We tend not to see acedemic or doctorate credentials as very useful.

You are expected to get down and dirty. Fight your corner.

Go on.

Sunny H. 67.

I’m not pointing out that the evidence is wrong. I pointed out from the start that the evidence base is thin and that it is being used to ask the wrong questions. And it suffers from the view that just because enough convictions didn’t take place – that trafficking is not a big issue. You could either ignore my points or you could address them.

Some have addressed them, others seem obsessed by saying that I’m saying Nick Davies is lying or that I’m ok with legal threats. Both are straw-arguments and both have been dealt with above.

Sunny, the evidence from Poppy and the government et al has apparently not been borne out on the ground. Millions of pounds and thousands of police hours have been spent investigating a problem whose extent seems to have been exaggerated for the purposes of ideology and policy. This money and time might have been better spent if there had been a proper evidence based approach. As I said, the issues with the figures had been raised some time ago by academics in the field as well as concerns about the ethics of the methodology used, they were then subjected to legal threats.

Do you think this is a cause for concern?

As for my views on trafficking, I am no expert nor particularly familiar with this area so I have no specific proposals – obviously I would like to see illegal trafficking (of all kinds) reduced and the welfare of those trafficked considered. I also think policy should be informed by the best available evidence to ensure the efficient application of finite resources for the outcome of greatest benefit. This hasn’t happened in this case.

“Tim Worstall – go ahead.”

Sunny, I asked you if *you* could manage to explain the difference.

70. douglas clark

Tim Worstall,

Could you keep the climate change arguement for another day? Whilst it is perhaps more important than this, it is a diversion of the first order. And deserves a thread all on it’s own.

“Could you keep the climate change arguement for another day?”

Sure: although perhaps the pressure should be on Sunny to withdraw the allegation that I am a “global warming denier”?

72. Luis Enrique

it’s strange. Sunny, what’s stopping you from saying something simple like “oh, sorry Tim, my mistake about the climate change thing”? wouldn’t we all be a lot better off if people found it easier to admit mistakes like this? Sorry, Douglas, I agree that argument shouldn’t happen here – I’m just pointing out it shouldn’t be an argument. Sunny made a mistake, that’s all.

this argument is bizarre. Sunny is convinced that trafficking is a big problem and that the evidence that it isn’t is “thin”. Everybody else is suggesting that it’s the evidence that trafficking is a big problem that’s looking “thin”. In one corner we have Nick Davis finding exaggeration and distortion in previously reported numbers, and the fact that the police failed to secure convictions when they tried to find trafficking (a fact which is consistent with both Sunny’s idea that convictions are simply hard to obtain, and the idea that there’s just aren’t very many trafficked women out there). And in other corner we have Sunny, who’s firm belief that large numbers of women are trafficked is based on … well, I don’t know. I don’t think you’ve told us yet, Sunny.

I don’t know the truth of the matter myself, but I do know that Nick Davis has uncovered a shameful story of misinformation, and the Unity’s OP is on the money – there are some serious questions that need answering about where the numbers being used to guide govt policy are coming from.

Sunny, you’re obviously going to gnaw away at this convictions bone until I demolish it properly so…

From the UKHTC’s data on trafficking prosecutions and convictions there were 57 prosecutions for s57 (into UK) or s58 (within UK) trafficking offences in the UK in 2008 in which either a conviction was obtained (29 cases) or the case remained on file (24 cases) after the trafficking charge was dropped for lack of evidence or because the offender copped to charge of pimping/brothel keeping.

From those cases, the UKHTC identified a total of 80 foreign nationals who they defined as victims of trafficking.

So, what we have to work with in the first instance is ratio of near enough four victims for every three perps and a 5:4 ratio between convictions and cases with no conviction which remain on file.

Now we plug that information into the data from Pentameter 2.

We have 15 convictions in total cited for Pentameter 2 (ignoring the fact that none of the five most serious cases were actually detected during the operation) and with our 5:4 ratio from the UKHTC data we can estimate that another 12 cases are likely to have been laid on file, giving 27 cases in total which could reasonably be argued to have involved trafficking under the definition in SOA 2003.

Given the 4:3 victim-perp ratio that allows us to estimate that of the 167 ‘victims’ allegedly identified during Pentameter 2, 36 are actually likely to have been ‘trafficked’ under the SOA 2003 definitions.

But, we also have to note that the SOA definition of trafficking encompasses smuggling as well as trafficking in line with the force, coercion and trickery definition in the Palermo protocols, so all we can sure of, at the moment, is that those 36 ‘victims’ were smuggled. To estimate the number who were trafficking in line the Palermo definition we have to go back to the conviction data from Pentameter 2 from which we find that only 5 of the 15 convictions were based on evidence that fits the bill.

So, of our 36 smuggled ‘victims’, only 12 are likely to have been trafficked according to the internationally accepted definition of trafficking in the Palermo Protocol.

We now have enough information to estimate the proportion of foreign prostitutes working in the UK who are likely to have been a) smuggled and b) trafficked and what our say is that…

For every 100 foreign prostitutes working in the UK, 21 are likely to have been smuggled into the country and of those 7 are likely to have been trafficked in a manner consistent with the international definition of trafficking set out in the Palermo protocol.

If we now turn to the calculations used to arrive at the figure of 4000 women trafficked for sexual exploitation then even without raising questions about the validity of the Poppy Project’s estimates for the scale of the sex industry in London what we find that the Home Office have based their calculation on the assumption that, in London:

– 30% of all foreign prostitutes working in flats, saunas and massage parlours are trafficked (and the calculation is for trafficking alone, not a combined figure for trafficking and smuggling)

– 12.5% of all foreign prostitutes working for escort agencies are trafficked

– 100% of all foreign prostitutes working in walk-up brothels are trafficked.

The Home Office then based its UK calculation (which date to 2005/6 not 2003 as is commonly claimed) on an estimate of 1735 trafficked prostitutes working in London, which it then scaled up on the highly dubious premise that patterns of trafficking and prostitution in London will be valid for the rest of the UK, to reach a top end estimate of just over 3800 trafficked prostitutes for the whole of the UK.

This then became a round 4000 when the politicians got hold of the figure.

The UKHTC conviction data and data from Pentameter 2 support a baseline of only 354 trafficked prostitutes in London and, even if we extrapolate using the Home Office;s dodgy methodology, a figure for the UK in region of 780-800 trafficked women.

If I was doing this properly, I’d actually take the time to make adjustments to the HO’s scaling methods to try and arrive at an even tighter estimate but having run a few numbers on the back of fag packet, I reckon that 780-800 figure would come down to around 600-650 after the adjustments.

Now that is definitely a bottom-end estimate, but it does give a basis for making some kind of mid-point estimate on which its possible to legitimately base policy decisions, at least until we get some better data to work with.

All things considered, an estimate of 700-900 victims of trafficking in London and between 400 and 600 across the rest of the UK, the majority of which will be located in major population centres with sizeable minority populations looks to be a reasonable ballpark figure to be working with, which still makes this a significant issue.

Personally, and based on those estimates, I would see that the UKHTC still merits its funding, particular as women who’re smuggled/trafficked for the sex industry make up only 38% of the total number of recorded ‘trafficking’ victims. 7 out of every 10 foreign nationals identified as victims of trafficking are recorded under domestic servitude of forced labour, an issue that being almost entire lost in the unseemly haste to target sex workers and the clients with even more prohibitionist legislation.

That estimate also readily justifies the new national referral system and the funding that the Poppy Project’s service and support arm is getting, in fact the data on forced labour suggests that side of things is likely to be badly underfunded (as usual).

What these figures categorically DO NOT justify or support is the prominent position given to the Lillith Project, Eaves research arm, in the policy making process for the simple reason that the project is not a reliable source of evidence.

OK Sunny I will address your points @ 1:

Various problems with this article. … As Rahila Gupta points out (but you oddly choose to ignore):
In spite of these problems, we discover from a parliamentary answer from Alan Campbell in June that 267 people have been prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which led to 109 convictions, a remarkably high percentage.

OK, which offences under the Act do those 109 convictions relate to? Because the SOA isn’t just about sex trafficking. Gupta doesn’t say. You don’t say.

This fact does not appear in Nick Davies’s article, despite his extensive research.

The facts are that, as Davies wrote, “Only 22 people were finally prosecuted for trafficking, including two women who had originally been “rescued” as supposed victims. Seven of them were acquitted. The end result was that, after raiding 822 brothels, flats and massage parlours all over the UK, Pentameter finally convicted of trafficking a grand total of only 15 men and women [out of 406 arrests – btw another 122 arrests never happened, they were wrongly recorded – ukl].”

The second problem is your own conflation. What actually happened was they failed to get trafficking convictions. That is very different to finding loads of people who may have been involved (or they rescued loads of women) because getting convictions is never easy.

They didn’t fail to get trafficking convictions. They prosecuted 22 and 15 were convicted – as Davies makes clear.

The same happens for example in forced marriage cases where its very difficult to get convictions… sometimes because the victim doesn’t want to press charges for fear of reprisals. Again, this will apply here too, especially if the people doing the trafficking are part of dangerous gangs. Rahila herself points out:
I have interviewed police officers who say it is extremely difficult to use the trafficking laws to bring people to justice.

OK, but I’m not sure what we can do with that information.

And lastly, your article bizarrely ends with:
None of this. however, detracts from the fact that there are some serious questions to be asked about the origins of the government estimate of the scale of sex trafficking
No, the serious questions need to be around: how do we get more convictions for trafficking, how can we make it harder to traffic women into the country and how can we break these criminals gangs. That trafficking takes place is a fact.

No-one disagrees – the dispute is over how much trafficking there is.

So by trying to cast doubt over this, what you’re actually doing is feeding into the misogynist narrative that this is all overblown and we can go back home with nothing to worry about. …

Oh for god’s sake. It isn’t misogynist to be concerned about the distortion of the evidence and its impact on evidence-based policy making and the appropriate allocation of our finite resources.

Sunny @48:

But it depends on whether the law was being used to protect Poppy Project’s reputation (and there are plenty of ppl who are desperately trying to rubbish it for ideological reasons) and whether it is to stop disputing the claims made. There is a difference.

As I see it, the reputation of any such organisation can only be assessed based on their reliability, honesty and effectiveness. Effective the Poppy Project certainly are; but reliable they clearly are not, since they’re directly involved in fabricating evidence which was then presented to Parliament and used to allocated public funds. Honest they equally are not, since their reaction to getting caught lying is to sue; rather like the Simon Singh case, as others have pointed out. The reason the numbers matter is because being right matters: if a political organisation doesn’t care about accuracy, then they deserve a bad reputation.

It’s also worth pointing out that the data on convictions and from Pentameter, particularly the low victim to perp ratio does not support the clichéd TV cop show picture of large scale organised trafficking, i.e. the one where the cops eventually find 20-30 women tied up in an abandoned warehouse.

What it does support is, primarily, the trickery/debt bondage model of trafficking in which women enter or are smuggled into the UK one or two at a time with the promised of employment, etc. only then to be forced into prostitution.

So far as the TV Cop show model goes, that is consistent with the patterns for forced labour where the victim to perp ratio is over 25:1 (110 victims, 4 convictions in 2008)

And finally, for the moment, getting around to the vested interest charge against Belinda.

Unless evidence emerges to the contrary, what we have here is a simple case of a PR firm being smart enough to hire an academic to help them navigate their client through an issue that was, and still is, mired down in all manner of dubiously researched and evidence claims about the impact of lap-dancing clubs on neighbouring businesses and local communities.

That’s not a vested interest nor is it necessarily hypocrisy – if a PR company working for Peter Stringfellow wants to pay her for an opinion that they could have easily got for free by reading through and digesting her prior research then, so what!

Moreover, if anyone other than can be arsed to look up Stringfellow’s memorandum and oral evidence to the the committee then the only empirical ‘evidence’ he put forward was an assertion that around 21% of local authorities appeared not to understand how to properly make use of their existing licensing powers in respect of lap-dancing clubs.

Other than that, Stringfellow’s argument rested entirely on the assertion that he operate two well-managed, upmarket, respectable, clubs located in non-residential areas and works closely with the police and the relevant licensing authority (Westminster Council) to a keep a thoroughly orderly house.

If your policy objective is that of ensuring that lap-dancing clubs operate within the law and without creating either a nuisance or any significant public order problems, then that’s a pretty solid argument to put up in favour of the proposition that the licensing system works well if its applied properly – and that is exactl what Stringfellow argued before the committee.

78. Luis Enrique

Unity,

Thanks for #79, very informative.

I hugely object to this word ‘trafficking’ when applied to these cases.

These women, in the main, have paid large sums to known criminals to smuggle them illegally into this country.

It’s an insult to those, like the Korean ‘comfort’ women or the generations of black slaves, who really were ‘trafficked’ by being dragged from their homes and families against their will and shipped abroad.

A more relevant description would be illegal immigrant.

A more relevant description would be illegal immigrant.

No – trafficked is a perfectly reasonable description if the victim is then forced unwillingly into prostitution by threat of violence or via debt bondage.

Unity:

If your policy objective is that of ensuring that lap-dancing clubs operate within the law and without creating either a nuisance or any significant public order problems, then that’s a pretty solid argument to put up in favour of the proposition that the licensing system works well if its applied properly – and that is exactl what Stringfellow argued before the committee.

…and that’s the problem with (or for) a number of the writers, activists and groups on this issue: even where they are rightly concerned with abuse and exploitation, they have a longer-term aim of abolition or prohibition, as Davies pointed out. They don’t just want to see the women who choose to work protected, the women who don’t want to work helped, and the men who abuse prosecuted – they want the whole thing shut down entirely. And they don’t seem too bothered about having sufficient evidence or doing proper research in the process.

82. Luis Enrique

Frank,

do you it’s sensible to characterize gangs controlling debt-indentured immigrant prostitutes as offering fair contracts which are honored and entered into freely?

Fascinating to hear the purblind views of individuals such as Sunny H…especially when the one message they don’t seem capable of hearing is that from the sex workers themselves.

Which is that this is NOT a one-way policy. That is: a policy where the worst that can happen is the industry will get clamped down on.

Talking to the ECP yesterday, one fairly senior individual re-ran the argument that the direct result of over-restrictive laws would be to make sex work MORE dangerous for the vast majority in it. She added that yes: some women may die as a rsult of the proposed legislation.

So please, Sunny, before you and your ilk remount your high horses…at least familiarise yourself with the possibility that there is an alternative view…and that the alternative view is not “liberalism because its nice” vs. regulating the industry.

But people getting killed on the back of screwed up HO research.

I am sick to death of the moralising argument that seems to believe the positions on issues such as this are asymmetric. On the one hand, free speech which is hard to value: on t’other, some crime against humanity.

No, the balance is far nastier…and people such as Sunny who can’t get their head around that are as guilty of the consequences as the traffickers themselves.

@Unity

It’s hard to see how the misnomer of ‘trafficking’ is altered in any way by what occurs afterwards to those who’ve paid criminals to smuggle them in illegally.

They’ve still paid.

They’re still illegal.

They still haven’t been forcibly removed from their homes.

I have just (finally) watched the Newsnight clip.

Prostitute rep – very impressive.
Macshane – utter utter buffoon.

“I have just (finally) watched the Newsnight clip.”

I agree completely with your assessment of the Newsnight clip.

Besides that, I’ve a nasty, sneaky feeling that what motivated this government scam was either another phoney job-creation exercise to spend taxpayers’ money on setting up specialist police anti-trafficking units or creating another superb public rationale for raids and monitoring email traffic. After all, who would want to question anything as wholesome as investigating and stopping wicked human trafficking?

I know little about this market but never expected the articulate and damning criticism from the rep of the Collective of Prostitutes. Professional social worker friends say she overdid her brief: one powerful motivation for prostitution is not the presented scenario of the desperate single mum trying to make ends meet in bringing up her kids but someone trying to support an expensive drug habbit without resorting to other – and probably riskier and less lucrative – modes of crime.

“Firstly, just because this operation didn’t turn up whatever numbers you expected, it doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.”

Officially what it means is, if you are a police force and you are coming up short, you go to the ‘rescued’ or ‘saved” grouping and charge a few Chinese women as sex traffickers, which is the way they did it.

Poppy, Fawcett, and Object, knew about this before Nick wrote his article

I can assure you of that.

Sepian

“Talking to the ECP yesterday, one fairly senior individual re-ran the argument that the direct result of over-restrictive laws would be to make sex work MORE dangerous for the vast majority in it. She added that yes: some women may die as a rsult of the proposed legislation.”

On the one hand, the UKHTC and on the other, a similarly exaggerated tableau.

Think of it as two warring sides, in New Zealand, the people with the psychiatrically distorted claims won, and they supported legal brothels, and are still busy lying to everybody including the CEDAW committee at the UN & etc.

In Britain, a similarly deranged spin doctoring junta, and they zig and zagged to the perspective of not wanting any brothels.

Fiona MacTaggart was telling us not so long ago Punternet customers were likely to drop a dime, crimestoppers makes a ‘beautiful sex slave’ soft porn promo for them, the punternet people

Fast forward, Harriet is asking the Gov of California to terminate a web-site hosted in err…Ohio.

The ECP and UKHTC deserve each other, nobody deserves Harriet Harman or Fiona MacTaggart.

And the poor Brit taxpayer picks up the tab for the not fit for purpose enterprise.

There you go, a dog’s breakfast of monlithic spin doctoring as a substitute for govt.

The truth is never good enough being the national motto.

Sepian

“Other than that, Stringfellow’s argument rested entirely on the assertion that he operate two well-managed, upmarket, respectable, clubs located in non-residential areas and works closely with the police and the relevant licensing authority (Westminster Council) to a keep a thoroughly orderly house.”

I think we have had enough of the UKHTC spin and so with all due respect.

Sepian

EXCLUSIVE: THE STRINGFELLOWS ONE-PUNCH KILLER

By Graham Brough 31/01/2006

EXCLUSIVE Widow to sue lapdance club

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2006/01/31/exclusive-the-stringfellows-one-punch-killer-115875-16646625/


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