Human Trafficking is a Real Problem, Not a Conspiracy
Tonight I’d like to introduce you to Babylon Jones, a.k.a. furiousbabs, an enthusiastic Zillennial activist who’s just about sick of the direction America’s headed in. Babylon will be authoring posts of interest about their passions, political outlook, and general relevant interests. -John Broge
#SaveOurChildren. It’s a tag that’s been rampant on social media over the last couple of months (perhaps longer, depending on what sources you consume), sometimes being spammed in the comments of totally unrelated posts in an effort to “raise awareness.” This disinformation campaign, spearheaded by QAnon leadership and carried out to the masses by your hysterical Aunt Barbara is muddying the waters and actively hindering the real fight against real human trafficking. Now, you might be asking “what’s this kid know about it? Is she a human trafficker?? Was she a victim???” Well, all I’ll say is that some kids were obsessed with keeping their Tamagotchis alive or having a foot spa day with some Orbeez, I was obsessed with learning about human trafficking. It’s still my life’s goal to be a federal prosecutor specializing in these types of cases. So, in this piece, I’m gonna start by setting the record straight – talking about what human trafficking really is, and perhaps more importantly, what it definitely isn’t. Then we’re gonna go over Pizzagate and why these kinds of conspiracies pop up at the times that they do. Finally, I’m going to discuss why the QAnon trafficking conspiracy is really so harmful, why it’s so effective for its target demographic, and yes, why it’s so darn infuriating to those of us actually in the know.
Human trafficking is a business. Full stop. This is where the story starts and ends; it’s not an action movie, it’s not a conspiracy theory, and it’s not a political movement for either side of the spectrum. This business is global, it grows annually and exponentially, and it is run by people of all genders, nationalities, races, socioeconomic classes, and intelligence levels. Something insurmountably important to know, too, is that most human trafficking is not sex trafficking. Labor trafficking is more rampant than sex trafficking worldwide, including in the US (UNODC). Additionally, trafficking is woven into our lives – and woven right into the fabric of those GAP jeans your grandma bought you. Atlanta, GA is the fourth-largest human trafficking hub in the world (CTDC) and most big-box retailers have been using labor trafficking victims – including children – to manufacture their clothes and other products off and on for literally decades (LastWeekTonight).
There are agencies – both official government-run ones and community-led alike – working every day to find and save trafficking victims and dismantle trafficking operations.Those trendy articles you’ve been seeing about “65 children saved from a human trafficking operation in Ohio!!!”? That happens every day around the world; it’s a constant battle. Now, I know we all love those juicy statistics, so I’ll give you some: the Polaris Project identified 22,326 victims and survivors of human trafficking last year; according to the Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC), most victims of sex trafficking are recruited by an intimate partner, and while most victims of any type of trafficking are indeed female, for the 9-11 age bracket, 53% of victims are males.
My final and super-important informative note on human trafficking is also about what it isn’t. Human trafficking and sex work are not the same thing. I mean this, whether we’re talking about the Red Light District in Amsterdam, a willing prostitute on a street corner in New Jersey, or a teacher who has an OnlyFans as a side hustle. Adults of all genders (since y’know, children can’t consent) who willingly engage in any form of sex work, including porn, prostitution, escort services, or sugaring, are not victims – they are not being exploited, and they are not tragedies of a debaucherous culture. If anything, sex trafficking is a byproduct of an unhealthy, patriarchal, sex-negative society wherein sex is something that “happens to” vulnerable populations and is “done by” powerful ones.
Now let’s dive into the meat and potatoes of why we’re bothering to discuss human trafficking right this second (more than any other second). The “elite liberal pedophile underground sex trafficking ring” conspiracy from QAnon is not new, not even close. Hate to accuse people of plagiarism but, this crap started in the ‘80s. If you’ve never heard of the McMartin Preschool conspiracy, allow me to brief you: a mother with unaddressed mental health problems claimed that her son had been sodomized by his preschool teacher, and from there, a massive scandal involving preschools across the nation emerged. Parents (mostly conservatives) began insisting that their children were having their blood taken for Satanic rituals by the operators of this preschool exploitation ring, among other horrific claims (Reinhold).
Fast forward a few decades to 2016, when the shiny “new” Pizzagate theory took hold. Since apparently Hillary Clinton’s emails are the topic that’s going to destroy the world, of course they’d come up here; basically, WikiLeaks released some emails between Clinton and her campaign chief, and 4chan (the even more white supremacist embryo of QAnon) trolls jumped on it immediately. There was a handkerchief identified as having a pizza-related map on it, the owner’s name was apparently an anagram for the French phrase “I love children,” and very long, stupid story short, eventually Trump’s supporter base was entirely convinced that there was an actual child sex trafficking ring being perpetrated via the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria. And I mean convinced; location owners received death threats (Young). Now here we are in 2020 – there are ostensibly child sex trafficking rings around every corner, including on the overstock website Wayfair, where cabinets named after missing children were allegedly being sold for tens of thousands of dollars, and where QAnon has convinced a gullible conservative fanbase that liberals are selling thousands of children – and more importantly, that King Trump is going to take those demons to church.
So why is this narrative so incredibly effective? Well, the first reason has absolutely nothing to do with politics, and it’s very simple: your average Joe doesn’t know how to make heads or tails of a statistic. Like I said earlier, we all love statistics. They’re snappy and shocking, and often very, very misleading. Some people get statistics from wildly unreliable sources and then spout them as gospel; other times (more often), they use data from reputable sources, such as the ones I’ve already used here, but the reader has absolutely no context for what they’re looking at. For example, the Polaris source I used shows that sex trafficking occurs a lot more often than labor trafficking in the United States – “but how can that be?” you cry, since I just said earlier that labor trafficking occurs more frequently. First of all, the Polaris Project relies on reports to their hotline; a lot of labor trafficking victims don’t know they can or think they can’t afford to call someone for help. Also, there’s a concept in criminological measurement called the “dark figure.” This refers to the amount of crime that goes unreported, and trust me – the dark figure is big when it comes to trafficking (Pepinsky). Both of these things being said, it’s unfathomably easy to either twist or genuinely misread statistics if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
So we’ve got these sensational, enraging statistics about child sex trafficking that QAnon is spewing left and right, and perhaps the bigger piece to the effectiveness puzzle is the community for which this conspiracy has been carefully cultivated. Conservatives have a lot of anger; we all do, but specifically, conservatives have a lot of violent, generalized anger. This type of conspiracy is a perfect beacon for them – an invisible enemy to rally around? Sign Aunt Barbara up, man! BLM is gaining traction, leftists are annoyingly protected by like, “the law,” but by God, pedophiles are still universally hated; all the better if they’re on the left. And, disgustingly – all the better if they’re Jewish. Every conspiracy theory has a strong thread of anti-Semitism running through it (heard of the Rothschilds?), but how many times have you heard George Soros’s name pop up in the context of QAnon? Chances are, a lot.
The final reason that this conspiracy is so effective is because, unfortunately, it’s very palatable. Crimes against children are one of the most abhorred acts in Western society, and we’re collectively extremely reluctant not to believe allegations about them. This brings me to why these conspiracies arise when they do – it’s a perfect demonization tactic. What was happening in the ‘80s? Well, a lot, but besides pet rocks and Reaganomics, conservatism was exploding; in 2016, obviously there was an election happening, and here we are in an election year again. There is no better way to make your enemy everyone’s enemy than by saying they’re hurting kids.
I can tell you without doubt that QAnon is disabling the actual fight against human trafficking. Mainstream media constantly reporting on agencies’ sting operations renders those agencies largely ineffective in carrying out stings for at least a few months. We now have #MommaBears gearing up with their AKs ready to “do bad things to worse people,” not only potentially putting themselves in danger, but also potentially putting victims in danger if they decide to go do some vigilante justice with no idea what they’re doing (not even to mention we really do not need more things for conservatives to think they have a right to shoot at right now). Spamming #SaveOurChildren turns people away from learning about real human trafficking because they’re sick of hearing about the fake version, and now trying to do any kind of Google search about the subject pulls up mostly news stories – some condeming the movement, some spreading its message, almost none giving useful information. Another hidden consequence that most people don’t even want to consider is what the QAnon narrative does to the pedophile community – and yes, I’m sorry to tell you, there is a community. It’s not a valid part of the LGBT+ community (like some media sources are trying to convince you), but there are genuine communities of pedophiles trying to refrain from ever offending, including refraining from consuming child pornography. Hearing about how much they deserve to die is detrimental to their mental health, and may lead to increased suicide or may encourage them to just go ahead and offend, since everyone hates them anyway.
Finally, I’m just gonna go on a little rant about why this “trend” is infuriating far beyond its concerning nature. How dare anyone use human trafficking victims as a political pawn? And I’m not even talking about Q leadership (we know they’re dirtbags anyway) – I’m talking specifically about the hysterical Aunt Barbaras. I’ve seen friends who’ve never said a peep about this issue suddenly flooding their own feeds with the latest “news” about the horror of child sex trafficking with a less-than-subtle chaser of what we should “do” about it – “did you know that 80% of trafficking victims have to cross an official border?? Makes you think…” They do not care about the labor trafficking crisis, nor the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women (which is becoming worse literally by the day), nor about adult victims of human trafficking, nor about the children being detained and “lost” by ICE – none of it, and to top it off, they have no idea what they’re talking about and have the audacity to lecture people who do. At its core, the QAnon conspiracy is a virtue signaling load of crap that gives white conservatives an excuse to be angry and feel protective about no one. Care about more than hypothetical white children – do better.
As a final note, if you’d like to learn more about the real problem with human trafficking, do go ahead and research Operation Underground Railroad, the Polaris Project, Liberty Shared, the A21 Campaign, and the International Justice Mission. If you think you know about someone being trafficked, call the Polaris hotline at (888) 373-7888. Teach your kids how to be safe online, and learn about who your family members and friends are close with – even if it’s an intimate partner or a parent. Thanks for reading.
CTDC. “Global Data Hub on Human Trafficking.” Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.ctdatacollaborative.org/
LastWeekTonight. “Fashion” [YouTube video]. HBO, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdLf4fihP78
Pepinsky, Harold. “The Growth of Crime in the United States.” American Academy of Political and Social Science. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000271627642300104
Reinhold, Robert. “The Longest Trial – A Post-Mortem; Collapse of Child Abuse Case: So Much Agony for so Little.” New York Times, 1990. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1990/01/24/us/longest-trial-post-mortem-collapse-child-abuse-case-so-much-agony-for-so-little.html
The Polaris Project. “2019 Data Report.” Polaris: Freedom Happens Now, 2019. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Polaris-2019-US-National-Human-Trafficking-Hotline-Data-Report.pdf
UNODC. “Global Report on Trafficking In Persons 2018.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/2018/GLOTiP_2018_BOOK_web_small.pd
fYoung, Cathy. “‘Pizzagate’ Recalls the Debunked Child Sex Rings of the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Observer, 2016. Retrieved from https://observer.com/2016/12/pizzagate-recalls-the-debunked-child-sex-rings-of-the-80s-and-90s