You're Wrong About - Sound of Freedom with Michael Hobbes AND Human Trafficking re-release

Episode Date: September 5, 2023

Like so many other mostly imaginary topics, human trafficking is in the news again. Michael Hobbes—ever heard of him??—came by so Sarah could tell him about Sound of Freedom, a surprise hit summer... movie that promises it can end child slavery, but only if you buy as many tickets as you can. Then, you can hear the episode we released on "human trafficking"—what it isn't, and what it is—back in 2019. You can find Mike's shows here:Maintenance PhaseIf Books Could KillSupport You're Wrong About:Bonus Episodes on PatreonBuy cute merchWhere else to find us:Sarah's other show, You Are Good[YWA co-founder] Mike's other show, Maintenance PhaseLinks:https://www.maintenancephase.com the show

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Starting point is 00:00:00 It's like, shouldn't you be a better actor if you're acting for God and not just because he wants to get a part on a soap so you can buy that condo? Welcome to your wrong about. I'm Sarah Marshall and today we are talking talking I am both sad and happy to tell you about sound of freedom with Michael Hobbs. This week we have a trifle of an episode for you, a bit of a layer cake if you will. First you're going to hear this introduction, I'm giving you right now. Then you're going to hear a conversation between me and living legend. You're wrong about former co-host and forever co-founder Michael Hobbs about Sound of Freedom, a movie
Starting point is 00:00:53 that a lot of you have been asking or wondering what both of us think of this summer. And then after that, you're going to hear a re-release of our human trafficking episode from 2019. Sound of Freedom is a movie thatrelease of our human trafficking episode from 2019. Sound of Freedom is a movie that represents some of the most powerful and insidious myths of human trafficking, many of them, the ones we also see weaponized by QAnon. And as a result, it's a movie that strives to put its audience through kind of an emotional ringer. And our goal in doing this episode for you is to talk about a piece of media that's working with that subject matter, but not to make you the listener do that kind of thinking or have that kind of an experience with what we're making.
Starting point is 00:01:40 We want to bring you a safer way to experience what's going on in the culture right now. So we're talking about all of the aspects of human trafficking, child trafficking, child sexual abuse and trafficking that we are seeing represented in the fictional world of this film where Jim Cavizel is a great action hero, but to the greatest extent of our abilities, we're not dwelling on difficult topics and imagery, and we're really trying to get into the minds of the people making and consuming this film. So hopefully that makes the experience as easy as it can be. And the same is true in the episode that we then are bringing to you and re-release. What we're really trying to talk about is how we hide the truth
Starting point is 00:02:28 from ourselves and how we can do a better job at looking at it. This was a really fun conversation for me to have. I think talking about it with Mike is the only way I could have been persuaded to discuss it. And if you want to hear a little bit longer version of our conversation with more of our evergreen topics coming up, then you can hear that on Patreon or Apple Plus subscriptions if you
Starting point is 00:02:50 like. Also on Patreon and Apple Plus for you guys, if you want to check it out, is a little concert film we made when we did one of our springtime shows. This one was at the Bell House in Brooklyn. We had just an amazing time. Did some fun outfit changes. We had a little bit of splatter. We had music. We had laughing and crying reported by many audience members. And if these were live shows when we were touring a few months ago, that you wanted to see, but couldn't for whatever reason. Then this is our attempt to just bring the show into your living room. Rest assured that you will be watching tiny little versions of us acting it all out for you, a new, as if in a flee circus.
Starting point is 00:03:41 Thank you so much for listening. Enjoy the episode. Welcome to your wrong about where I bring back the people I love most to torture them with the topics they like least. And with me today is Michael Hobbs. I only get 15 minutes out of the downtown hotel at a time. I'm pretty present. Thank you for letting me. We have this time together. You're actually calling me with a Canadian quarter on the phone, the lobby. An operator voice is going to cut in at any moment.
Starting point is 00:04:21 Someone is singing, God, I hope I got it. I hope I got it. Right next to you. You did say when we were texting about this that you like it when the worst moral panics just stick around forever. I feel like that's what we're back to talk about. I mean, I don't like it, but I'm just like, what do you know? What do you say? Check it out.
Starting point is 00:04:42 Here it is. Nothing ever dies. Nothing ever dies, which also means that all the great things will never die, question mark. Yeah. Maybe. As long as Netflix leaves them up. Michael Hobbs, for people who don't know, you are the daddy of this show.
Starting point is 00:05:01 You are the Alpha and Omega. You are the very modern model of a very major debunker in general. I don't know musicals, but yes, that's how I introduce myself, I'm the Alpha and Omega. You are. You're wrong about, yes. How have you been doing? What have you, what, what are you up to these days? Well, I'm having a very weird week because I have like very severe carpal tunnel in my hands, so I can't do anything with my hands. But my life as a podcaster means that I can talk into the internet to unlimited extents now,
Starting point is 00:05:33 regardless of my hands. So this is actually perfect that you got in touch so we can just talk about stuff. Luckily, that's my job. My job does not technically require any hands. I never thought of it that way, but that's true. My hands are just like, like, primly folded in my lap and I can just like
Starting point is 00:05:49 talk into my little microphone. I feel like I want, I want to just like give you an introduction for people who like, I don't know, need to spend more time with your herb or for people who don't. It's just nice to hear things you already like describe to you. Ooh, we started this show specifically in 2018 because, well, I don't know if you started it because of your love of D. Bonkeng's stuff or if that followed more.
Starting point is 00:06:12 I know that we started it because I had this treasure chest of stories about women road killed by the media that I had found other outlets to talk about. Yes, the binbo portfolio. Yes. Exactly. Yeah, but what about you? There was just a lot of stuff that the media got wrong. And then I think we had the like naive idea
Starting point is 00:06:31 that it's like, we're gonna do a show like setting the record straight. I know. We realized that it's like, no, nothing, like no one ever just like stops lying. Like these stories never stop circulating. So it's like, oh, we just have to keep doing the same episode over and over again
Starting point is 00:06:44 to debunk the same bullshit forever. Yeah, I, God, that's really true. And it really speaks to like how 2018, 2018 felt at the time, and this is just a function of every year being worse than the last at this point in history. But at the time, it felt like the cutting edge of how bad things could be. And now you look back and you're like, oh, I know. Oh, I know.
Starting point is 00:07:10 About your younger self. Do you remember the 2016 memes that were like, oh, when is this year going to be over? Like, can't wait to say goodbye to 2016 and it just has been worse. Like, what did we think was coming? Every year has been worse. But it was fun because you could do a little Twitter macro of it. You could look at the start of this year. I was Charlize there and looking cute. And young at all, then at the end, I was Charlize there and in Mad Max Veri Road.
Starting point is 00:07:34 I know. And now we're just like, it's just going to be like this forever. One of the things that emerged that was already brewing when we started this show, but that has been incredibly relevant to the past five years of American life has been the overlapping worlds of over-the-top theories about child sex trafficking and claims about how human trafficking slash sex trafficking happens up to and including all those signs in bathrooms. Yes. Especially the ones that say, no, the signs of human trafficking.
Starting point is 00:08:08 And then don't say what the signs of human trafficking are. Yes. There's a joke about this in Jamie Loftus' raw dog. And once you notice it, you never stop noticing it. They're like, no, some signs. Okay, bye. Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, most people interpret that to mean like a child
Starting point is 00:08:23 who has a different ethnicity than their parents. Because God knows that never happens in America. Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, most people interpret that to mean like a child who has a different ethnicity than their parents. Because God knows that never happens in America. Yeah, exactly. As it is. The whole point is to fuel like people calling the cops on people who look different from them. So in a way, the posters are working as intended. Ah, right.
Starting point is 00:08:39 Exactly. They're working as intended to support the conservative American agenda of calling the police at random on mixed race families. Yes. But that's not what they're claiming to be doing, importantly. And when we talk about like how to live effectively in a post-apocalyptic or mid-apocalyptic world, I guess, because what we're now in, I would say, I don't know if people are using that term, but I think it's correct. I have been trying to go see a lot of summer movies, partly because it is so goddamn hot in Portland.
Starting point is 00:09:09 I, what is it like in Seattle? It is 94 degrees right now, and it is noon. So we're like, appreciating a peak of 105 in a few hours. I don't know how you guys do it. It's bad here, but it's not, it's not inland Portland bad. We don't do it.
Starting point is 00:09:23 People die. But the other night, I went to see the Road Warrior, the second Mad Max movie. It came out in 1981. And this also leads me to the fact that this movie, I found so inspiring and really made me think, and made me think about what I'm trying to do with this very show of ours,
Starting point is 00:09:39 is that this movie stars Mel Gibson, and he's really good at playing the Road Warrior. And also, oh my god. Is he, you know, a mainstream anti-Semite culture maker for the ages and for the days? No one ever really gets canceled, do they? It's pretty incredible. You can call someone sugar tits on tape.
Starting point is 00:10:00 I'd be uncanceled like four years later and say like much worse things that I don't want to say. My mom has given up on Mel Gibson, so you know, that's something. He's lost the Carol vote. But it's true, I mean, you like, maybe your star falls, maybe you feel like you've lost everything, but what that probably means is
Starting point is 00:10:18 that you've lost a little bit of your power and safety in the world as you know it. And I don't think anything can ever really take Mel Gibson down. And it's interesting to sort of work our way to our inevitable topic today. VML Gibson, which is, of course, sound of freedom. Yes. But I reached out to you last week and I was like, do you want to re-release our human trafficking episode because it came out a while ago.
Starting point is 00:10:45 It's a really wonderful piece of work by you. And because human trafficking is like, it feels like it's just always, you know, it's always somewhere in the news, but it feels like it's having a spike this summer. And part of that is both allowing the success of and then driven by the success of sound of freedom. And I was like, do you want to talk about sound of freedom as well. And I was like, do you wanna talk about sound of freedom as well? And I was like, no. Absolutely not.
Starting point is 00:11:10 Yeah, you were like, yes, if I don't have to prep for it because I'm incredibly busy. And I was like, I know you are incredible, busy, but also like, you should avoid seeing sound of freedom if you can. I think that's good. Yeah, it just pumps me out so much. Well, it should.
Starting point is 00:11:25 I feel like the whole moral conundrum of the kind of work that we're doing is it puts you in a position where you just have to fucking repeat yourself constantly. Right. And nothing has changed. Like this isn't a real thing. All of these organizations are extremely sketchy.
Starting point is 00:11:39 The underlying conditions in America that drive things like youth sex work have not changed. It's all the same kind of stuff, but then some new thing happens. And what is the stuff, by the way? Well, just like, it's mostly, I mean, as we get into in the episode, it's mostly just like, a lot of it is just like runaway kids that end up on the street and they don't have anywhere to sleep, but they don't have, you know, any options. And so they end up agreeing to have sex with somebody
Starting point is 00:12:05 for a place to stay that night. And under the law, which defines any trading of anything of value for sex by a child as human trafficking, that is technically human trafficking. I will have sex with you if you let me stay on your couch. That technically is human trafficking. So when we get these statistics, they're like, human trafficking is all over the place.
Starting point is 00:12:21 And then we get these sort of like police driven crackdowns. But like, we don't need to arrest these kids. We just need to give them shelter, we need to give them like a safe place to stay and like safe adults to be around and like resources. It's not, we can't send in Liam Neeson and like solve a social problem like, you know, kids who are forced to sleep with somebody for money
Starting point is 00:12:41 because they have no other option. Although it wouldn't be amazing if if he was a Leon Nieson movie where he like takes over like I government agency because he's like so good at like typing in short hand and infrastructure and he it's like a drama movie about him or like creating a new filing system for them which then enables them to do really helpful stuff. This is our spec script. Just like Liam Neeson takes over an administrative agency.
Starting point is 00:13:08 Yeah, it's called organized. It's called, wait, it's called methodology queen. It's called methodology queen. Or it can be called methodology king because Liam Neeson demanded a rewrite. And ultimately it's going to be heteronormative. We need to keep the gender role straight. Yes. We don't want to confuse anybody.
Starting point is 00:13:29 Unfortunately, Neeson's people needed that. Yeah, and sound of freedom to give people an introduction. I feel like this is like very big in the news right now. This came out on July 4th. It was the only new movie to come out that weekend. And so it like, it had a good pre-sale head start. And then it also like got to be the number one movie in America that weekend kind of through scheduling luck, which got it off to a really good start. And it has since made, according to box office mojo, it hasn't been released internationally yet. So domestically,
Starting point is 00:14:05 and in general, it's gross as 172,813,722 dollars. I don't even know movies made that much money anymore. This one does. Yeah. And I think for a while, it was ahead of Mission Impossible, the new Mission Impossible movie, Dad Reckoning, part one. That's bleak. We should be spending our money on like a Scientology weirdo, not a trafficking weirdo.
Starting point is 00:14:31 Yeah, well let me tell you, I like yesterday I was like, okay Sarah, you're recording this tomorrow, you're recording it noon, you can't see the movie tomorrow morning, you have to do it tonight, you have to go to the theater and just see the stupid movie. And so I gritted my You have to go to the theater and just see the stupid movie.
Starting point is 00:14:45 And so I gritted my teeth and I went to the theater. And then- What, you saw the movie? You saw a sound of freedom? Yes! What? Sarah? Yes, however, I got to the theater. And I was like, I can't yet.
Starting point is 00:14:59 I need to do something for me. And so I saw Mission Impossible, Dead Rectoning. What did you really- did you do a double feature with that and the Draftocky movie? Yeah, and then I got two junior whoppers. And let me tell you, those junior whoppers are very junior. They're not in charge of anything. They're so small.
Starting point is 00:15:15 Did you theater hop or did you pay for both tickets? Well, I have a regal unlimited member show. Oh, well, well, well. So each movie cost me 50 cents technically, which is part of how I feel less gross about seeing sound of freedom. Yeah, fair. Yeah.
Starting point is 00:15:30 You're really marginally supporting it. Well, God, what was it like? Well, first of all, Mission Impossible, Dead Rectaining Part One was great. Okay, oh, it's Part One? I did not even know this. Yeah, they're doing like a Deathly Hallows thing with it, but what you need to know is that there's this whole
Starting point is 00:15:43 like great action chase sequence in the end on the Orient Express. Dude, those movies are so dumb and I love them so much. Listen, Ethan Hunt has to jump a motorcycle off of like an Alp in order to parachute into a train. Love it. Give it to me. It's so good. I cannot wait.
Starting point is 00:16:04 So I saw Mission Impossible, Dead Racketing Part One, and I was like, well, that was... I saw a good movie today, no matter what happens. And then I went to see Sound of Freedom, the movie that has made $172 million to give people a little more context. Sound of Freedom was made by its director Alejandro Monteverde. In 2018, it stars Jim Kavizel, who many of us know is the guy who played Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, a movie which while he was filming,
Starting point is 00:16:38 the word on the street is that he was struck by lightning twice while they were making that movie. Oh, okay, that doesn't sound real, but okay. Yeah, and you know, the passion of the Christ is an interesting one because like, I didn't see it because I like non-religious horror movies famously. But I remember when it came out there was this kind of a public debate about like, is it anti-Semitic? Yeah, really?
Starting point is 00:17:00 Technically, but like, probably an actuality, but there was like plausible deniability. Yeah. Which of course now they're no longer is, due to the direct statements of Mel Gibson himself, but it's like, it feels like a classic, like, like the Tea Party stuff as well, how like stuff that happened in the Outs,
Starting point is 00:17:18 that there was plausible deniability around, then kind of is coming out now, as like, completely explicitly linked to fascism, which unfortunately for the director, this movie is with the intention of basically everyone, but the guy who made it, actually I think. That there is a weird thing in American culture now where like it constantly happens that you say something
Starting point is 00:17:40 and everybody's like, you're crazy, that's way out of line. And then like a year later, it's just like factually confirmed. You're like, wait a minute, this... What I was saying was true, but you're still yelling at me, and I don't know why. So what is it actually about? Is it like a kind of normal three-act structure action movie?
Starting point is 00:17:56 There is, okay, so I'll tell you what it's about, and then we'll talk about kind of what's behind it, because that was the order that I learned this in. So it is based on the true story, according to our opening title card, of Tim Ballard, who works for Homeland Security, and he busts this guy who looks like I wrote in my notes, Mr. Gumby, because he looks like Mr. Gumby
Starting point is 00:18:18 from Monty Python, and he has big greasy bangs, and he is charged with possession of a ton of child images. And here's the first thing about this movie, is that I went and thinking of it as a Christian movie because people have debated this and in this variety right up. They're like, it was called a Christian movie by NPR without explanation. And I was like, well, it is a Christian movie
Starting point is 00:18:42 because they talk about God and it's distributed by angel studios and there's this recurring tagline of God's children are not for sale which is like the actual tagline of Operation Underground Railroad which is the organization that you know, who's recently ousted leader, this movie is about. So like it's I think it's like leader this movie is about. So I think it's like, it's fair to say that this movie is part of a Christian agenda even without direct, direct, orial intent. Yeah, that's one of those, like, I'm not crazy for saying this. It seems quite plainly in the text of the film. And also, I've been on our Underground Railroads website at various points over the years. And like, yeah, it's also quite explicitly Christian. Right. Because they're not screaming it throughout the movie, it's like they can call you accusatory and illogical
Starting point is 00:19:33 for noticing it, which is, I think, a really frequent tactic. And so because I was expecting Christian media because it's distributed by angel studios, I was immediately shocked by how not unpleasant it is to watch because the thing about Christian media, I feel like you'll agree, is that like if a production company is Christian, they literally assume that the godliness of their work
Starting point is 00:19:58 means they don't have to worry about acting or audio or editing or anything. Yeah, it's like porn. It is. Get me in, get me out. We. Yeah, it's like porn. It is! Get me in, get me out. We're all here for the same thing. Yep, don't need to spend too much time tweaking the levels. Yeah.
Starting point is 00:20:12 Right, and what do you say? It's really remarkable the amacurishness of media produced by extremely wealthy Christian organizations. Yeah, I mean, there's no reason for it to be good, right? Because there's no actual, they're not selling it in like the marketplace. They're basically just going to make it. It already makes money before it comes out. And then it doesn't have to like turn a profit through ticket sales.
Starting point is 00:20:32 They just like then distribute it to mega churches or whatever. Right. And then it kept seen by literally a captive audience, in fact. Right. It's like those restaurants in like super touristy areas, where it's like the food doesn't have to be good because you're paying for the fact that it's like next to in super touristy areas where the food doesn't have to be good Because you're paying for the fact that it's like next to the fountain or whatever because your kids are cranky and they need Take the tenders and we have all these little cups of marinara sauce and you want them and it's also interesting because like you could argue that
Starting point is 00:20:57 The glorification of God is a reason to make something good sure and yet people aren't doing Yeah, it's like shouldn't you be a better actor if you're acting for God and not is a reason to make something good. Sure. And yet people aren't doing that. Yeah. It's like, shouldn't you be a better actor if you're acting for God and not just because you want to get a part on a soap so you can buy that condo? It's kind of disappointing that the movie isn't terrible.
Starting point is 00:21:17 I was kind of hoping it would be like laughably bad. I know. And so many things like this are. So many things you watch and you're like, ugh, but like I was impressed from the beginning that this is a film made by a filmmaker. Like this feels like it's made by somebody who cares about cinema. And as a result, it is very overbearing and it is made in a way where there's like enough
Starting point is 00:21:42 art and enough intelligent filmmaking going into it that it is like you can feel also the manipulativeness of it. Or like there's enough skill going into it that you literally cannot not care, right? Because the camera spends, I would say, at least 15% of its time lingering on the extremely traumatized, sometimes crying faces of these very talented child actors. And there's two little kid main characters who this movie is about who are a brother and sister who are 8 and 11 for most of
Starting point is 00:22:20 the movie and who we like open looking at the little girl like playing the drums with her flip flops. She has a single dad household which seems like part of why any of this happened but she was singing in the marketplace and this like polished hot lady like saw her and came by and was like, hello, daddy, I just want to take your daughter to an audition for this modeling agency. So she can be paid a lot to model and have a great future. And oh my goodness, your son just came home. Hello, cutie. So it is like the version of trafficking
Starting point is 00:22:59 that essentially doesn't exist. Yes. That's like the airport poster version of trafficking where it's like you're lured through like their charming wiles. Yes. That's like the airport poster version of trafficking where it's like you're lured through like they're charming wiles. Yes, like a complete stranger like see your child on the street either just grabs them or goes through like a somewhat more complicated scooping up and then she'd like bring them to an audition and then come back to pick them up at seven and the dad comes back at seven and and the audition room is empty. And his children have been spirited away,
Starting point is 00:23:28 and they're put in a shipping container. Of course, gothiosthenics. And shipped to Columbia, and this is in Honduras, that the first part is happening. Okay. Jim Kavizel finds out about all this. Okay, and then he goes in,
Starting point is 00:23:43 and rescues the kids, I guess. He saves the brother and then he spends the rest of the movie trying to spend the sister because it also occurs to me. And I'm not saying this in an accusatory way. I'm just saying this in a noticing way. But making movies about rescuing little girls from child sex trafficking by some really evil guys allows you as the hero to be obsessed with a little girl.
Starting point is 00:24:08 Yeah. You know? And also, yeah, I mean, I haven't seen the movie obviously, but there's also this element of like wallowing and like, it's like you're conjuring up the worst crime that you can think of and then like solving it. It's, it feels like very cheap catharsis to me. Yes. And we open on Jim Kovizel's character. He has this younger partner and his partner is like traumatized
Starting point is 00:24:30 by the material they have to review because they've done this bust on Mr. Gumby. And this is where they find out about the two Honduran kids who the movie is about. And so we see Jim Kovizel decide as a rogue homeland security agent, the protagonist American needs to befriend the pedophile. They've just arrested and pretend that he too is a pedophile and get the guy to like
Starting point is 00:24:57 give him a child to abuse. And so he bonds with the guy and then he busts him at a diner. And that is how he rescues the little brother. And then that leads him to go to Cartagena to team up with a guy played by Bill Camp, who is called Vampiro. And he is an ex cartel guy who buys children so he can set them free. Okay. Oh, it's like medical debt. Okay.
Starting point is 00:25:27 Claire Danes with the birds and breakdown palace. Yeah. I saw this was like a 9.30 p.m. screening. And when I got my ticket, I was the only one in there. And I was like, great, I'll be by myself. I can take notes and use my flashlight. And then 10 other people came in including like two different couples as far as I can tell.
Starting point is 00:25:48 And then like some moms and their young kids like out to see it. And I was watching it and I was like, boy, this, this just feels incredibly like a bad idea to bring your little kids to you. And luckily the kids were like kind of talking and tittering the whole time, so I think I were mostly bored by it. But it's so menacing. If I watched it as a small child, I would be terrified to leave my house for a year.
Starting point is 00:26:16 Yeah. Also, those other couples in the theater were definitely podcasters. Like in Portland, or again, at least 50% of the people see this is four podcasts. It's also really funny to think like of someone being like, hey, baby, let's go see Sound of Freedom. I really like this girl.
Starting point is 00:26:33 I'm trying to make the next move. I'm going to take her to a movie. Go see. Put your hand on my leg during Sound of Freedom. A movie that encourages a bare minimum of cuddling. But the filmmaking is all like, it's very effective. It's a little bit too effective. Like it's kind of overscored.
Starting point is 00:26:51 There's like frequent use of like a menacing child choir because singing and what sounds like Latin or something. Can you imagine that? I would be very interested to know what you think of this movie if you ever watch it, which I also hope you don't because- I also hope I don that. I would be very interested to know what you think of this movie if you ever watch it, which I also hope you don't, because I also hope I don't. Oh, wildly unpleasant experience. Like you're just watching kids being menaced.
Starting point is 00:27:15 No, I think, I mean, I always feel kind of bad for like the tone of these kinds of episodes where it sounds like we're sort of laughing our way through this story of something really horrific happening to children. But it's like, I do feel like people need to be more aware of the fact that like the kind of thing that they're talking about in this movie like essentially does not exist. Like there's all kinds of exploitation of poor people and poor children that happens all over the world. And like migration
Starting point is 00:27:37 patterns are a big part of it. But like children being kidnapped and taken on airplanes to other countries. Like essentially doesn Essentially, there hasn't really been a confirmed case of this. By a stranger, right? People get kidnapped by their parents as part of custody battles all the time. But this model of it, what they're talking about is just outlandish. That's why we're laughing our way through it, or why it feels kind of campy to us, is because this is very clearly propaganda aimed at getting a specific political outcome. It's not something that actually cares for the welfare of children because this movement sort of evangelical Christians,
Starting point is 00:28:15 if you look at what they do rather than what they say, this is not a movement that has like contributed all that much to like the actual dynamics of like why children are being abused. Like this is not a movement that has tried to prevent that in any meaningful way. In fact, you could argue the opposite, but that's not even necessary. It's like what policies have they advocated for. It's mostly like harsher sentences
Starting point is 00:28:34 for these kinds of stranger danger crimes. It's not really like, let's clean up the people who have power over children can use that power for genuine evil. Well, right. And also arguably, I think, and I think we talked about this a lot in the past on this show that like, if you construct this outlandish super villain who you are standing in opposition of, right? So if Tim Ballard, the real life leader of Operation Underground Railroad, which is hard
Starting point is 00:28:59 to say, by the way, he receives more leeway and kind of doing whatever he wants or needs to, including taking an annual salary of over $500,000 when donations were declining or saying in an official statement that the best thing the Trump administration could do for the welfare of the children was finished building a border wall. Great, of course. You can do whatever you want, and you can also be part of a faith that in many iterations in America,
Starting point is 00:29:29 talking about fundamentalist Christianity, specifically protects people who abuse children institutionally, sometimes sexually. And I think is able to see that is more something you can cover up, something you can apologize for, something you can push into the shadows, because no one is being put in a shipping container, so it can't be that bad. Yeah, totally.
Starting point is 00:29:50 Or your queer child running away, because you're kicking them out of the home, and then ending up in survival sex work, like you were talking about, you don't have to see yourself as connected to something on the scale of this gym, Kavizal thing. Right. This is an insight that I have stole and whole sail from doing this show with you.
Starting point is 00:30:11 I was like, how much, how much people are acting out basically like their feelings and their anxieties and a lot of these moral panics rather than looking at the actual state of the situation, the state of the statistics. I feel like there's just a lot of emotional needs going into this, typically, especially in these movements, that they're really only looking at the harm of children to
Starting point is 00:30:29 the extent that they can weaponize that against societal others. This is about the evil people that prey on children. But as soon as it's somebody that is anyway connected to them, it's the youth pastor, actually, they're like, was it really abuse? I don't know if it was that bad, right? You're like, you can't ask for it, et cetera. So it's about punishing outgroups. It's not really about protecting children. Right. Yes, completely.
Starting point is 00:30:53 Yeah, and then to wrap up how this movie ends, basically, they figure out that the little girl they're looking for has been sold to a cocaine guy, boss, who lives in the forest. And so interestingly, because this movie was made in 2018, Jim Kovizel and his friend pose as doctors who are coming to inoculate people against an epidemic. So everyone will be nice to them now, right? Ha ha ha. There was some anti-vax stuff in there. So I'm like light anti-vax shit.
Starting point is 00:31:26 And so they gain access to the cocaine compound and Jim Kovizel is like, and it's so, it kind of speaks to what you talk about in this episode we're gonna listen to, where Jim Kovizel like enters the town. His name is Kim Kovizel. There's also a thing, his name is Tim in the movie and he's introducing himself to the little boy and he's like
Starting point is 00:31:46 Tim or Tim Oteo and the little boys like And he's like what that's my name in Spanish isn't it and the little boys like I have a saint Tim Oteo metal Saint Tim Oteo rescues children. Oh, and then obviously he gives him the metal his sister gave it to them when they were in the shipping container when they're being shipped. And you know, Tim, he's no longer just Tim, he's saint Tim. Oh my God. And also, and I feel very comfortable laughing at this, Merisservino gets pretty high billing in this movie.
Starting point is 00:32:17 And I was like, oh God, I'm stressed about Merisservino's level of involvement in this movie. And guess what? She's probably in it for 45 seconds. She has three scenes. She has one line per scene. She's on screen for 10 to 20 seconds. Okay. Sometimes you wonder if they sign up for these things
Starting point is 00:32:36 without like reading the whole script or like, I want to believe is what I'm saying. Right. I really find myself empathizing with the director and all this because his story is that he saw something on the news in 2015. He wanted to do something on child sex trafficking. As he understood it, based on the news,
Starting point is 00:32:57 which Mike, you've pointed out many times before, is often telling exactly the kind of stories that are in this movie. And then while writing the script, he found Tim Ballard, who had left the department of Homeland Security so that he could more freely undertake independent and highly publicized raids of alleged child sex trafficking situations. And so the director Alejandro was like,
Starting point is 00:33:21 yes, I will do a story about this guy. And so they did a story based on him. He made this movie. It has a happy ending. It's like highly emotional. It feels like a very earnest attempt to bring attention to something that the director believes to be going on at least. So you think he did it totally earnestly?
Starting point is 00:33:40 Like he doesn't necessarily know all the context around it. He's just like, wow, this is like hurt and children. I want to make a movie about how bad that is. It feels incredibly earnest to me. You know, I can't guess intent, but like it has the feeling of a very earnest project. And what he said, that's interesting, because he's come out very recently and done interviews
Starting point is 00:33:55 and been like, it's not a QAnon movie. Like my intent was never like when I made this movie, QAnon didn't even basically exist. But the thing is Tim Ballard, who the movie is about and Jim Cavizel, who played him, are both into QAnon. Yeah. And so what do you do when you make a movie
Starting point is 00:34:12 about a guy before he gets into QAnon? But then, kind of as an actual consequence of his belief in the existence of highly organized, gigantic child sex trafficking rings, or his need to believe that they exist in order to promote his fairly lucrative job where he also gets hero worship and such. There's a vice article that points out there is a painting of Tim Ballard where past abolitionists including Harriet Tubman are
Starting point is 00:34:40 kneeling in order to honor him as he walks down a railroad holding a child. So what do you do this guy who you made a movie about? Because you're like, well, maybe he has some troubling qualities, but it's a good story. Yeah. Then it's like, I'm totally on board with this conspiracy theory that matches with my past beliefs that you made this movie about. I will say, I mean, I don't know what happened in this specific case,
Starting point is 00:35:06 but I will say that in general, for conspiracy theories to spread, it doesn't just require like full-on goblins, it also requires a lot of rubs. People who end up spreading this stuff without really knowing what they're doing or don't really look into it. Or they're like, oh, I think I'm helping.
Starting point is 00:35:22 Like I think a lot of the save the children rallies in like the summer of trafficking, whatever summer that was. A lot of the people that were like really well-meaning people and were like my understanding is that kids are being kidnapped, like hundreds of thousands of kids are being kidnapped and like sold into sex slavery and like I'm a human being and that's really worrying.
Starting point is 00:35:39 And so they show up to these rallies without knowing that it's like super QAnon and like what these people are pushing for is these like really odious policies that have like nothing to do with kids at all. But like yeah, a lot of the people who were there were just like nice people who were like, oh my gosh, I read about this thing and it seems really troubling.
Starting point is 00:35:53 Right, and that's like the level that this movie is working on as well. Yeah. Right, the same way that save the children became a slogan of kind of like a shibbolit of yes, I believe in conspiracy theories about QAnon. Yeah. And also, I guess to, to, QAnon is like such a buzzword now.
Starting point is 00:36:11 It's like hard to kind of remember exactly how it started. And it's worth pointing out that kind of originally, you know, the main function of QAnon was to be like, listen, president Trump may seem to not know what he's doing, but he is in fact playing the long game. And he is bringing down all of the major child sex traffickers. And the storm is coming and he's going to crack down on this international conspiracy of elites, including the Clintons and the Obama's who have been both sexually trafficking
Starting point is 00:36:44 children and also torturing them in order to harvest a Drenacrome, which is a drug they get high on. And when you harvest a Drenacrome from a child, their skin turns red, and that's why sometimes you see a woman in the Democratic Party wearing lubotans. They're not a brand of petour or shoe. It means that Democrat women know how to make shoes and they're making shoes out of the children they've killed. I'm not kidding, this is part of it.
Starting point is 00:37:14 No, I love the, I always love the links between like these insane accusations of like their harvesting children for parts. And then the evidence of it is like, oh woman's wearing red shoes. Well, that applies to a number, like a large number of women on any given day. Red is a striking stylistic choice.
Starting point is 00:37:33 Sometimes people like a color. There's only like seven of them. So, you know, either they like red or they're harvesting something from children that may not meaningfully exist. Yes. Yeah. Those are the two options. And I guess I love the idea. But like, who am I abdying or whoever is like going home and it's like, all right kids, don't bother me.
Starting point is 00:37:56 I have to make kids. Yeah. I got 80 kids in the basement. Keep it down down there. Come on. I murdered a child three days ago and I got to use in the basement. Keep it down down there. Come on. I murdered a child three days ago, and I got to use it or toss it. So I just got to, you know,
Starting point is 00:38:11 the thing is you get busy, and you have more skin than you know what to do. Good God. Ah, so anyway, that's because it's one of my favorite parts of it because it's like, if you are told, especially in like the kind of high pressure, emotional appeal way that causes people to lose money to phone scams, like, children are being trafficked right now
Starting point is 00:38:32 and you have to do something about it. Share this article or something, then you can pass on something that includes something that leads to a conclusion such as Democratic women are making shoes out of the children they've killed, that if someone came and shouted at you on social media, you would, you know, there's a reason they don't lead with that part. Right, right.
Starting point is 00:38:55 And also, that kind of stuff is probably not in the movie. Like, does the movie feel conspiratorial at all? Well, that's the thing. I mean, the movie doesn't get into QAnon stuff, but it does show how basically taking a form of child trafficking that like, like the children in a shipping container thing, like as far as I know,
Starting point is 00:39:13 there has never been a case of that occurring. No. And there's a reason that people don't do that, right? Yeah, it doesn't make sense. If you're trafficking children to people who wish to abuse them, then like wherever you are, there is a gigantic number of children who you can do that with who are right there.
Starting point is 00:39:36 Yeah, people do not have the skills necessary to like import children in large numbers because that tends to attract attention and requires like all kinds of like upfront funding. And then the main thing is, if you're looking for like poor children who are easy to exploit, we have a lot of those here, unfortunately, right? You wouldn't import kids from Columbia. We have a lot of people who are like undocumented immigrants and like really desperate and really vulnerable because they don't meaningfully have the protection of the state. And so you can just like tell them, go do this,
Starting point is 00:40:06 and I'll give you $500 and then not pay them. Like there's all kinds of very easy ways to exploit people domestically and locally. It doesn't require this like vast network. And like that's the saddest thing about sort of debunking these things, is it's like the exploitation is happening in some form, right? And the violations and this really horrible shit is happening, but it just isn't happening
Starting point is 00:40:26 in this like up in the clouds, vast, mustache twirling conspiracy kind of way. It's much more like quotidian. It's just like asshole dudes who find like poor, maybe addicted teenagers and like try to have sex with them by trading something or like beat them up or like the sort of the normal shit that we've all maybe become like too used to.
Starting point is 00:40:47 Yeah, or say, you know, if you're addicted to drugs and you need drugs and you have a child, yeah, right? And you can use the child in order to get something that you need. Like the thing about these conspiracy theories is that they require this amazing amount of effort and organization on the part of the abuser, which I think distracts from the fact that the fewer resources you have, the more likely you are to create or end up in a piece of situations for your child or situations where abuse is all but inevitable.
Starting point is 00:41:19 Right. You know what I think about all the time? In our Kitty Genovies episode, the murder where the alleged case is that like people saw this woman being stabbed and like nobody cares because like who cares about being stabbed in cities And then we got all this like decades of like reactionary stuff about how bad cities were in the early stages of the murder What people thought it was was like a domestic abuse incident and like that's why they ignored it. And it's sort of like in some ways the myth is true, right? Because it was a form of violence that people were kind of
Starting point is 00:41:49 turning their heads away from. But it was like this every day form of violence. I'm just like, I might be like a man to be a girlfriend like shit, we're just gonna leave that on its own. But then it's like, oh no, they were ignoring this kind of more stranger danger form of violence. And that is seen as like this huge, like it says something about society,
Starting point is 00:42:07 but I guess it says nothing about society that we're like, I might just be a guy abusing his girlfriend. Right, well, right. And then in 1964, you could, that's the lens, right? You're like, a man abusing his girlfriend, his wife, none of my business.
Starting point is 00:42:21 He knows how much to abuse her. Right. And how to not kill her, but a stranger, that's unacceptable, but it's the same, they're committing the same violence. And it's the same thing here, it's this kind of everyday exploitation of children of kids in horrible foster care situations,
Starting point is 00:42:39 kids dealing with trauma and abuse. The resource is necessary in schools, et cetera. It's like, there's kind of these everyday forms of hurt and trauma that are being imposed onto children. But it's like, no, no, no, no, we want the shipping container. We want the exotic ones. We want one that implies a finger pointing at some sort of societal other that we can do something about.
Starting point is 00:43:00 That we can have this punitive response to. Whereas if it's like, ah, it's their parents or the soccer coach or something like, ah, it's a bit more complicated in those cases. And it's like so much of this is people trying to look away from these like more everyday tragedies that are happening. Yeah, and then, well, and also crucially, it's creating this problem as the kind of crime
Starting point is 00:43:18 that is best solved by high profile buss, which is what a lot of this movie is about. The thing that I was also surprised about by this movie aside from like how watchable it is, which I think makes it more dangerous is propaganda. I know, I'm sorry. I was really expecting it to be more like the Gerard Butler film plane,
Starting point is 00:43:38 which I didn't see, but meant to when it came out, where it's like guys in the jungle hacking through vegetation, doing, you know, commando stuff. But most of it is a lot more like Argo. Oh, yeah. Oh, really? Like aside from the really heavy, like, traumatized child scenes, which I think are so effective
Starting point is 00:43:57 because they show like, again, like I think really quite good child actors, like to show someone truly devastated by something that then you are left to a magsion and a way that is pretty haunting. Then the middle part of the movie is we're setting up a sting operation and making a fake resort for pedophiles, which we will then get the supplier who targeted the little girl at the start of the movie to bring like 60 children to and will arrest the traffickers and save the children. And so that's like the middle part of the movie. So it's kind of and there's like there's good mic drops. It's got a weirdly good soundtrack aside from the overbearing sad strings. So they do this bust
Starting point is 00:44:42 and then they rescue the little girl finally from the Lake Cocaine layer. And something that connects the stuff that you talk about around this topic is that like Jim Cavizel infiltrates the jungle as a fake doctor. He saves the little girl. But he also sees like probably 50 people who are working on this coca farm and who you know logically have also been trafficked there. And he's just like, whatever. I've got the little girl. Yeah, I feel like the ideology behind the sort of movements that are pushing this is very
Starting point is 00:45:15 like La Zé fair. Like they're against government intervention unless government can send in like law enforcement or like war stuff. Like if the government is not doing violence, they're against it. But as long as the government can do violence, they're like, yeah, I'm okay with a little bit of government action. And the movie also makes you'll be thrilled
Starting point is 00:45:31 to hear statistical claims, both in the form of monologues throughout, including also a monologue by Bill Camp that includes the line, when God tells you what to do, you cannot hesitate, which I think is terrible advice. I think when God tells you what to do, you cannot hesitate. Which I think is terrible advice. Yeah. I think when God tells you what to do, you should really sleep on it.
Starting point is 00:45:50 Yeah, what do you mean? Let's define our terms, Bill. Let's think that through. Yeah. And so, you know, in the midst of this movie that also is making the case that a rogue homeland security officer, whose department is too conservative
Starting point is 00:46:03 for his needs, conservative in terms of not letting him bust people. Why won't anyone care about the children? That's always like the premise of these things that like you're like hundreds of children, like innocent children are being like kidnapped and murdered and the whole bureaucratic apparatus is like, eh, I don't see it.
Starting point is 00:46:21 Yeah, he has to have a boss who's like, well, look, it saved me an American it. Yeah, he has to have a boss who's like, well, look, it saved me an American child. Yeah. It's just like so fundamentally conspiratorial. Which is like, when was someone finally care about the children? I know. And I hate to protest too much at times like this, but I do care about the children, you guys. Yes.
Starting point is 00:46:42 We also care. SJWs, like the children. Yeah, single Jewish women. So, we get statistics as well, which is so great. And so, at one point early in the movie, Jim Kovizel remarks that 22 million new child pornography images appeared in the past year. This is something you specifically be bunked, I think, in a different episode. Do you remember that? Yeah, I mean, we talked about this in our sexting episode, that there's been a lot of claims about the proliferation of child pornography online.
Starting point is 00:47:15 My understanding is that it all comes back to the definition because, of course, any image of anyone under 18 is technically child pornography. And so as we talked about on our sexting episode, like there's a massive proliferation basically of like teenagers like sexting each other. And so sometimes those photos end up in kind of the wrong hands and they get posted on like revenge porn websites and it's like awful shit. But sometimes it's just like teenagers like sending photos
Starting point is 00:47:41 to their boyfriend. I mean like here's my boobs or whatever. And so it's a difficult thing to have up because it sounds like you're minimizing child pornography, but it's like the category of child pornography includes like the really dark shit that like sort of conjures up in your mind when you hear about this.
Starting point is 00:47:57 But then also includes like consensual naked photos of like a 17 year old like texting her boyfriend. And so there needs to be like some sort of delineation between those two things. And like people do go to jail on like child pornography charges for like, consensually receiving photos from like someone they're dating like, you know, the guy's 19 and the girl 17 and he goes to jail. Like this is an actual thing that like I don't think is like what people have in mind when they say like crack down on child pornography.
Starting point is 00:48:25 I don't think that's like an outcome that anybody wants. It would be great if there is a Jim Caviesel movie where he like appears in your window when you're about to take a topless selfie and is like don't do it Chasika. Hang on. Yeah. Hyal's gonna break up with you before winter formal. So it's very difficult to talk about this stuff on the internet because it sounds like you're saying that these kinds of horrible images don't matter and they obviously do, but it's just a very broad category.
Starting point is 00:48:52 And what we see with human trafficking is this constant conflation of the kidnapping children, shipping containers, like the really the most awful shit that you can imagine happening in a society with things like like, you know, people from India moved to Dubai and they get jobs in like really exploitative working conditions. And then we group all of that together and we're like, okay, 40 million people get human traffic every year.
Starting point is 00:49:14 But it's like these are really different phenomena and require really different policies to fix. But it's like we now have this giant number that encompasses like crimes that are like a totally different severity, even though they're all pretty bad. Right, and I mean, to talk about the child pornography statistic, like, I think this is part of why it's important to talk about media like this, because it then puts everybody else into the bind of being like, why don't I want to come off as
Starting point is 00:49:38 callous to child abuse, but like, I need to point out that this is not a correct statistic. And like, one of the other ways that it gets inflated is that I believe like there are a lot of inflated statistics on these images specifically floating around that don't take into account the fact that a lot of these images are duplicates of each other. I mean the numbers almost in a sense are unnecessary to the point because the fact that these images are circulating at all, you know, kind of genuine instances of child pornography, the way that we have been taught to think about it, like that's an emergency in its own right, and then you don't need
Starting point is 00:50:17 to kind of add on to that with anything that inflates the problem. And I feel like inflating the problem really is more useful for getting attention, getting money for your foundation and passing laws for harsher sentences that you might be otherwise incentivized to pass partly because it allows you to keep an elected position. Right. I do hate the fact that every time we talk about this, it puts us in a position where we have to actually say,
Starting point is 00:50:41 like I do think it's bad when children are abused. I know. Part of me feels like I know, know that I have to actually say, like, I do think it's bad when children are abused. I know. Part of me feels like, I know that I have to actually say that every time. We have to be like, I'm not like, you think liberals are, where the standard liberal, of course, loves abusing children
Starting point is 00:50:57 and belongs to a child abuse hobby league that meets on the weekends. Right, like, yeah, I just think it's like, what I really object to about this whole thing is that the sort of the right wing framing of this is always like, oh, well, you don't care about kids or whatever, but it's like to solve a problem, you have to understand the problem.
Starting point is 00:51:14 And there's like a deliberate effort to not understand the inconvenient aspects of child abuse, right? Which is that a lot of it is driven by poverty, a lot of it is not like the dark evil hiding in a corner. A lot of it is like this really everyday stuff. And like, it just isn't serious to try to solve a problem while refusing to look at it. Right, but what that does allow you to do is to have a movie made about you where you were heroically played by the guy who played Jesus and the movie directed by the guy who played Mad Max. And so at the end of this movie, Jim Caviesel, they have the closing credits and then they're like special message in two minutes and 30 seconds and I was like, oh, fuck, I got to see
Starting point is 00:51:55 this special message. Oh, they actually tell you that an ending or like a post-credits sequence is coming? It's a mid-credits sequence. Like, stay tuned. No, it's Jim Tavisle showing up. He says that more people are enslaved now than when slavery was legal. Oh, we talked about that one, didn't we?
Starting point is 00:52:12 I think so. I definitely researched that one. It's basically if you define modern slavery in the most broad category possible, it's like anyone who took a job and the job conditions after they start are different than the conditions they agreed to, which is like most of the workforce. Probably many people who worked on that film.
Starting point is 00:52:33 Yeah, I mean, yes, exactly. Like as the strikes show. And then also the population is like way larger now than it was in the late 1800s. So there's also that. But it's like, yeah, this is one of those statistics that again has been debunked like 4,000 times. But like, it doesn't matter.
Starting point is 00:52:48 It's just gonna keep showing up on these things. Right. Well, and then that made me think about statistics. And I was like, okay, what numbers are we talking about? And so in 1860, there are about 31 million enslaved people in America. And so to compare to that, there have been 6.9 million
Starting point is 00:53:05 worldwide deaths from COVID in the past few years. And I would point out that like, I feel like most of us know someone or know someone who knows someone who has died of COVID in America, where the number is smaller than that total, right? Like you can think of people. And yet, I haven't met anyone who's disappeared into modern day slavery, to be honest. Right, not of this nature. Yeah, that's always the thing with these is like they're so implausible on their face.
Starting point is 00:53:35 It's like the minute you stop and think, which is most of what our show has been. It's just like, hey, wait a minute. Stop and think show. The stop, stop, stop, drop and think, which we could have called it. Let's see what this would actually require. And like, yeah, it's show, the stop, stop, drop and think, which we could have called it. Let's see what this would actually require. And like, yeah, it's all, you know,
Starting point is 00:53:48 just like the definition of trafficking itself. It's just sort of fun with definitions. And again, you don't want to downplay, like really exploitative work conditions, especially for migrants right around the world. A lot of people are not protected by domestic labor laws wherever they go, but like, that's much more an issue of just like poverty and exploitation.
Starting point is 00:54:07 This isn't something you can repel down from the ceiling and rescue people from in the way that this movie kind of wants you to believe. It sort of downplays the actual slavery and then it also unplays what is going on now and the kinds of solutions that we need. Right, and it's also at this time when there's obviously the extreme conservative
Starting point is 00:54:27 fear of encroachment by the dream of the theory of the concept of black history or social justice as a concept taught in schools. And it's like, wait, don't learn about the actual slavery that happened in America. When, right, read about the actual slavery that happened in America when, read about these imaginary children that Jim Kovizel is rescuing. They're more important, focus on that. And there's also like, when I was, had not yet resigned myself to seeing sound of freedom
Starting point is 00:54:57 in a movie theater and I was trying to see if someone who just put it on YouTube, I found a reaction video by a crying Russian woman that I feel like could be totally authentic or like an astroturf plant. Who the heck knows, but it was like this woman sobbing being like, well, you are trying to figure out what gender you are. This is happening. And it's like, I really don't think that people are losing so much time thinking about
Starting point is 00:55:22 their genders that they're failing to stop child abuse. Also actual like gay and trans people are the best argument against that because like I don't know one gay or trans person who like it doesn't give a shit about like broader social issues. It's not like excuse me I'm trans. I can't think about the minimum wage right now. It's not like you do one or the other. I don't know how many like people you know in like Portland and Seattle but like you do one or the other. I don't know how many people you know in Portland and Seattle, but that's not really the vibe. As a Portlander, my friends are always saying to me, gosh Sarah, who's the president? I thought I would find out today, but then I spent too much time thinking about my gender.
Starting point is 00:55:59 I just did gender all day. Sorry, oh damn. Forgot to open the Oh, man, I went on a real gender. So yeah, he makes this direct appeal to the audience. And he's like, you know, this movie was made five years ago, but it hit every possible roadblock to come out. And this movie is going to be the uncle Tom's cabin of the 21st century. The baton has now been passed to you. The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. Oh my god. And he's like, this movie needs to stop child slavery. But quote, it will only have that effect if millions of people see it.
Starting point is 00:56:45 So like this movie ends with a direct appeal, which again, I don't even think is the director's fault. Right. From Jim Kovizal, after the studio that it ultimately went to was distributing it, telling you effectively that if you do not support this movie and promote it or use the QR code on the screen to buy a ticket for a stranger who can't afford to see it. Oh. That if you don't help this movie, you will be failing to stop child sex slavery. Oh, okay.
Starting point is 00:57:21 That's a lot to put on me. It is a lot to put on you. I can turn off motion blurring on my parents' TV, but the other stuff is gonna be harder. It's a lot to put on your cute shoulders. Yeah, and so that's the movie. And then I researched the story behind it, much of which I have told you,
Starting point is 00:57:38 which is that after making the movie, both Tim Ballard and Jim Kovizel, Tim and Jim, Jim, Tim, Tim, Jim. The hero of the hour and the guy who plays him both became big QAnon endorsers. Tim Ballard appears to have been ousted from his own organization, which has been criticized occasionally because nobody wants to criticize the child saving nonprofit for seeming to set up bus which the video and put online in order to imply that they're kind of going in like a
Starting point is 00:58:15 commando team and saving large rings of victimized girls in a way that is misleading at best and possibly just fake. And using misleading statistics and information in order to fundraise and also that he advise the Trump administration on human trafficking. So that's good. Also, it's never quite clear what they do with people after they, quote, unquote, rescue them. They check them into a river and hope that they swim out to sea. Right. Because it's like if the if the fundamental driver of this is like basically poverty and, you know, trauma and abuse and all these other like kind of boring structural components,
Starting point is 00:58:52 like you rescue somebody, but then what? Like they still don't have a house, they still have an income, they still they're still dealing with whatever stuff they're dealing with, plus the additional trauma, whatever you rescued them from. Right. This whole rescuing methodology, it's not serious as like a way to address this problem. It's like a great way to get funding and stuff and you can brag about like the number of kids that you rescued, a lot of them. It's like, oh great, you're just sending them back
Starting point is 00:59:15 to the home that they were running away from. Right. It's like, what are we really doing here? It's sort of like the, nobody wants to answer the question like, and then what? No, right, because the movie is over. And the creepy child choir has finished singing. And you got to go throw out the rest of your popcorn.
Starting point is 00:59:31 Yeah, and this is, I guess ultimately, I guess a very sadly predictable outing. I don't think there's really anything about this movie that you couldn't have guessed was going to be in it aside from it being like pre-attractive. So in the whole mixed experience, five out of 10. Rotten tomatoes. Well, and then the Coda, and this is maybe something
Starting point is 00:59:54 Mike that people have been texting you about. They've certainly been texting me about it, is that the headline, which actually I think has been pretty misleading, is that one of the donors behind this movie, or one of the people who helped fund the movie has been arrested for child trafficking. And what in fact happened was that there was a very large crowdfunding campaign for this movie. Like I think they crowdfunded about $5 million.
Starting point is 01:00:16 And one of the many hundreds of people who donated was a guy named I believe Fabian Marta who if you read the charges against him, appears to have aided a woman he knew in refusing to return the children of whom she was the non-castodial parent. Oh, there you go. So it's like the kind of kidnapping, you know, missing children case that actually happens, that inflates the numbers and helps us make it look like stranger danger if we want to. And the people, I think Angel Studios, did kind of an amazing job responding to this news
Starting point is 01:00:54 because they were like, yes, it just shows how widespread child trafficking really is. Wanted even one of our own donors. Actually, we're correct. It's everywhere, including here. Yeah. Yeah. That's one that I have deliberately avoided looking into, because I was like, this is too good of a story.
Starting point is 01:01:11 And I'm sure the details are going to ruin it for me, so I'm not going to look into it. So thank you for fully ruining it for me. You're welcome. Yeah. And the interesting thing about this movie, I think, or one of the ironies is that it seems to be made by someone working in good faith, not trying to promote conspiracy theories, but by not looking
Starting point is 01:01:29 hard enough at the materials he was trying to depict arguably, or, you know, in some way, missing the point, providing really fertile ground for conspiracy theories that he himself does not agree with. Yeah. And then the fact that it makes a better headline for someone who made this movie to be a child trafficker, something actually not relating to child trafficker as we know it, being depicted in an attempt to discredit this movie, but still by using the same misleading tactics that this movie is using.
Starting point is 01:02:02 Right, it would be great if they did a press conference, we're like, oh, we're actually really disappointed at how you're taking this complex issue and boiling it down to a one-dimensional phenomenon. I know. Really Tim? Really? Oh, okay. Mr. nuance over here. Jim Cavizoliel is at you about nuance. Uh-huh. Uh, it's a bit much. Like they get into the math of like, how much can you charge per day and how many times can you abuse a child per day each time
Starting point is 01:02:28 for profit and over how many years. And that's why it's so profitable. And you're like, it's not more profitable than drugs. It's not more profitable than cosmetics, not by a long shot. That, yeah, that just doesn't, I mean, the nice thing about this is that there is in fact not a huge market for like sex with exploited children. That is one of the things that is good. But we would, we choose to believe in a world where there is a huge market for that.
Starting point is 01:02:56 And that's really, it's, I don't know, it's worrying that like we embrace fables that tell us that people who would do that are everywhere, when really, you know, from what you talk about elsewhere, like it is hopefully a relief to know that it's really a much smaller number than are depicted in stories like these, a smaller number than it would take to drive the fastest growing criminal network in the world. Right. We're going to do this. Right. Also, a friend of mine used to be a reporter in a small town outside of Seattle, and there was a church that said they were the fastest growing church in the entire state, and they went from eight people to 12 people in one year.
Starting point is 01:03:32 50% growth. Those are just kind of like inherently suspect to me. We are talking about problems that exist not because it is so profitable to abuse children, like profitable on the scale of a world economy, but just because there are not sufficient resources for children, and because it isn't like sexy and commandowy and exciting to see a movie about somebody working on infrastructure and working on creating resources, you know, for queer teenagers, for example, who are one of the prime victims of this and who, you know, the prime victims of trafficking, is it actually exists and who
Starting point is 01:04:11 we would, you know, prefer to imply a world or to believe in a world where it's all heroes and children and shipping containers. Jump a motorcycle over that Tom Cruise. I would watch it. Tom Cruise has to jump a motorcycle over a mountain of paperwork. That's how he dramatizes him doing the paperwork. Laptops full of Excel spreadsheets. Yes.
Starting point is 01:04:39 That can be your biopic, Tom Cruise. The Hobbs Ultimatum. As a person of the same height as Tom Cruise, I think he is the perfect person to play me. There's ambulances really striking. Untrue, but thank you. Not remotely true. So that's what the experience of watching the sound of freedom.
Starting point is 01:05:00 I had a really, it was just very unpleasant. I had a bad time. It seems like it. It a bad time. It made me sad. It made me cry. I knew that I was being shown the worst kind of propaganda and stories that cause people to dig deeper into dangerous and violent and conspiratorial belief systems. And I was, you know, also still could not help being swept away by the title wave of emotion in the movie, which is the worst way to feel emotional during a movie, where you feel like emotions have been, like, burgl'd out of your potty.
Starting point is 01:05:34 Yeah. And now we're gonna hear our original human trafficking episode. We made this a couple years ago. It was sorely needed then. It's sorely needed then. It's sorely needed now. Unfortunately. Nothing changes. People keep telling the same lies. Same shit. Pretending to fight human trafficking actually does seem to be a pretty fast-growing ring of occasional kind of life. Yeah, yeah. So, you know,
Starting point is 01:05:58 that's worth thinking about. Yeah. Yeah, yes. It's so easy to traffic people on the East Coast. I mean, I have to go to New Jersey for a Michael Bolton concert. Welcome to You're Wrong About, the podcast where we teach you how to succinctly counter your relatives Thanksgiving Day arguments. Ooh, that's good. Thank you. The succinctly is a little ambitious considering how long the episode's a couple. Well, okay, here's how I think this works.
Starting point is 01:06:42 We've probably done like a hundred hours of research for this. We're gonna talk for three to five hours for an episode that's gonna be an hour long. And the people who hear this episode can boil that one hour down to, you know, five minutes of impassioned whisper shouting over stuffing. Yeah, I like that we've turned our listeners just as insufferable as we are.
Starting point is 01:07:03 Yeah, I think they were already insufferable. And they just were wanting tools to become even more insufferable. And that's what we're offering them. And today we're talking about human trafficking. Yeah. So can you tell me what is your understanding of the term human trafficking? So I want to try and connect this to a recent news item. Ooh.
Starting point is 01:07:23 And this is going to be something that I vaguely remember, and you can help me fill in the holes. But basically, there was some female conservative politician who was it? If you're going where I think you're going, it was Cindy McCain. It was Cindy McCain, okay. So it wasn't a politician,
Starting point is 01:07:39 but she's obviously part of a political family. She was on a morning talk show, and she told a story about seeing in an airport or something like that, what she deemed to be a suspicious situation with an adult and a child who she presumed to be in the act of being trafficked. Yes. The evidence of trafficking was that the child was a different ethnicity than the mother. Okay. We do not know if it was like a mother of color and a white kid or a white mother and a kid of color.
Starting point is 01:08:07 Yeah, or like a two non-white people of different backgrounds. But yes, my guess is that that's not what she noticed. Right. So my concept of human trafficking is that, you know, the posters that you see in airports and stuff which is that a white child is somehow being exploited and sold probably for sex or some other nefarious purposes.
Starting point is 01:08:33 That's my understanding of the Cindy McCain verse. Yes, yes. Okay. This is gonna be a fun episode because this is like a medley of all of our previous moral panic episodes. There's some Satanic stuff. There's some repressed memories. So because this is like a medley of all of our previous moral panic episodes, like there's some satanic stuff, there's some repressed memories, there's some bad statistics. This is like when the carpenters would play a medley.
Starting point is 01:08:57 Take it away, Rickard. Yeah. Where do you want to start us? Like what point in time is the best place to begin? So I think the place to start is that the version of trafficking that Cindy McCain is describing and that I think a lot of people have in their heads of children being kidnapped, forcibly taken
Starting point is 01:09:16 from one country to the other. And kidnapped in broad daylight, like, sexed away in a public area. It's not clear there has ever been a confirmed case of that. So I have spent the last two weeks calling human trafficking organizations speaking to sex workers and advocates and people on the Christian right.
Starting point is 01:09:34 I've looked quite hard and I have not found a case of a child being taken against their will by a stranger on an airplane and we'll get into the reasons why. But I think it's important to note that like, when it comes to children, we are in the middle of a stranger danger panic. Hurray!
Starting point is 01:09:55 It's the end of it like, Jesus, we just did this. Like why did we have to go through the same panic that we just had? So to go through a couple of the statistics, one of the things that's really interesting is we have these giant estimates of the prevalence of child sex trafficking.
Starting point is 01:10:13 So I saw one yesterday that said there's 79,000 children in Texas alone who are being trafficked for sex. Another phrase you hear is sold into slavery, which again, you can never say like there's no case of this ever happening because it's a big country and literally everything has happened. Why the, and that word means a lot of things. I mean, one of the numbers that goes around is this is from the US Institute against human trafficking. There are hundreds of thousands and potentially over a million victims trapped in the world of sex trafficking in the United States.
Starting point is 01:10:46 Because of the hidden nature of the crime, it is essentially impossible to know how many for sure. So like, we don't know, but it's more than a million. We have no way of knowing, but it's your worst fear. Yes, exactly. Yeah. And so another number that goes around is that one in seven runaways are likely victims of trapping that comes from the National Center for Missing and Exploded Children, who you may remember from our stranger danger episode for propagating all kinds of terrible statistics
Starting point is 01:11:16 on children's disappearances. And so that claim, one in seven runaways, was fact checked by a Washington Post, column in 2015, that basically found no evidence for the claim. In response to this fact check, the organization added the word likely. So they used to say, one in seven runaways are victims of trafficking. And now they say, one in seven are likely victims of trafficking. It's either a statistic or it's not. That's like saying saying this milk is likely 2% fat. Yeah, and then if they're saying the statistic, then what is that based on any numbers
Starting point is 01:11:53 of any kind or is it just a gut thing for someone? So I called up the National Center for missing and exploited children. I talked to one of their researchers for more than an hour, and the methodology behind the statistic is essentially when people call the hotline, they're missing children hotline, if there is any whiff of trafficking, they mark it as a victim of trafficking. What is a whiff of trafficking when it's at home? Well, what's really interesting is they told me 83% of their calls are from foster care facilities or other state institutions. These are super at-risk kids who have run away for some period of time.
Starting point is 01:12:34 If the person who calls them says, James has run away, we think he might be being trafficked. That's enough. It seems like this is a system designed to create false positives. Yes, one more word. And there's no verification whatsoever. So if I call, I'm a parent. I say, my kid is gone missing. I think he might be a victim of trafficking. He comes back two hours later. There's nothing to take that off of the statistics. So we now have a person who's not a runaway and not a victim of sex trafficking being marked as a sex trafficking victim. They also admitted to me that the same kids can be counted infinite number of times a year.
Starting point is 01:13:13 So if I have a really bad relationship with my parents and they're really abusive, and I'm running away from them five or six times a year, and every single time they call and say, Mike has run away, we think he's being trafficked, that counts as six trafficking cases, none of what you're confirmed. God, like flood data is just like, it's so frustrating to realize it's the solution to our big social problems. It's just like, well, we need more wine. So we need more people who are just
Starting point is 01:13:40 fixated on the details and want to do the like grinding meticulous work of getting things right. Like we just cannot skip that ever. The answer is always more spreadsheets. I also think it's important to note that these are not all reports of runaways in the country. These are reports of runaways that are reported to the national center for missing and exploited children.
Starting point is 01:14:03 Right. So it's a self-selecting group. Yeah. Yeah. There's all kinds of reports of missing children that get filed to various law enforcement agencies, maybe different NGOs. There's all kinds of places you can report a missing child. So this one in seven statistics only comes from people who call them. So it's like if you have the like foreign objects in Muffin's Bureau
Starting point is 01:14:23 and people are calling and they're like, I found a foreign object in my muffin or like maybe I did, it could be. And then American consumers are like, did you know that like half of Muffins have foreign objects in them? And it's like, well, that's just the foreign object Muffin Bureau statistic. That's a little bit specific. That's a better explainer than any of the academic articles I've read on this all of you. I just want to say, I'm just hungry.
Starting point is 01:14:46 One of the things that's really interesting about this is the huge mismatch between the numbers put out by NGOs and the actual numbers of arrests, reports. One of the numbers I found is that in 2017, the whole year, the Department of Homeland Security found 500 victims of traffic Ignatian-wide, and that's adults and children. So we've got numbers of it. It could be more than one million. It's 79,000 children in Texas alone. And then we've got 500 actual confirmed victims. So at that point, it's like, if there's such a disparity between the number of people being identified by the authorities and the estimates, then how are you even getting the numbers? I just, it doesn't connect to me based on anything
Starting point is 01:15:37 I know about any other situation of this kind that you would be able to have knowledge of these many cases, but not take action on any of them. Yeah, especially in a country where we do not have underzealous law enforcement, especially where border issues are concerned. And one of the things I mean one of the things that is central to I think all urban legends of this type like won't someone say of the children Is this idea that we're insufficiently concerned about it, right? It's like, well, nobody's talking about the child sex traffic.
Starting point is 01:16:07 And you're like, actually a lot of people are talking about it. No one cares about white children. Yeah. Exactly. So that is the one demographic that we, I mean, we live in a terrible country for child welfare across the board,
Starting point is 01:16:21 but we do talk about white children a lot. Yes. We do do that. So I think to be fair, one of the people that interviewed this week was a prosecutor for King County who prosecutes sex trafficking cases here. His explanation for why there's this huge mismatch between arrest numbers and estimates of the prevalence generally was that he says these cases are really difficult to try. Because a lot of these people come from very vulnerable families, a lot of them have drug issues, a lot of these people come from very vulnerable families, a lot of them have drug issues,
Starting point is 01:16:47 a lot of them have mental health issues. They have criminal histories that the defense team is going to question them about. So it makes sense to me that those numbers would be artificially low. Right. Third, that we would have lower numbers for this than for other types of crimes that are prosecuted.
Starting point is 01:17:02 Yeah. So I think it's worth taking that seriously. Although I also want to say, you know, this is a prosecutor, right? He is on the other side of the tough on crime, ideological divide, then we are. He's someone who believes in trafficking. He believes it's really bad.
Starting point is 01:17:16 I was asking about the kinds of cases that he sees. And first of all, he's never seen a trafficking case with a pre-pubescent child. He sees lots of abuse cases, but the idea of children being sold, you know, trapped in hotel rooms, he's never seen it. Well, I can see there being cases of that that aren't discovered and that I think there's always all things are possible. And as you often say, it's a big country, But the issue here is not that these things aren't happening, but that if you are taking a story of this case that is horrific because it is about a pre-pubescent child, because it is about the specific kind of trafficking, and then using that to whip
Starting point is 01:17:58 up a public sentiment that allows you to unnecessarily penalize sex workers, then like, that's the issue. You know, not that this thing doesn't happen, but that powerful people are using the existence of a certain type of crime to police a fundamentally different type of crime. Another thing he said about this that I thought was really interesting is that when he deals with underage sex workers, the vast majority of the clients don't know their underage. Because they're lying about, you know, you ask a, you're 18, right? And she says, yeah, yeah, I'm 18, but she's actually 17. Also, if you're soliciting sex, like,
Starting point is 01:18:34 you're not going to entice someone to do an illegal thing with you by telling them that it's also illegal in a more dire way. Yeah. I think, I mean, I think there is, like, you don't want to defend men who are buying sex with underage people, but it's also the morality of it to me feels very different than going into a hotel room where somebody's in some way chained or bound and having sex with that person. It's a completely different order of scale.
Starting point is 01:19:00 Yes. And I think it just is not going to help any of us to see complicated issues as less complicated than they are. I don't think that ever improves anything. One of the other really interesting things this tough on crime prosecutor said to me was that most of the actual cases of quote unquote trafficking that he sees are actually an extension of domestic abuse. What this usually is is people that have a lot of vulnerabilities, they're
Starting point is 01:19:25 leaving the home because it's abusive, or they get, you know, they start dating somebody at 17. There's a period of abuse and then escalation of the abuse. I actually interviewed somebody who was homeless in Portland and she met a guy who was older than her and she says he was the first guy that was nice to me. She grew up in an abusive home. This is the start of so many stories. And so she considered the guy her boyfriend and then he said, hey, you know, do you want to have a threesome sometime? And maybe we can have a threesome, but I'm not part of the threesome and you have sex with this other guy and then it's kind of like, well, maybe you have sex with this guy like I don't really know him, but
Starting point is 01:20:04 But I need you to do it and I'm your boyfriend. Yes, it's kind of like, well, maybe you have sex with this guy. Like, I don't really know him, but. But I need you to do it. And I'm your boyfriend. Yes. That's what she's still actually not sure if money was changing hands behind the scenes. At the time she didn't, but she now considers herself a trafficking victim because that's basically what it became.
Starting point is 01:20:18 But it was an outgrowth of all of this other abuse and her extreme vulnerability. So even this tough on crime prosecutor guy said that, you know, most of the people that he sees are ethnic minorities. They have child abuse in the home. They have very young drug addiction. One of the victims he's working with now, she was addicted to hard drugs by 13
Starting point is 01:20:37 because her mother was a drug addict. He says, you know, when he sees sort of suburban kids like the Liam Neeson myth, it's almost always because they're queer. That creates a vulnerability for those kids that kind of pushes them out of the home and pushes them into networks where they're meeting boyfriends or girlfriends that are able to coerce them because of the lack of self confidence that they have, the lack of support systems that they have.
Starting point is 01:21:01 And society kind of hating them already, which certainly creates a good substrate for being abused in your personal relationships. Well, this is also fascinating to me about the way that this moral panic has perpetuated itself in that if we're thinking of the sort of quote unquote real cases of human trafficking, where teenagers are coerced or manipulated into engaging in commercial sex work by their partners, That's a very specific form of abuse. So why would we be focusing on this one outcome? The outcome of being forced into sex work by a partner. Well, because yeah, there's now this army of trainers
Starting point is 01:21:39 that are going into schools. What did they tell them about? They just told us to not smoke weed until we were 25. I feel like I really don't know. This is from Sherrod Hope International. This is their warning signs that a teenager is being trafficked. Unexplained absences from class, overly tired in class, less appropriately dressed than before. What sexualized behaviors. Oh my God! With drawn-depressed, distracted, or checked out, brags about making or having lots of money. New tattoos, tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Okay. Tattos of a name, symbol, money, or barcode could indicate trafficking.
Starting point is 01:22:20 That's so weird. That's so specific. The barcode one is so hilarious. Like the barcode one shows up everywhere. Wouldn't you get that like iPhone scanner thing at this point, like the ones carrying anyway? I do not doubt that people have done this like somewhere. But again, like this really plays into the idea that we see a lot in conspiracy theories that like everyone does it the same way and there's some kind of national hierarchy. But again, this really plays into the idea that we see a lot in conspiracy theories that
Starting point is 01:22:45 everyone does it the same way and there's some kind of national hierarchy. Exactly. Maybe involved. And also the barcode thing is really important because it's this idea that the numbers are so big that you need barcodes to track all the groups, like their tubes of toothpaste or something. So it's the argument that these are functional barcodes and that the pimps have little self check out scanner guys. Yeah, I'm using. So it's the argument that these are functional barcodes and that the pimps have little self-checkout scanner
Starting point is 01:23:05 guys. Are you using? I also, I know people at my middle and high school that got barcode tattoos, but that's because they were anti-capitalist goths. And they got them as a kind of like, thought capitalism type of tattoo. Yeah, so once again, we have to suspect goths.
Starting point is 01:23:20 Also, aside from the barcode tattoo thing, I think the warning signs of trafficking all sound like being a teenager. Oh, totally. Right. Like you're tired and you look more promiscuous than you used to. I mean, yeah.
Starting point is 01:23:35 You know, Florida just passed a law that every school has to have an anti-trafficking curriculum. Really? Yes. I get, I really, this really bothers me because I feel like we have this narrative too that it's like that women and girls especially aren't allowed to care about staying safe unless the Immaculate Fo is like a scary monster. We're not allowed to talk about keeping safe from normal straight men, especially like
Starting point is 01:24:04 the ones that we marry. We're not allowed to implicate them in our fears for ourselves. But if it's about a monster, then we can talk about it and we can try and keep people safe. But only from the monster. Yeah, yeah. Right. And it's also it's so telling that these trainings aren't aimed at boys. Yeah. And I was going to ask you, have you ever seen like an are you being trafficked sign in a men's room? Oh, no, I don't think so. And like aren't boy children supposed to be being
Starting point is 01:24:32 trafficked and all this? Like is it only girl children on top of everything else that this is supposed to be happening to? Well, this is the thing, it's like a big sign of moral panic to me is when you hold all of these contradictory ideas at once. So oftentimes I'll say like, ooh, it's'll say like, it's usually somebody close to you that's going to coerce you into commercial sex work. But then the next sentence, they'll say, oh, if there's men standing outside your school trying to recruit you, don't speak to them. That seems like common sense advice.
Starting point is 01:25:00 I mean, I want something like that.. It's not hard. Another one of the source list statistics that goes around is that 70% of child sex trafficking cases begin online. This really is Santa's bag. There's something in here for everyone. If you're afraid of the internet, if you're afraid of the migrant caravan, yeah, it's great. It's very diverse. One of the curricula that they're going to be using in Florida
Starting point is 01:25:25 apparently is called My Life, My Choice. And it's a 10 session exploitation prevention curriculum designed to change girls perceptions of the commercial sex industry as well as build self-esteem and personal empowerment. How many perceptions of the commercial sex industry do they have going into this training? Well, this is the thing.
Starting point is 01:25:44 It's like some of the articles about Florida's new curriculum mentioned sort of paragraph 17 that in 2017, there were only 65 human trafficking incidents and there were zero reports of minors being trafficked in Florida. Oh, boy. And so it's like, when we talk about what's actually endangering teens, you know, suicide is now the number two killer of kids under 18 after car accidents. When you ask actual kids, and there's a lot of activism going on around this, they need
Starting point is 01:26:11 help with depression and anxiety. No, no, depression is a sign of that they're being trafficked actually. I remember that from the list earlier. Right. We got the trafficking. Right. Everything will be fine. I think the sort of the counter argument to all of this is like, well, what's the harm
Starting point is 01:26:26 in focusing on sex trafficking? Like, what is it really? What's the problem with teaching kids? And when it comes to sort of the damage of this framing, I think I mentioned on here that my boyfriend manages a cafe in Seattle. And one of the things they've been dealing with lately is there's this kid that comes in who's like 17 and he comes in sort of 3, 4 p.m. like after you know school would be getting out. And he just sort of sits at the cafe and sometimes he's drunk. Sometimes he's drinking something out of a thermos and they're not entirely sure if it's alcohol or not. They're not comfortable calling the cops. So they've called the school and sort of tried to get some information about this kid. It seems
Starting point is 01:27:10 He's not homeless, but it seems there's some reason why he doesn't want to go home and you know They don't really want to pry and it's you know when you think about kids that are at risk. Yeah What help is it to go up to that kid and be like are you being sex traffic? Is that kid at risk of sex trafficking like I guess that's true if that's the way that you want to frame it But like that kids at risk of sex trafficking? Like, I guess that's true, if that's the way that you wanna frame it. But like, that kid said risk of 100,000 things. Putting him into this binary frame of like, it's sex trafficking or else we don't care is not helpful, right?
Starting point is 01:27:37 Because if that kid says, I have a new partner and he coerced me into sex. Well, that's not really trafficking, pal. Sorry. Or like, my parents are abusing me like, that's not really trafficking, pal. Sorry. Or like my parents are abusing me to like, that's not really trafficking. So like, I can't really help you. Like, our organization gives out, you know,
Starting point is 01:27:50 gift bags to trafficking survivors. And like, sorry, your parents are hitting you and you don't wanna go home, but like, it's not trafficking. So it's not really our problem. Like, right, it's this very narrow understanding of like one of the risks. And you think what, all of the other constellation of things
Starting point is 01:28:07 that like that kid might be going through, we need to have some way of gathering information from kids of like, how can I help? What do you need? And we need to care about kids when they're not the victim of the specific big bad that we've decided to focus on the stack. Totally.
Starting point is 01:28:25 And it's also, I mean, this transition is very well into the history of human trafficking and how this is playing out for adults. Act two. Yes. So, do you remember the case of Robert Kraft? No. Do you know who Robert Kraft is? Is he related to the Kraft Mackinches' fortune?
Starting point is 01:28:41 Oh, not that I know of. I only know of the fact about him because he's a sports person. And so I have to look up all sports related facts. Yeah. Otherwise we'll get a bunch of replies about how you said someone played the wrong position. Yes, when you're still coming in. Thank you everybody.
Starting point is 01:28:56 Yeah. Noted, that is noted. So Robert Kraft is the owner of the New England Patriots. Okay. So last year, Robert Kraft was arrested in a massage parlor in South Beach, Miami. Oh. And this immediately went into the sex ring,
Starting point is 01:29:13 trafficking, evil, criminal conspiracy type of framing. So I'm gonna read to you from the New York Times article that came out, there was like a feature story that came out right after his arrest. Beyond the Lurid celebrity connection lies the wretched story of women who the police believe were brought from China under false promises of new lives and legitimate spa jobs. Instead, they found themselves trapped in the austere back rooms of strip mall brothels, trafficking victims trapped among South Florida's rich and famous.
Starting point is 01:29:45 I don't believe they were told they were going to work in massage parlors seven days a week, having unprotected sex with up to a thousand men a year, said Sheriff William D. Snyder of Martin County. We saw them eating on hot plates in the back. There were no washing machines. They were sleeping on the massage tables. Oh, God. Sheriff Snyder said he believed at least some of the women were working to pay off debt
Starting point is 01:30:05 owed for what it cost to bring them to the United States. In some cases, the women's passports were taken away. Trafficers cycled women in and out of parlors every 10 or 20 days, Sheriff Snyder estimated. That seems like a lot of turnover. I would never consider them prostitutes. It was more of a rescue operation, he said. Oh my God. Right.
Starting point is 01:30:24 Okay. I'm glad that this is setting off Ouga noises for you, because it should have for everybody it was more of a rescue operation, he said. Oh my God. Right. Okay. I'm glad that this is setting off a woga noises for you because it should have for everybody else. Also note, all of the information in this New York Times story is coming from a single source. Oh no! Who is he sharing?
Starting point is 01:30:38 Have they not learned since the Kitty Genovies fiasco? Right. Be early 60s. Right? He also, there's a later CNN interview where they're asking about trafficking and prostitution and etc. And he says, I just don't understand why women would go and allow themselves to be trafficked. This really speaks to the binary that I feel like a lot of men and law enforcement believe
Starting point is 01:30:59 in about women, which is that the two kinds are like rescue worthy and prostitute. Yeah. There's also this great thing too, where we build up these perfect victims, but then it's like, oh, they went and allowed themselves to be trusted, right? So even when we find those stories, it's like, uh, weren't they kind of at fault a little bit? Like they let them say someone got herself murdered. Yeah, it's very interesting how volition works depending on the category of person. I mean, I think it's also, so every factual claim in what I just said is false.
Starting point is 01:31:32 Great, everything's wrong. So first of all, there's this great vanity fair article that comes out months after this, of course, where they find that none of the women were from China. Oh my God, at least got the country right. How hard is that? They were Chinese.
Starting point is 01:31:48 Okay. They were already living in the United States. Yeah. The owner of the massage parlor recruited them through advertisements in Chinese language magazines and newspapers in Chicago and LA and all these other places. It was like a normal sort of Craigslist ad that happened to be in Chinese.
Starting point is 01:32:02 Like, come to Florida, work at a massage parlor. So none of them were trafficked from other countries. They crossed state lines, so I guess they've, they did violate the Man Act, which people used to get excited about in the 1930s. That's such a huge spoiler, Sarah. We're going to get to the man. I'm very sorry. That to me is a really important distinction.
Starting point is 01:32:21 Yes. The number of people who are brought to the United States against their will, vanishingly small. The much more common thing is, somebody wants to come to the United States, they pay somebody to take them into the United States, and then they are charged too much, they are dropped into place that they didn't agree to.
Starting point is 01:32:38 There's all kinds of structural vulnerabilities with paying somebody to smuggle you into a country, and those people get victimized at extremely high rates. But there is a difference between people being, you know, clubbed, knocked out in Cambodia and they wake up in Detroit. That doesn't happen. Again, I think this distinction is important because it's based on our unwillingness to confront the deepest culprit in all this, which again is economic and security
Starting point is 01:33:04 domestically. And also, I mean, when you think about it economically, if I'm running a massage parlor, where I'm exploiting young women and sort of in these terrible conditions, and they're working long hours, and I'm not paying them very much, why the fuck would I recruit people from other countries? There's so many desperate people in America. Right, it's based on the idea that there's a shortage of people in America who would do anything for a decent paycheck, which like, what a weird thing to believe.
Starting point is 01:33:34 Right, it just doesn't make any sense when it's like, you can just put an ad in a newspaper and people will apply for jobs like when terrible farms, terrible food processing plants, when they have job openings, they put ads on Craigslist and people will apply for jobs like when terrible farms, terrible food processing plants, when they have job openings, they put ads on Craigslist and people apply. I mean, look at the, what was it, a poultry processing plant in Mississippi that was just rated by ice? And that was a raid carried out, I think,
Starting point is 01:33:56 because the boss didn't wanna pay his workers and it was cheaper to just have them all scooped up by law enforcement. I mean, those weren't people who had been kidnapped and brought to the United States in order to work for insufficient wages. They were people who had taken those jobs voluntarily because there was nothing else for them and then had their lives destroyed because of it. And no one had to take anyone across international borders to achieve that.
Starting point is 01:34:21 Right. And if I'm like an asshole poultry plant director guy, why would I spend money on plane tickets and like reaching tentacles into Guatemala to like find workers for my low wage, low skill jobs? You can really tell a fake conspiracy by the fact that it's just economically impossible. Exactly. Why would you exploit people in a different country when there are plenty of people you can exploit in your own county? So I think that distinction is extremely important. Whenever we talk about trafficking, we need to be really clear that there is a huge difference between people coming here and people being taken here. And the reason why it's dangerous to come here is because there are no laws that allow people to come here legally, right?
Starting point is 01:35:05 Like, why is there an economy of people that will take you across the US border for $10,000? Because there's really terrible immigration policy. Yeah, again, we're saying we'll solve this problem if we strengthen our border or if we make it harder or more punitive for undocumented people to come to the United States. And it's like, no, like that's going to make it worse. Because that means that you will own more money to someone who's smiling at you. And you will have even more justification
Starting point is 01:35:32 to work you to death. One of the other factual claims that the Sheriff makes is that they're working seven days a week, having unbredicted sex with 1,000 many years. It doesn't appear that there was any sex going on like intercourse. All right. These cops spent six months surveilling this massage parlor,
Starting point is 01:35:49 which is a huge waste of their time, by the way. Yeah. So they had all kinds of weird hidden camera shit going on. And in six months of surveillance, they only found 20 people who got any sex acts. The vast majority of them were hand jobs and a little bit of it was oral sex. There were a couple instances of oral sex, but there was no sexual intercourse.
Starting point is 01:36:08 There's also the women were not living on the premises. Only one of them was living on the premises. And it was because she was living kind of far away. So the owner of the massage parlor would actually pick her up in the mornings and drive her to work. And then there was like a car trouble or something. And her boss was like, Hey, you know, do you mind sleeping at work for a couple nights? Because like, it's getting harder for me to pick you up. So she's like, Yeah, okay. Okay. Maybe that's explodative. Like, it's not great, right? Right. It's not. We're talking about something that like does connect to things that happen in our world, right? Right. But the version of that event that seems most likely is supported by America as it is.
Starting point is 01:36:49 Totally. The also, I also, in research for this story, I also found out about something called, have you heard of something called rub maps? No, my first mental image is like, what if you had a road map or a state map and you could scratch and sniff different areas to smell like their food specialty, so you could have like, you know, you scratch cans of sin and it smells like barbecue. I'm sure it's not that, but wouldn't that be great?
Starting point is 01:37:09 Yes. So rub maps is the apparently yelp for massage parlors? Well, that makes sense. People can rate different massage parlors, talk about their experiences. So there's reviews of this massage parlour on rub maps apparently. And half of the reviews are men
Starting point is 01:37:25 Complaining that the women at the massage parlor won't give them hand jobs Which implies to me that there's some level of control? Yeah, and what they're actually doing or like you could you could look at that and be like okay like consent Could very well be an issue here, right? Because we have women who have traveled for this job So it is expensive to move. Like, it's an expensive economy to be living in. And this is an illegal trade that we're looking into. So we could take this seriously and be like, Hey, like, do you
Starting point is 01:37:55 feel pressured to give hang jobs? If someone's like paying a couple hundred bucks to get a hang job, like, are you getting a fair cut of that? Like, how is that? Yeah. You know, obviously the police are not like a union for sex workers, like they are in my fantasy, but, you know, like these are the questions that are relevant at this point. Yeah. So it's like, you don't want to help women. You want to save women.
Starting point is 01:38:15 That's great. Yeah. And there's this, there's a great quote in the vanity fair article where she's talking about how officers are interrogating one of the sex workers for apparently hours. And she's the only one who's had her passport confiscated. It's not clear sort of who has it or why she eventually says that her boyfriend actually took it and that he had pressure her into working at the massage parlor. But then she later recants that and says, I just wanted to get out
Starting point is 01:38:42 of the interrogation and I was telling them what they wanted to hear. The author of the Vanity Fair article is talking about this long interrogation of her. And she says, it was somehow easier for law enforcement officers in South Florida to believe that the women had been sold into sex slavery by a global crime syndicate than to acknowledge that immigrant women of precarious status hemmed in by circumstance might choose sex work.
Starting point is 01:39:03 Oh my God. All of this goes back to this idea that first of all, people cannot consent to sex work. Sex work is inherently exploitative and that they have to be rescued. We're getting into like, very witty territory, but I feel like if we're gonna talk about like, issues of consent and you know,
Starting point is 01:39:22 can someone consent to sex work? Like, A, yes, I think that they can. And B, if you are worried that sex workers are unable to meaningfully consent to the vocation that they're in, then like make it so that they can have another job. Yeah, give them something to do to reasonably support themselves. Right.
Starting point is 01:39:40 Give them better alternatives if you don't want them to go into sex work. Exactly. And it's also, I mean, I spoke to a really interesting sex worker in Chicago who's been doing sex work for years. The way that she got into it was she had a kid right after she turned 18. The kid had asthma and there was this machine that helps him breathe that she has to rent on a daily basis. It cost $89 a night and she was working at Denny's. She basically just was barely getting by,
Starting point is 01:40:07 or really not getting by, so to slowly syncing. And so one of her customers at Denny's offered to pay her to have sex with him after her shift was over. And that was how she kind of got by for many years. And since then, she has ended up homeless at times. She says that was the most physically dangerous time because a lot of people target homeless people
Starting point is 01:40:30 for sex work because they know that nobody is gonna believe you. If you say this guy raped me, this guy was terrible to me. Yeah. Since then she's gotten a day job, she's gotten a more stable place to live. She still does sex work, but it's a much smaller
Starting point is 01:40:45 number of clients. And she also does phone sex, which is a form of sex work that I had completely forgotten about because there's been so few movies about his lately. But what's interesting to me is when we think about this myth of trafficking, you could easily cast that guy in the denies as coercing her into sex, right? Like, this is a guy that offered money to his denys waitress to have sex with him. Like, that's a dirt baggy thing to do. But then when she talks about the story, she acknowledges that, of course, there's an element of coercion there. But first of all, it was the medical bills that were coerced there. Right. And like, people are vulnerable enough working in legal industries where they don't have unions, you know,
Starting point is 01:41:26 think about what it's like if admitting to practicing the trade that you're in means that you've got arrested, I mean, it is impossible to have rights in that situation. Right. I also think taking the right wing argument seriously that like there's no such thing as consenting the sex work, it's inherently exploitative. Fine. I don't agree with that, but like, if that is true, then the question becomes, say your sex worker, you're working in this massage parlour, it's super exploitative. I'm now gonna go in, I'm gonna arrest your boss,
Starting point is 01:41:56 I'm gonna shut it down. I'm gonna take away your source of housing, right? Because part of the myth is that they're living there. I'm gonna take away your source of income because you're no longer gonna have a job. So like, you're welcome. I've just rescued you. Yeah.
Starting point is 01:42:10 Even if you're this right wing, pull yourself up by your bootstraps person. Okay, then like those people need a bunch of money. Right, and what if you just take and they're only bootstraps away? Yeah. I guess the assumption is that they have been forced into sex work and now they don't have to do anymore
Starting point is 01:42:24 because this corrupt organization that forced them to be having sex work. And now they don't have to do anymore because this corrupt organization that forced them to become sex workers is gone now. Yeah. And so now they can skip away and do whatever they want, which is what? Right. There's a survey of sex workers in Britain, all of whom are foreigners.
Starting point is 01:42:40 Only 6% of them said that they were deceived in any way by coming to the UK. What they were deceived anyway by coming to the UK. What they say is that they went to the UK to like work at coffee shops, but either they got those jobs and the conditions were shitty and they couldn't pay their rent, or they just couldn't get those jobs. And so a lot of them sort of started doing sex work because they didn't have a lot of other options. Right. But it's also like, well, what are those people need?
Starting point is 01:43:03 Like, how do you rescue them from sex work? It's like, pay more at the coffee shops. Right. But it's also like, well, what are those people need? Like, how do you rescue them from sex work? It's like, pay more at the coffee shops. Right? Like, hey, have a lower risk. Stop complaining about how much your espresso costs. Yeah. I didn't think you were going to espresso, so that's much harder than giving a hand shop to.
Starting point is 01:43:18 My god, there's so many levers on those things. And this goes back to like the entire history of this whole thing, that the origin of trafficking has always been about saving women, mostly white women. Yeah. I've been reading all these historical documents and they all include the names of old laws of sort of like how this works. So there was the precursors to this.
Starting point is 01:43:39 There's something called the 1870 Act to prevent the kidnapping and importing of Mongolian,ian Chinese and Japanese females for criminal or demoralizing purposes. But only Mongolian Chinese and Japanese, if you're allowed to, then you can just rock off. It's a rock off. There's one in 1875 that has in the preamble
Starting point is 01:44:01 that it's trying to end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women. Interesting. Which then morphs into the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. So the Chinese Exclusion Act is fabulous. Began as a sex trafficking panic law. Yeah. I interviewed a human smuggling expert who I cannot name because he's an old friend of mine and his university will not allow me to name him because they have like weird restrictions. I mean one of the things that a human smuggling researchers told me because he's looking into the history of this too is that every time we've had a resurgence of the trafficking panic we've had a crackdown on immigration. That is, that's classic. That is a stone-called classic. The extremely important reframing of human smuggling to human trafficking is
Starting point is 01:44:47 Human smuggling sounds kind of defensible. Right people are sneaking into this country because they want to be here Human smuggling is how some enslaved people escaped by the day and he mentioned this too that there's also great stories of people smuggling Jews out of Europe when the Nazis came to power We sort of understand that to be a much more complicated concept. But then as soon as you say, oh, there's trafficking people who are being brought here against their will, then it's like, oh shit, we really need to crack down on the borders
Starting point is 01:45:13 because they're not migrants, they're not coming here for jobs, they're being kidnapped and taken. Right. And it's interesting because it doesn't criminalize the person who is trying to cross the border. It demonizes the person who is theoretically moving them, but then it makes them into collateral or evidence or something. Yeah, this is, I mean, this is what he said, too, that the difference between trafficking and smuggling is that in human trafficking, the person coming into the United States is a victim.
Starting point is 01:45:41 Whereas in human smuggling, the United States is the victim, right? It's a crime against the United States to smuggle someone in, and there is no victim. So what trafficking does is it allows you to reframe, oh, some percentage of these migrants are really worried about that, like, they're not choosing to come here on their own volition. I'm not racist, but I am concerned. What's really interesting is this whole thing gets wrapped up in this concept of white slavery from the early 1900s.
Starting point is 01:46:13 Are you familiar with this? Yeah, just this idea that, I mean, the classic idea that we have now in different clothing, that, I mean, this kind of birth of a nation idea almost in a way, right? That like white women are constantly being preyed upon by an ethnic other who wants to kidnap them and smuggle them and just do something terrible. There was something called the 1904 International Agreement for the Suppression of White Slave
Starting point is 01:46:36 Traffic. That's one of the first times the term trafficking is used. I was going to ask when that started showing up. I'm surprised it's that old. And it's also, it hasn't changed at all. This is the same stuff we see now. So there's this great article by Janie Chung where she talks about the concept of exploitation creep where trafficking has always been a bad thing, but over time, we've expanded the term trafficking to cover more and more and more human behavior.
Starting point is 01:47:01 And it's now just behemoth that covers like 50 different activities. Yes, so what did it originally mean? It originally meant, this is what she says in her article, that the word trafficking denoted the cross-border movement of white women and girls by force to seat or drugs for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Okay.
Starting point is 01:47:20 White women and girls by force to seat or drugs. It's amazing that we were so transparent. Just over 100 years ago, we were like, this is a law about white girls. So now it's like, that's so the unspoken thing at the bottom of everything, but it's the one thing you're not allowed to explicitly say. Right. And it's, I mean, the DNA is all there. I mean, this is like how bad it gets.
Starting point is 01:47:42 Is in the actual law, it defines a victim as a white woman who is a victim of the animal lusts. No, the dark races. Oh, no, no, no. What's really interesting, oh my God. Oh, this is what Jenny Chung, this really interesting researcher told me, was that a lot of this comes out of the anxieties over slavery ending and a huge anxiety over women's rights that you have women who are starting to show up
Starting point is 01:48:10 in interracial couples. Right. And they can't be doing that on purpose. Right. And so all of these same gut level anxieties are there in the very beginning. And this initial panic culminates in the 1910 Man Act with the way that a Janie Chung puts it is,
Starting point is 01:48:28 which sought to maintain the morality and purity of white women by prohibiting women from crossing state lines for immoral purposes and criminalized interracial couples. So it's like from the very beginning, trafficking has been a way of talking about basically like race mingling that makes us uncomfortable. Or that interracial relationships can only exist in the context of
Starting point is 01:48:52 sex crime, right? But like, it's not that we're criminalizing interracial relationships. It has to be a sex crime. There can't be consent. It has to be someone's being recruited for nefarious purposes. It's not that we're criminalizing these relationships so they don't exist. Right, Jesus. What happens over time is, eventually people sort of accept this framing, but they think that white slavery is too narrow. By 1949, the International convention to suppress trafficking in persons and the exploitation of the prostitution of others,
Starting point is 01:49:28 these names. But by that point, trafficking has now expanded to encompass people of all races, all genders, all ages, and it can also be transnational or domestic. Holding hands under a rainbow. So we already see this good faith effort, I think, to be like,
Starting point is 01:49:46 well, you know, white slavery is a pretty bad term. Other people can be victimized. So like, we need to expand the categories of people that can be victimized by this bad behavior. So I talked to this researcher named Ron Whitezer about this. And he says there's then kind of this period of dormancy. The term kind of goes quiet for a while. But then it explodes in the late 1990s and especially in the 2000s. And what's really interesting to me, because I'm trying to sort of find the genesis of this, you know, how did we get to like trafficking becoming a thing? And what this guy Ron Weitzer told me was that it's one of the few times when it's not a bottom-up phenomenon, like stranger danger, there really were kids that got murdered
Starting point is 01:50:30 in these horrible ways. Right. But he says one of the unique features about human trafficking as a moral panic is that it's top-down, that there weren't cases of human trafficking that sort of captured the public's imagination. Right, because we should be able to think like, oh, yes, the baby lies a case from 1925 that started. That's the thing. I mean, that's at the beginning of this conversation. It was like we were trying to open a kinder egg with nothing inside of it. I can't think of even the cases that would have
Starting point is 01:51:02 inspired this. Right. This is what's so interesting is that in the late 1990s, what started happening was you will recognize this, a coalition between neo-conservatives, the Christian right, and feminists. To start pushing this. Those never end well. It's actually fascinating. I mean, this is another example, just like we talked about with victims' rights, where basically this argument
Starting point is 01:51:27 that prostitution is inherently exploitative came out of this idea that prostitution is fundamentally about the patriarchy, and it's something that benefits men. I mean, there are ways in which that argument makes sense to me. I just don't take it to that conclusion. Right. And so a lot of first wave feminists started pushing this idea of trafficking because they were losing the wars over prostitution from the 1970s and the wars over
Starting point is 01:51:53 porn in the 1980s. Yeah. That the country was getting much more liberal and this idea of abolishing prostitution wasn't really working. The idea of abolishing porn, like especially the, you know, the internet was starting to exist in the 1990s. Yeah, I mean, we'll talk about this in greater detail in another episode. I'm sure, but that Andrea Dworkin had attempted to pass anti-porn legislation in parts of the US and Canada. And it had been really kind of,
Starting point is 01:52:20 had had a couple of little successes, but it had been a resounding flop. So there was really, you know, whatever happened was repealed and that this was a movement that couldn't get off the ground on the terms that were currently being argued. And it's really interesting because some of the quote-unquote villains of the sex trafficking panic
Starting point is 01:52:40 are the heroes of the early sexual harassment cases that we talked about in the Anita Hill episode. Catherine McKinnon, for example, who's a really important feminist. And a very complicated figure legally. Yes, exactly. And I think it's tough to tell the story of sexual harassment without this as an epilogue,
Starting point is 01:52:56 and it's tough to tell this story without sexual harassment, the early cases as a prologue. You know how I feel about heroes and villains, right? If you start off seeing everyone is just like a person then you don't have to become so confused when they have different roles and different movements. Yeah. I think we're getting into the whole problem with work as historians, essentially,
Starting point is 01:53:17 which is that you're deprived of these nice star wars, right? Yeah. History is a non-binary affair, I must say. So because they're kind of losing these domestic wars, what they do is they reframe pornography and prostitution as fundamentally non-consensual acts, and they reframe them as kind of politically neutral things that, you know, this isn't about prostitutes in America. This is about poverty in the third world. Like, this isn't, you know, messy political stuff.
Starting point is 01:53:49 What it really is is, you know, most of the prostitutes in America, they were taken here against their will, they're being prostituted like a thousand men a year and 14 hours a day, and it's this terrible thing. And all of a sudden, you're not talking about banning prostitution anymore, right? You've done this shift where all of a sudden it's like, no, we want to fight poverty. We want to save girls. We want to free people from slavery and the prostitution is sort of secondary or tertiary and people start not noticing what you're really doing. Okay. So it turns into a very sero.
Starting point is 01:54:22 It turns into a zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci.
Starting point is 01:54:30 That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. That was a very zero-sci. What I'm expressing with that particular exhale is that there were good ingredients that went into that. Right. It's like you're watching a YouTube cake tutorial and they put cake ingredients in greetings in and then they just like put in a bunch of kitchen
Starting point is 01:54:48 cleaner and then they throw it in the oven and it's like, what did you think would happen? Yeah, there was a moment when it could have been a cake, but then that moment ended and we can't go back, right? But that that it starts off as as is coming from a place of genuine concern. And like, yes, like again, like people shouldn't have to do sex work against their will.
Starting point is 01:55:06 People shouldn't have to do any kind of work against their will as a matter of fact. But do you care about the demographic that you're claiming this is about or are you really just trying to wipe out sex work and your previous arguments haven't landed? And you need to cultivate the kind of allies who will be swayed by this kind of argument.
Starting point is 01:55:23 And you're maybe trying to annihilate something that shouldn't be annihilated, and the reason that you haven't been able to so far is some proof of that. Yeah. And also to give them some credit, you know, in the same way that the Stranger Danger Panic Illustrated and some real needs, the law at the time didn't really recognize the idea that you could be coerced not through physical force. Yeah. Someone can sort of manipulate you into doing something without putting a gun to your head.
Starting point is 01:55:47 Right. Right? Or if you're in a really abusive relationship, you might find yourself committing crimes or doing other things that you wouldn't do otherwise because you're afraid of the long-term consequences. There's no immediate threat. Yeah. But if your husband is beating you regularly, he doesn't have to say, I'll beat you if you don't do this. the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the idea of the consequences that we like to think we would have to be facing in order to do something we don't think that we would normally do.
Starting point is 01:56:26 There's very little legal recognition, I think, of the fact that our autonomy is a very fractional thing. Yeah. And also, I mean, this also intersects with a rising generation of evangelicals. They also were losing a lot of battles, right? That the culture was shifting underneath them. And so what these younger evangelicals did was they started getting away from stuff like gay people and prostitution and things that were sort of not going to land anymore. They went to these issues
Starting point is 01:56:58 that they could still get moderate. And so what you have in the late 1990s is Christian groups that start focusing on global warming, HIV, AIDS, globally, and human trafficking. Right. Africa is like the center of the innocent, victim, industrial complex really. Right. And so in the way that Whiteyear was talking about in this top down push, they find a very good friend in George W. Bush, who gets elected in 2000. Oh, it's a bush joint. Oh, it was created to suit his fragile little mind. Yeah, and so they passed something called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which as will not surprise you at all, there's nothing in there about protecting victims.
Starting point is 01:57:41 It extends a bunch of sentences. It creates, as we've seen the other moral panics, it creates laws against things that are already illegal. So it doesn't criminalize anything new. It just jacks up sentencing for other stuff. Yeah, exactly. It's filling a hole that is already filled. So the only actual victim's protection that it has
Starting point is 01:58:01 in the law is the idea of a T visa, which is a trafficking victim visa, basically. It sounds like a gift card for testosterone. But what's really interesting is, you know, as usual, nobody digs into the details of these plans. So the actual TVSA, the way that it works is it's temporary. It gives you a one-year extension of staying in the United States, and it's conditional on participating in the criminal trial against your trafficker. Oh, Jesus Christ. So this creates an incentive where even if you're not really a victim,
Starting point is 01:58:37 like you weren't really coerced into sex work, there's no answer to say that you were. Because that's how you get human rights. Yes. Totally. And the thing is, I mean, everybody brags about this program and how great it is, but a tiny number of people even get it every year. It's only 600 people get it every year. And the fine print for the TVSA is that, you know, it's temporary,
Starting point is 01:58:58 but you can also apply for this thing called a UVSA, which is permanent residency. But this is a system for every victim of any kind of crime. So if you're immigrant and you're a victim of domestic abuse, like this is the kind of visa that you apply for, there's 60,000 applications per year and they only give out 10,000 of them. There's already a backlog of 150,000 people. Oh my god. So we're 15 years. There's like a 15 year waiting list. It's like trying to get a new liver basically
Starting point is 01:59:25 Yeah, and like that's as good as it gets like that is as worthy of protection as you can get as An undocumented person in the eyes of the law Oh, you know the thing that I cannot get over when we talk about trafficking in the traffic in panic The issue that gets the most attention is fast access to these laws the past I think last year or two years ago Yeah, they basically took down any online ads for sex work. And like famously, I think was targeted at backpages, right? Yeah. And they're like, they're awful.
Starting point is 01:59:53 There's a really good reply all episode about how bad they are and everybody should go listen to it. Yeah, I love that reply all episode. But what's really interesting is there's also local versions of backpages that have also been caught up in the last couple years, not necessarily under Sustafosta, but other basically local laws. So there's one locally in Seattle called the Review Board, which was essentially Reddit for sex workers and clients, where people could post ads, people could also post reviews. The sex workers that I spoke to,
Starting point is 02:00:23 who had profiles there and posted there said that it was really positive in that if a guy was a total prick, you could post on there with his profile and his information and say, this is what happened, he showed up drunk, he hit me, whatever it was. And the sex workers would then, of course, say, well, we're not gonna see that guy anymore.
Starting point is 02:00:43 And the men would post and say, hey, man, you're making us look bad. This is bullshit. There was all kinds of stuff on there about consent. And about it's okay for them to say no. And it's not okay to curse them into sex if they say, sorry, that's not a service I'm offering. Or I don't really feel like it tonight.
Starting point is 02:00:58 Sorry about that. And then a couple of years ago, the cops came in and shut it down. And so the way that I found out about this and the way that most people in Seattle found out about this was there's a big trafficking raid. We found a sex ring. It's all trafficking. It's all terrible.
Starting point is 02:01:14 It's a ring. If you call something a ring, it's automatically so sinister. Right. Yeah. And so some of the women that we're posting on their view board were from South Korea. And so this of course got wrapped up in the sort of, they're being brought here against their will type of narrative and they're working 14 hours a day
Starting point is 02:01:30 and they're not making any money. Blah, blah, blah. It's just so weird what we want to read, situations not at face value for kind of what we're seeing, but we're like, well, we have this thing that we really want to find. Yeah. And we're going to take anything that to any degree supports the scenario we want this to be. And then we're going to say it's that scenario.
Starting point is 02:01:51 Like that's a really bizarre way to be attempting to solve social problems. Yes. And just like barreling forward without actually showing any interest in what's actually going on. Yeah. So what's fascinating is then later, of course, none of this shows up in the original news reports or the prime time specials that ran about this quote-unquote trafficking ring, is that there was no evidence
Starting point is 02:02:13 that anybody was being coerced into sex, that these quote-unquote 14-hour days, that the women were working. The only evidence for that was that on their advertisements, they would list their availability as 14 hours. So they say, I'm available for appointments between 10 a.m. and midnight. Yeah.
Starting point is 02:02:31 Incredibly, there's no evidence that any of the quote unquote pimps were having sex with any of the sex workers or were providing them with drugs. They were kind of like managers or promoters or like a book agent. They were placing ads for them. They were helping them with like various logistics things.
Starting point is 02:02:48 They were like actually doing their jobs. Yeah. And also, I mean, what some of these sex workers have been telling me is that like the whole concept of a pimp is, I mean, first of all, racialized. Yeah. Secondly, that relationship doesn't really happen as much anymore because of the internet. That it's relatively easy or easier to set up dates in places like hotels, or places where there's sort of enough people around that if something bad happens, there is help available.
Starting point is 02:03:13 It's not this idea of like exploitative pamps, obviously, you know, it happens in the world, but in general, the internet's been really good for sex workers to be able to have much more independence and a lot of times the power relationship is actually the other way around now that the sex workers will kind of hire men to do things like screen clients to place ads for them, to do things like, you know, drive me to this appointment, you know, pick me up at the airport when I come back, et cetera. So yeah, so like to have someone around as a heavy
Starting point is 02:03:41 who you are employing. Yeahing and who is dependent on you. I mean, that seems like a good system. Yeah. And so in this particular case, the quote-unquote brothel owner, Pimp Dudes, the women were charging 300 bucks an hour and the guys were taking 100. Hmm. So maybe that's too much. Maybe that's unfair. No, no. No, it's right. Like, I don't know the industry. But to me, that doesn't seem on the face of it, like an obviously exploitative number.
Starting point is 02:04:06 Right. And so at the end of this whole thing, what's amazing is the only people that actually went to jail, nobody was charged with trafficking. Of course, the only thing that they got were these second degree promoting prostitution charges. One of the guys, one of these quote, quote, quote, pims, who of course, tarred as like the worst, you know, chaining people to radiators, the worst imaginable traffickers. One of them does 60 days in jail and 30 days of community service. You caught the trafficker at the center of the ring and yeah, I mean, thank god they didn't bring in a disproportionate punishment just to save face. I mean, yeah, that's, I mean, that's one nice thing about it. One of the other guys that went to jail for 21 months was a kid who the only thing he's actually charged with is helping the sex workers post ads and picking them
Starting point is 02:04:53 up at the airport when they would travel. So one of the myths of this is that like the traffickers are moving them around the country and they're being taken from place to place. There's no evidence that these women ever traveled with another person. They were going to other places and a lot of the sex workers told me that this is something that you do because if you're a new face in an area like you go to albacurky or whatever, you get like a wave of clients because they haven't seen you before. Like modeling. Yeah, exactly. So it makes sense to move around. Also apparently people pay more in certain cities like New York and LA. That makes sense They're used to paying more for sandwiches
Starting point is 02:05:30 So there's no evidence that they were being taken anywhere. They were just going on their own to those places to earn more money and then Coming back and this guy would pick them up at the airport. It's just such bad faith You know, it's just they were like purporting to care about these people's lives. And then we're expressing that by making them harder, which suggests to me that that's all we really wanted anyway, but we just wanted an excuse to screw over sex workers. Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think it's important to note that this website, the review board, people talk about, you know, it was a nice, positive place, but it was also, I mean, it's not perfect, right?
Starting point is 02:06:06 That the guy who run by essentially this random dude named Tahoe Ted. They say he was kind of a dick, like he didn't allow trans sex workers to post, to block people from creating accounts if they were fat, like anyone larger. So Tahoe Ted is a shitty guy who accidentally made a place better than him. Yeah, that people were able to use in this positive way. But again, it's like, what is creating the weaknesses and the shittiness of that website? It's the criminalization. Yeah. If this was legal, you would have other websites to choose from that aren't you? Right. And Tahoe Ted wouldn't control the pipeline. Yeah. And one of the weird things, this is incredible.
Starting point is 02:06:44 This guy, Tahoead, is caught. He's in all of the local newspapers. He's a trafficker. He's the ringleader, et cetera. He eventually pleads guilty to three counts of promoting prostitution. His sentence is 30 days of work release, 30 days of community service.
Starting point is 02:06:59 He asked me to go to a post-conviction sex buyer intervention course. What? And then the guy ended up killing himself. Because his name had been dragged through the mud through the newspapers that he couldn't, he had a day job while he was doing this. And of course he lost the day job
Starting point is 02:07:13 and nobody was gonna hire him because Google has gotten the first 50 results are all about how he's a sex trafficker. Which is interesting because even so the actual legal system's consequences weren't that significant for him but the way he, you know, his name had been destroyed by it. So you don't even need to penalize someone that harshly because the media will do it for
Starting point is 02:07:33 you. I don't know, like, again, you don't want to get into a place where like you're defending this model that I do think has elements of exploitation in it. And it's a structure that can be used very exploitatively. So I don't think any of this is like, all of this is perfectly fine. Right. But we're saying that it's not the very specific thing that people are claiming it to be, which is different from saying it's perfect. Right.
Starting point is 02:07:56 What's amazing about that case is that it was a five year investigation. I don't know. There were four different law enforcement agencies involved. So we're talking millions of dollars. I feel like that's an inappropriate use of resources. Yes. And it's like, what are we spending our money on? Think of all the like children that are experiencing domestic abuse during that time. Yeah. For what? For a bunch of misdemeanor arrests and six month sentences and a bunch of quote unquote victims that left immediately.
Starting point is 02:08:25 All of them did not participate in the prosecution. So as soon as it happened, they were quote unquote rescued and sent to this NGO that was going to provide them services. All of them ran away within 24 hours. All of them did? Yeah. Wow. So to this day, we don't know where they are.
Starting point is 02:08:39 That doesn't imply to me the Liam Neeson version of this trafficking story. I would love to see the Liam Neeson movie version of all this where Liam Neeson like raids a fairly stable home that some sex work is being run out of. And then forcibly takes a bunch of women to a safe house and then they all run away and then he just sits there sadly having made breakfast for everyone. I mean, this is another recurring theme for us that if we create these sort of bucket categories in public discourse, we're like, okay, there's traffickers
Starting point is 02:09:14 and they're this kind of person and maybe as the public, we only want it to apply to this very sinister, very specific kind of a figure that we're thinking of. But then once we've created that category socially, then legally it can be used however people want. And if there's one thing that we've learned, you can take a very scary sounding charge and then find ways to sort of pull that parachute over like a huge number of defendants.
Starting point is 02:09:43 Yeah. And this is, I actually read this fascinating report by the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force. It was actually like, in the way that bureaucrats do, it was like quietly scathing, but like pretending that it's not scathing, which I love. It was kind of like a salty judge quotes. Yes, exactly.
Starting point is 02:09:59 And so what they note is that everything since 2000 has been about victims, right? Protecting victims, helping victims, like this is the language that we always hear. Yeah. What they mention is that in the entire state of Louisiana, there's only 291 beds available for trafficking victims. And only 46 of those are actually like trafficking beds. The rest of them are homeless shelters.
Starting point is 02:10:20 It's a subcirre duality where it's like trafficking is huge, it's growing, it's the most offensive form of exploitation imaginable right. It's literally sexual slavery. But then after we rescue them, we're sending them to a fucking homeless shelter. Wow. Okay. And that there are no actual resources for this most exalted category of victim. Yeah. And it's like they they talk in there quietly, saltily about how because all the homeless shelters are full, it often takes five or 10 phone calls to find a homeless shelter for that night. It's like, yeah, can you name 10 homeless shelters in your city? Like, how do you even do this?
Starting point is 02:10:56 We can't get the numbers because they're so traumatized that they don't know what happened to them, but they have to be calling around homeless shelters until they like through sheer persistence find a bad. Only one of the shelters serves foreign nationals. A lot of them do background checks and other document checks. The Cindy McCain definition of trafficking is that these people are not from the United States.
Starting point is 02:11:18 Why is it not an emergency to anti-trafficking organization? Right. There are no resources being allocated for them. There's no real system in place for taking care of them once they're saved from their abusers. No one seems to have much of a plan of where to put them or how to find resources for them. It all goes to criminalization. This is the darkest shit that I haven't found in other task force reports, but I think is really widespread that the only forms of housing available to
Starting point is 02:11:48 trafficking victims are like long-term housing and so all of them have these weird intake requirements where you have to be in before a curfew, you have to commit to sobriety. If I've been trafficked, I'm not staying sober, you know, I've got some demons to handle. sobriety. If I've been traffic, I'm not staying sober. You know, I've got some demons to handle. This is from the Task Force report. Required activities include counseling therapy, life skills, activities, religious activities, and group or wellness meetings for residents. And also two out of three of them cut off your internet and take away your cell phone. Okay, isn't that what you're supposed to do to someone when you're trafficking them though? I mean, this is the thing. Restrict their movements and control their life.
Starting point is 02:12:28 Like, are we rescuing the victims of trafficking by retrafficking them? Yes. And I also read about this thing outside of New Orleans where there's a house for trafficking victims out in a rural area that is run by the New Orleans Sheriff's Department where they're also taking away people's cell phones rural area that is run by the New Orleans Sheriff's Department. Oh, right.
Starting point is 02:12:45 Where they're also taking away people's cell phones, and there's no public transit out there. Living in a house in rural Louisiana with no public transportation, where you're being supervised by the Sheriff's Department sounds like a spiritual sequel to get out. Yes. Warning signs include that in the training for the kids. Why are we looking at kids in airports? And like being isolated in a remote location where the people who are restricting your movements have no sense of accountability.
Starting point is 02:13:12 Yes. Because of their own belief and the righteousness of what they're doing. Like again, this is coming back to our, you know, torch song of all torch songs, which is the most dangerous people are the people who believe in their deepest heart of hearts, that they are on the side of what is right and just. The dangerous people are the people who think they are good and who society thinks are good and therefore who have the kind of power that lends itself very easily to abuse. Yes, you're going to love this. I'm going to read you something really dark right now.
Starting point is 02:13:48 This is the darkest NGO Christian NGO thing. All right. This is Rebecca Charleston, who's the director of something called Valiant Hearts, which is a Christian charity that helps trafficking victims. She identifies as a victim of trafficking herself. This is from a Christian website. Charleston spoke about working with police departments
Starting point is 02:14:04 who set up sting operations. Posing as potential clients, they create online posts to lure individuals to a hotel room. Once the person arrives, law enforcement officers will give them an ultimatum. Either they can go to jail or accept valiant hearts offer to help. However, many of the traffic individuals
Starting point is 02:14:22 decline the help, believing initially that it is their choice. I'm very curious about the situations that are being described here. How many red flags did we wear there in that? So the people who are being courted in the Sting operations are sex workers. Yes, and this Christian organization has taken it upon itself to make fake ads
Starting point is 02:14:44 and in trap sex workers. Are they are they minors? Are they just adult just random adult sex workers? It appears they're adult sex workers. There's nothing in here indicating that it's children. And at that end then it's just like, you know, you can look at the founder of this organization and say you have been through a real trauma and maybe that doesn't qualify you to know what these people in this very broad group of backgrounds and possible situations all need. Like it's just, it's not appropriate for individuals to be able to to join forces with the police in this way either. I don't think like
Starting point is 02:15:20 this is a really weird thing that we kind of accept as normal in the United States because it happens so frequently. And especially because of the severity of the crime, the knowledge base required of the person collaborating with law enforcement doesn't need to be as high. This is one of those things that shows up that, you know, I was talking to this person who has to remain anonymous who was on a state trafficking task force. What he found in the state where he was working that cops would do these quote unquote stings raids on massage parlors or whatever. And they'd sit down with the sex workers and say, like, look, you can go to jail
Starting point is 02:15:55 or you can say you're a trafficking victim. Those are your two options. If your choices between jail and something else, then like the something else would be pretty bad for you to choose jail. Yes, it's just there's something so corrupt about like the cops telling people that they're a victim of something. Also then, if you say yes, I've been trafficked
Starting point is 02:16:13 then like what then? You go to the fucking homeless shelter. Okay, so like, and what if you have like a perfectly nice house that you're paying for? It's hard to work that you're just trying to do for God's sakes. Right. Or like if you are in a bad situation, how is're just trying to do for God's sex. Right. Or like if you are in a bad situation, how is going to a homeless shelter going to make
Starting point is 02:16:28 that better? Right. I mean, one of the really interesting shifts here is that, you know, one of the things that accompanies the trafficking panic is this idea of ending demand or like the Nordic model. Is that where you criminalize client ship? Yes. Okay. This is like the woke sex worker criminalization policy now.
Starting point is 02:16:47 You don't want to arrest the sex workers, but you want to arrest the Johns, right? So it's like you're cracking down on the demand and you're not going to like revictimize sex workers, which sounds great, right? It sounds better. I think anytime we call something the Nordic model, it might be because it needs more credibility than it actually is.
Starting point is 02:17:04 Yeah. Yeah. I mean, this is what you find is that, you know, there's been all these studies of Sweden and Norway now where they invented the Nordic model. And what they find is that it doesn't actually make sex workers any safer because, first of all, by criminalizing people, buying sex, you're essentially taking out all of the, like, law abiding people out of the customer pool. It's like you take away normal shoppers and you just have black Friday people. Like that would be awful. That would be awful.
Starting point is 02:17:33 The other thing that it does is because it's still trying to abolish prostitution as an institution. So what ends up happening is, even though the sex workers themselves are not criminalized, the place that they're working, the brothel, is now a criminal organization. So they're part of a conspiracy? Exactly. So they can be written up on racketeering charges if they had any financial relationship. God! There's also what's really interesting is in the definition of trafficking is a sex worker
Starting point is 02:18:00 over 18 that has been coerced into sex work through force, fraud, or coercion. It's kind of a topology there, isn't it? But what's interesting is for people under 18, you don't have to prove anything. All you have to prove is that they're engaged in sex work because of age of consent laws. Right. And I feel quite strongly that children cannot consent to sex. Like I'm okay with the principle. However, however, what I've heard from a lot of sex worker
Starting point is 02:18:27 is that what happens is the cops will sort of do a bus, they'll arrest a bunch of sex workers. They'll find one who is under 18. And that's kind of like the Eureka moment. Oh God. Because once you find one 17, 16, 15 year old sex worker, then you have a circle of people around that person who you can charge with sex trafficking.
Starting point is 02:18:49 Who could all be 19, 20 years old? Yes. I interviewed a lawyer for a sex worker who is now convicted of trafficking because she drove another sex worker over state lines. She was 19, the younger sex worker was 17. Great. Which also means that you penalize offering help. Yes. Like you render it a criminal act to help someone who's trying to survive in an industry,
Starting point is 02:19:15 where maybe they meet a lot of tips that you might have. Like it just feels very sinister to me. This is from a report about the Nordic model on sort of the failure of the Nordic model. In Sweden, no one can operate a brothel, rent an apartment, room, or hotel room, assist with finding clients, act as a security guard, or allow advertising for sex work. This in turn implies that sex workers cannot work together,
Starting point is 02:19:40 recommend customers to each other, advertise work from property they rent or own, or even cohabit with a partner Since their partner is likely to share part of any income derived from sex work Jesus you don't get them on prostitution charges anymore. You get them on accomplice charges So it's like less be nice to sex workers and indict them for racketeering instead So like aren't we woke like isn't this helping? It's like, well, yeah, really? Norweja, like, this is not good.
Starting point is 02:20:06 Norweja is not good. This is the most American you've ever sounded. Right. And just, I think that we really, just in general, like any kind of legislation that's brought forth where you look at it. And you're like, now, if someone would have used this in bad faith, you could really destroy some lives.
Starting point is 02:20:28 And it's just so weird because if you're saying, I'm doing this to protect the trafficking victims who are teen girls. And so in the scenario, I'm going to ruin the lives of all these teen girls to protect the teen girls. And it's like, well, you're protecting imaginary people at the expense of real people. Yeah.
Starting point is 02:20:48 And the imaginary people don't even vote. And also, I mean, what all of this does, whether you're criminalizing the sex workers or the people who purchase sex, either way, it all has the effect of is driving things underground. And so one of the sex workers that I talked to about trafficking, she was saying that there's now signs in hotels that like, no, the warning signs of trafficking.
Starting point is 02:21:11 All of which are warning signs of sex work, right? It's like, oh, they keep a do not disturb sign on their door. OK, first of all, I always do that, mostly because I'm making this show in there. But also, if the laws are taking away your ability to have co-workers and some kind of maybe secure arrangement, then like, if you're losing access to hotels too, then like, Jesus Christ, where else is there? Well, this is one of the sex workers I interviewed told me, is it like, a hotel is a pretty
Starting point is 02:21:40 safe place to be a sex worker, right? Because you're in a room with, we all know how thin hotel walls are. There are security cameras everywhere. Yes, there. The most important thing is that the client knows that if you scream, someone will come, right? And so she says, you know, the harder it gets to work in hotels, it's like,
Starting point is 02:21:58 I'm gonna have sex with people in their cars. Yeah. That's where they have a lot more power over me. Like, they can drive me where they wanna drive me. I can't necessarily leave. All you're doing is making it harder for people to report this stuff. And if you scream in a car, then maybe the police come, I think you're farther away from being arrested yourself in that situation, which is also important. So it's like all of this, I mean, there's now states passing laws, but it's in there that all hotel staff need awareness raising training of this problem for which
Starting point is 02:22:28 there is huge and false awareness already. Yeah, so what are the signs that people are being educated to look for? It's again, it's like, you know, young women checking in by themselves. Oh my god. Someone with men visiting their rooms is like... It's like it's criminalizing spring break more than anything. of. Oh. So this leads us to the last aspect of this. And this one we can't. I'm very happy to lead me through all the darkness. The last form of exploitation creep,
Starting point is 02:22:55 the last widening of the term trafficking happens under the Obama administration. Oh, daddy. So the Obama administration comes in, they, like everybody else notices that the Bush administration has spent eight years saying prostitution is the same as trafficking and we need to eradicate prostitution.
Starting point is 02:23:10 So they're like, well, you know, the real form of trafficking and exploitation that's going on in the world is forced labor. There is ample evidence that forced labor is rampant. There are a lot of migrant workers, like conditions are really terrible. So what we need to do is expand the definition of trafficking to pull in all of these exploited workers, right?
Starting point is 02:23:31 Like Indian construction workers in Dubai and Guatemalan farm workers in America. Like we need to include all of these people in this problem trafficking that everybody's super concerned about. This seems fairly reasonable to me and I'm therefore extremely anxious that in reality it didn't end up working out as well as I'm hoping. Well, again, it's like, it's this understandable thing and everybody seems to be working from good motives. Yeah.
Starting point is 02:23:55 But what they do is they first redefine trafficking and this is now the international definition that any form of what's called bonded labor is considered trafficking. Wow. So for this episode, I had the treat of calling up Joel Best. Joel Best, right? Yes. He is a researcher, a sociologist, who studies contemporary urban legends. Oh, you talked to Joel.
Starting point is 02:24:20 I know, he was great. He was like the coolest. And it was really nice in that, you know, like, with researchers, if they haven't looked into something, you want to sort of be careful, like, I don't want to make you talk about something that isn't your area of expertise. And so I called them up and I was like, you know, I'm a little bit concerned about,
Starting point is 02:24:34 you know, human trafficking, like, I know it's not something you've looked into. And he's like, oh yeah, it's a scam. It's like, okay. It's like, okay, Joel. Tell me why. It says middle name Istha or what? So what Joel best actually mentioned to me was that, you know, you're a poor Kenyan
Starting point is 02:24:52 23 year old. You want to move to the United States to be a domestic worker because you're going to make more money being a nanny in the United States than you would in Kenya. So you apply for guest worker visa, you get the visa great, but a plane ticket is 1500 bucks, and you don't have 1500 bucks. So you take out a loan from one of these recruitment agents that you can find locally,
Starting point is 02:25:13 and they say, okay, you have to pay us back, 300 extra bucks a month or whatever, but you'll be making decent wages, and it's not gonna be that big of a deal. That scenario, that is trafficking. That's bonded labor, you're paying off a debt. And it's interesting because we talked about this kind of deal before is something that could be very easily abused. Right. But also if this arrangement doesn't have legitimate means of existing, then how
Starting point is 02:25:36 are people gonna get to the US in the first place? Right. But also what's really interesting to me is when I started working on this, I thought that scenario wasn't bonded labor, that what then often happens, that like you get there and there recruitment agent says, like, well, I said it was going to be 300 bucks, but now it's a thousand bucks a month. And I'm taking 90% of your salary, like this does happen. But that actually isn't necessary for it to be trafficking. Interesting. The definition of trafficking is simply working to pay off a debt.
Starting point is 02:26:02 That's it. Oh, so it's just, it's a... It's in Dengshur, essentially. Yes, it's anyone who has to pay off a recruitment fee. It's bonded labor. You're paying off a bond. Okay. But then what that does is adding this huge category of workers. I mean, this is a massive percentage of migrant workers
Starting point is 02:26:19 are operating under some form of paying off debt because who in a developing country has money for a plane ticket? Like, this is how people do this. So now you've got these numbers that go around about like 40 million people in the world are trafficked. But it's like, first of all, 14 million of those are in forced marriages, which I'm not wild about, but are also very different than sort of modern day slavery. You also have a huge number of people who are just paying off debts and like are some of those people deeply and darkly exploited? Yes, but some of them aren't.
Starting point is 02:26:53 Some of them pay off their debts and then they go home or they could have used in the United States and like whatever. Yes. And that what that means is that you lose the ability to get real numbers on the situation. Yes. You don't know how many people are being abused. You're not trying to estimate how many people are in abusive situations because it's
Starting point is 02:27:11 just the presence of a contract is the definition. It's just the contractual form. Yeah, that's a good way to put it. It's very clear that they're doing this to get the numbers up, right? And to pitch the problem as much bigger than it is. And so the second thing that they start doing is that they start talking about modern-day slavery. Yeah.
Starting point is 02:27:31 This is the way that trafficking is now portrayed when it's labor trafficking. So anybody working under these terrible conditions is considered a modern-day slave. And so in another hallmark of a moral panic, what you now have is the term modern day slavery being used to describe a huge range of activities, right, that it does include people
Starting point is 02:27:51 that are in the worst working conditions imaginable, right? They're a neurural area, they're not being paid, they're essentially trapped there. Those cases exist, they're extremely prevalent, like that is a massive problem, but then you're also using the same term to describe people as, I borrowed a bunch of money to go be a nanny in the US for six months, and I paid it off and I came home. Is calling all of that slavery is this helping? And what's the logic that says
Starting point is 02:28:15 that it is? I think what's happened, what's really interesting, is as there is more NGO activity and more, you know, there's just more awareness raising campaigns of all kinds. These days, right? Like breast cancer, human trafficking. There's all kinds of issues that we are constantly having somebody tap us on the shoulder and being like, hey, you should care about this. And so that has resulted in this arms race among NGOs
Starting point is 02:28:39 to cast my issue is more important than these other issues. And so if I say, like, you know, there's Kenyans that are coming to America, they're working as nannies. A lot of them have to pay off really huge debts. There's not real complaint mechanisms for them. You're like, hmm, and this avail comes to you and says, there are 25 million slaves in the world, and we thought we eradicated it in 1865,
Starting point is 02:29:01 but it's back. This is a huge component of modern day slavery rhetoric, comparing it explicitly comparing it to the experience of slaves in the United States. And so when I say to you, we thought we eradicated slavery, but it's back. That gives you a specific mental image, right? And I'm telling you, there's more slaves now
Starting point is 02:29:20 than at any time in history, which is one of these numbers that goes around, which like, yeah, if you're defining slaves as like a huge percentage of the workforce in developing countries, then like, yes, slavery is back. If you're explicitly equating it with American slavery, it's like, those conditions are not common. Does it also speak to our rescue fantasies too? To like, we would prefer to like rescue someone
Starting point is 02:29:44 who's been enslaved to just providing resources for people who are like, you know, I got here and I thought this was a fair deal or like, I thought I could pay this off, but it turns out I can't or the interest on this is really exorbitant. I mean, I can see how that also would be harder to get attention for because Exorbitant interest is crucial to American economies. So it's kind of rich to be saying that like it's not okay when people do it, you know, in this one situation. So it's like you have to catastrophize the whole thing.
Starting point is 02:30:18 But once again, that we would prefer to be someone's savior than to be someone's helper. Totally. And Janie Chung has this great article where she defines exploitation creep, where she says another reason why it emerged was because at the end of the Bush administration, people were starting to put more emphasis on forced labor and about structural systems that were creating these problems,
Starting point is 02:30:38 right, of the companies don't know their supply chains. There's really low wages in a lot of countries. There's not a lot of labor inspectors. That was the kind of consciousness that was happening in the 2000s. As people really turned against Bush in his later years of office, they were also turning on the concept of trafficking
Starting point is 02:30:55 and saying like, well, you know, it's not a secret criminal enterprise. It's farms in the United States. Like we know where it is. It's restaurants. And it's hotels. Like these hotels that are having like the warning signs of trafficking, it's like a really big warning sign is that you all use contractors for all of your cleaning services, and you don't
Starting point is 02:31:13 even know what your employees make. Like, your workers are being trafficked. Yes. Like, that's the warning sign. Right? And so, there was this sort of larger consciousness emerging of like, it's us, right? Like, it's not mysterious. We know exactly where it's happening.
Starting point is 02:31:28 We know exactly how. And we know how to fix it. Like, there need to be better procedures. There need to be complaint mechanisms. Yes, the title of the actual spiritual sequel to get out. Yeah. I mean, what Jenny Chung says at the conclusion of her article, recasting all forced labor is trafficking and all trafficking as slavery,
Starting point is 02:31:48 exploitation creep, relabels abuses as more extreme than is legally accurate. What appears to be a strategic effort to garner increased commitment to their eradication. So end modern slavery. That's the phrase you see all the time. We love ending. We love solving. It's our favorite thing see all the time. We love ending, we love solving. It's our favorite thing, yeah.
Starting point is 02:32:06 Totally. And it's much sexier than being like, hotels shouldn't have outsourced cleaning staff. These procedural things that are like, actually how you end for labor. Or like, you know, you let people unionize. Yes. For God's sake, yeah.
Starting point is 02:32:21 Yes. It takes us back to this rescue mission. Yeah. It's not about workers getting rights for themselves. Right. It's about us finding the ones who happen to be being exploited in this terrible, very unambiguous way and saving them and everyone who's working conditions while also terrible. Don't fall into this exact paradigm.
Starting point is 02:32:43 Can just go fly high. Yes, I wrote this article last year about this house painter in Miami who had suffered really bad wage theft from his employer. His employer basically said, like, I'm not going to pay you. It's like a year and a half long process to sue your boss for fucking wage theft. It was this awful nightmare and there was finally a judgment where his boss had to pay him and just didn't. And so we had to start an entirely new process because one was a civil and one was criminal.
Starting point is 02:33:10 And it's like the place where you're going to find quote unquote, trafficking, real exploitation is where there are not systems for accountability. And we know where those places are. We know that maybe better than we know anything else. Yes. So it's actually, it's like, we find this problem. If we're to be honest with ourselves in any way, we have to admit that the problem is a structural one, and it deals with the much broader issue
Starting point is 02:33:34 of labor conditions in the United States. Yeah. And in order to distract ourselves from that, we have to create a big bad. Yeah, yeah. The last thing I want to say about this amazing Janie Chung article is that she describes this case of 300 Filipino teachers who came to the United States to work in Louisiana public schools. Wow. And they came under legal visas. There's an H1B visa where foreign
Starting point is 02:33:57 workers can come over. They paid $16,000 each. Oh my God. Which is four times what they were earning per year in the Philippines to come over and work as teachers. And to work as teachers in public schools in the United States. I mean, I, yeah. Oh my God. Okay. Once they came, the recruiter charged them again,
Starting point is 02:34:18 was like, it's like ticket master, but they're like, oh, by the way, there's like an extra thing you have to pay. Like the recruiter treated them terribly. Yeah, that happened to me with Michael Bolton. It's not a fault. Yeah. And like the recruiter then made them work for an extra year
Starting point is 02:34:30 in the United States and up the center. They had to pay back. Awful, awful stuff. What's really interesting is they actually came forward and they filed a case against the schools and against the recruiter. And they were both acquitted because, according to Janie Chung, who I interviewed, schools and against the recruiter, and they were both acquitted because,
Starting point is 02:34:45 according to Janie Chung, who I interviewed, she said that the jury was like, this doesn't sound like modern slavery to us. Right, and it's like, it's not. Like, it's pretty, it's unfair, and it's, to my mind, criminal, and it shouldn't be allowed to happen. But like, yes, it's not.
Starting point is 02:35:02 It's not the very overblown thing that it has been described to you as, and that's not that curious fault. So it's like, this is the whole that we've dug with this term trafficking, where it's like, we've gone to the most extreme exaggeration of the problem, but then it's like, when you describe the actual conditions that people are working under, which are extremely common,
Starting point is 02:35:20 it's like, eh, I don't know, it's slavery. I don't know, I slavery. I don't know. I mean, I don't get paid enough either, yeah. Wait, but like by any other metric, this is fucking terrible. Yeah. It's just, it's only if you compare it to slavery that it doesn't seem that bad. Yes.
Starting point is 02:35:36 Yeah. Or setting ourselves up to fail. Mm. Like, is this helping at all? Which should be the question we ask about all these things. You know, regardless of, you know, of so many other factors, like, is this helping at all? Which should be the question we ask about all these things. I'm regardless of, you know, of so many other factors. Like, is this actually helping the actual people who we claim to want to help?
Starting point is 02:35:53 Right. Or does this feel good to us for some reason? Right. And it's like, yeah, I'm just gonna say the same thing again. I don't know. I wanna be really careful in that one of the things that I really struggle with with this field is that there's a lot of NGOs
Starting point is 02:36:07 and a lot of philanthropists working on trafficking who seem really nice. Like, oh yeah. There's lots of very nice people who are putting their energy behind something that might be politically ineffective. And they really care and like, it's not evil, but it's just to me, it's really naive.
Starting point is 02:36:25 Right. I spent a lot of time on the phone with this organization Polaris this week that has the National Traffic Hotline. And I sort of confronted them about this. Like, you have all these signs and airports, yet your website says that like the vast majority of quote unquote trafficking does not involve movement. And like, you're quite good actually at saying on your website that it's like, it's going to be someone you know, stranger danger doesn't exist.
Starting point is 02:36:45 And I'm saying like, but now you have these posters saying, if you see something, say something in airports, and they're like, oh, but you know, it has our national trafficking hotline on there. We're not telling people to call the cops, like, you know, cops can be abusive, we get it. But I don't think people are gonna see those posters
Starting point is 02:36:59 and remember the number. I think people are gonna see those posters and then a week later, they're gonna see something quote unquote suspicious. And then they're going to call the f**k cops. You're feeding into this myth and you're not taking seriously the unintended consequences of every person in America feeling empowered to quote unquote save the children and like snitch on random neighbors and getting them into contact with the police. I think this has to do with the idea of awareness
Starting point is 02:37:27 as a universal good-bye, right? That we have to raise awareness of things. I want you to take me down this rabbit hole, show down. I mean, the first thing that comes out for me around that is that, you know, we're living in a time of awareness sweeps weak, perpetually, right? Like to, so to get someone to pay attention to something, you kind of do have to sell it.
Starting point is 02:37:46 Yeah. I mean, first of all, if you're trying to raise public awareness of an issue, I think we're in a time when you have to think even more than in the past, maybe about, you know, if I am needing to go to all these rhetorical lengths to get people to even pay attention to the thing I'm trying to tell them about. Am I changing in some way the nature of the thing I'm trying to describe, in order to try and back in people to listen to me and pay attention to it? Am I doing a hard sell that essentially changes my point? And then if that's the case, then what does awareness become? If you're looking for something that you're probably not going to see, and then you just seize on something else that rubs you the wrong way, but maybe, let's say why.
Starting point is 02:38:31 As a little wrap up thought here, one thing that's really difficult about this is that you don't want to sort of over debunk and take away what really happened to people. One of the people who is pushing for more of these posters and airports is named Alicia Kazakovitz. And she's someone who, like, the worst thing happens to her. Like, she was groomed online. She was kidnapped from her home. She was confined in a basement.
Starting point is 02:38:58 She was abused. She was filmed. I mean, it's the worst thing you can imagine. It's real. Yeah, and something that shouldn't be able to happen in a society where children are being raised. And what's interesting is some of the kind of anti-trafficking, debunking type people I talked to this week.
Starting point is 02:39:16 Sometimes you get this sort of tinge of, well, you know, doesn't this survivor's story sound a little far-fetched? You're like, you know, this internet sleuthery stuff of like, well, if she says that she was kidnapped, the windows in her bedroom actually locked, the wine worth it. I mean this type of stuff that I find so gross in general and especially gross here. Like the grasping at straws rhetoric of like, let's not admit that any terrible things are happening. Yes, and also, you know, I interviewed people for this that identify as trafficking victims, and something really terrible happened to them, and I'm not going to take that away from them. Like the worst thing you can do as a journalist, and especially as a person, is to tell somebody
Starting point is 02:39:55 that their pain isn't real or that it doesn't matter. And so, I think we can all be adults and talk about this in a way that acknowledges the real pain of people who have experienced forms that sort of do fit the stereotypical narrative, but also that's not the only narrative that we can acknowledge that there are other forms of abuse that we also need to take seriously. I think that we are struggling to find ways to say that all kinds of human experience and trauma are real, but that there's this certain form of trauma and the certain form of crime that is being represented in a really disproportionate way. That feels like a headlock that it's hard to get out of.
Starting point is 02:40:38 Yeah. You're asking me to only think of that awfulness when thinking, when telling you is like some powerful person in society that you can do whatever you want to maybe these other people. Right. Well, also, I mean, to me, I think it has to be possible to recognize the trauma of somebody like Alicia Kazakowitz and acknowledge what happened to her. And it's possible to acknowledge the trauma of someone who's boss is stealing from them for years and has to go through a long court trial or someone who is a homeless teenager
Starting point is 02:41:11 that has to engage in survival sex to get a warm place to sleep that night. Or someone who's a sex worker who's getting busted all the time? Yes, I think it's like, it doesn't have to take away from one person to acknowledge another person's pain. And I also, I think somebody like Alicia, it doesn't have to take away from one person to acknowledge another person's pain. And I also, I think somebody like Alicia Czackiewicz
Starting point is 02:41:28 has every right to advocate for posters at airports. Like that is her right. She can use her experience for anything she wants to. I also think that sex workers have the right to talk about their trauma and the way that this is affecting them. And I think interracial couples that have the Cindy McCain's of the world calling TSA on them also have the right to describe their experiences and all of those experiences are valid. And the purpose of politics and the purpose of adulthood is to look at these different interests
Starting point is 02:41:58 and look at the way, not the way that they compete with each other, but the way that they intertwine. And there are ways to acknowledge the experiences of people who went through these terrible things without making other people's lives worse. I think that there's also something going on where the more dangerous of a country we become for the child, the more we preach about caring for the child. And it's like, maybe you care about the idea of children, but like, why don't you give free lunch to the real ones? The real ones are hungry.
Starting point is 02:42:31 I think the speaks to the fact that if you were trying to get help for someone, then the best way to do it in the society we live in might to be like, no, no, they're not a criminal and they're not criminalizable because they fall into this tiny slice of humanity called unambiguous victim and it's because they're the victim of the crime of the week. Right.
Starting point is 02:42:54 I think, I think you've ruined Thanksgiving. I think that's pretty good. Yeah, oh good. I think I'm ready. So everybody ruined Thanksgiving. I ruined it. So when you fly somewhere, if you see something, don't say something. But if you see something in the cane, run.
Starting point is 02:43:21 Those were our episodes. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you to Miranda Zickler for editing. Thank you to Carolyn Kendrick for editing and producing and for everything that she does. And thank you so much to Michael Hobbs for being the reason the show exists in the first place and for agreeing to talk about this terrible movie with me. Thank you so much for listening. Congratulations on getting through August. We'll see you in two weeks. 1 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd 2 nd you

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