Sex Trafficking

Why Is Everyone So Willing to Believe 'Fake News' About Sex Trafficking?

"It's like we lack enough empathy to understand the choices of others, and therefore deprive them of agency."


Pacific Press/Sipa USA/Newscom

On the latest "Free Thoughts" podcast, I talk with hosts Aaron Ross Powell and Trevor Burrus about the conflation of consensual prostitution and sex trafficking in American culture and courtrooms, both in general and in terms of recent high-profile cases (such as The Review Board and "K-girl" agency bust in Seattle last year). How did we get here? Who's driving the confusion? Who are the winners and losers in America's quixotic crusade to "end demand" for prostitution? And why do so many people seem so willing to believe "fake news" about sex workers and human trafficking?

As a society, we seem to "desperately want to strip these women of agency [and think] that they're forced into it," observes Powell, "and it seems like it's part of this broader attitude that, 'I wouldn't want to do job X, and I can't imagine doing job X, and so therefore anyone who does job X must be doing it against their will.' And so you see this in prostitution, but… it shows up in people arguing against 'sweatshops,' or Uber drivers, or hell it even shows up with stay-at-home moms…. It's like we lack enough empathy to understand the choices of others, and therefore deprive them of agency."

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  1. Uhhh, I’m better than you, so I know what’s good for you, and that isn’t good for you, and it’s also icky, so it should be illegal.

  2. “It’s like we lack enough empathy to understand the choices of others, and therefore deprive them of agency.”

    Isn’t that the truth when it comes to just about everything? Where do you think the idea that markets must be regulated, as well as behavir itself, comes from, if not from nosey assholes with a psychological need for minding other people’s business?

    1. That’s what Powell was saying (read the quote above!) It’s an attitude applies to prostitution, but the same attitude that drives so much demand for limiting people’s choices

  3. I suspect the fear is many men would say single, (or more likely to get some on the side), if prostitution was legal and safe. And no guy wants his daughter to be a prostitute or a topless dancer for that matter. so that’s why we need laws that destroy lives.

    1. If prostitution was legal and easily accessible, the average woman would have to become looser. Most guys don’t want their daughters to have sex with anyone but their husband or serious boyfriend. It all comes back to prude fathers. The patriarchy! Oh no but it is also feminism. Fat ugly feminists are jealous of sexy young women. Raise the age of consent! No easy sex! Slut walks but don’t you dare look at those sluts sexually!

      As for me, I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a sex worker (if it were legal in regards to prostitution) or a stripper or a porn star because, to me, those are low level jobs akin to working at McDonald’s or being a day laborer or something. I am also not a fan of sex being used as a financial transaction, I much prefer my kids to see it as a pleasure transaction.

      Sex really isn’t as serious as people act like it is (with proper safety measures and contraceptives). I am not a libertine, but my kids can bang for fun if they want, son or daughter. Just use moderation, safety, and be clean.

      1. Where does it follow that women would have to become “looser” if prostitution were legal and accessible? If anything, it would free up women do treat their sexuality more personally and not feel like they have to buy into either the madonna or the whore image. And they could find partners who feel the same. You can think of sex as something emotional, personal, animal, therapeutic, sacred, or whatever you like – just don’t think your vision overrides another’s view of their own sexuality.

        I’d also argue that most parents really shouldn’t be thinking about their adult children’s sex lives. “Think of the children!” is a horrifying argument to use in a discussion on consenting adult activity, even when you’re considering only grown children.

        1. Maybe it won’t follow. It just seems to me that easy sex will make men feel satisfied and less likely to try to couple with prudish women. I could be wrong though.

          Your children will be experimenting sexually or having some kind of sex well before adulthood and even before puberty and every parent should be thinking about it and discussing it with their kids.

          By the time they are adults you shouldn’t have to worry because you already dealt with it earlier.

      2. If I had a daughter, I would be ok with her becoming a stripper, porn star, or a high class prostitute, if that is what she really wanted to do, because I am not a hypocrite like the rest of you.

        1. That goes for a lot of professions. I look up to a lot of workers that for unclear reasons a lot of society looks down on. Probably because I admire all kinds of skill & dedic’n.

          1. Maybe for the same reason I find most everything interesting & most things funny. That has the drawback of distracting me a lot from paid work, though. The net’s a boon & bane at once.

            it also has the drawback that I find people much less interested in hearing from me than I am in hearing from them. They can bore me eventually, but some friends shut me up shortly after I start talking, even though I’ve listened to them past the point of boredom, which is usually a long time.

        2. Who is a hypocrite? I’d prefer my kids not work menial jobs. Sexual or not. If they want to I won’t force them not to, but I will advise against it.

        3. Who is a hypocrite? I’d prefer my child work a job that has a bigger impact and not something menial. Sure, if they want to work such jobs they can, but I will advise against it.

      3. I couldn’t predict that the avg. woman would have to become looser. I think there’d be more specializ’n among ladies into “plenty of sex” & “not so much sex” types. The “not so much sex” types would have husbands who were either the same way, or gladly patronized “plenty of sex” ladies on the side, & nobody’d make much of it because there wouldn’t be the social pressure to maintain a standard.

        1. I think the lack of social pressure would result in overall more looseness.

    2. There are places where prostitution is legal and safe. I wonder if anyone has tried to look for that effect.

      I’m not so sure that it would be significant. I’m sure more people would, but there are a lot of people who would never avail themselves of the services of a prostitute no matter the legality. People do often like being in actual relationships with the people they have sex with.

    3. Probably true for most, but then I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a Democrat or Republican either but that doesn’t mean I support outlawing those parties.

    4. Or maybe without sex workers a lot of guys would never get laid.

  4. Why Is Everyone So Willing to Believe ‘Fake News’ About Sex Trafficking?

    Why? Because it fits the narrative.

    As I get older I realize it’s all about the narratives. I try to figure out why progressives think the way they do, and I fail. then I realize it’s just the narrative. I can understand conservatives because I know their narrative. I don’t agree with it, but I know it. But it’s bigger than that. It’s how our brains work. We tell ourselves a story about how the world works, and that’s how we filter everything.

    So that’s why everyone believes fake news. Take a look and you will see that all news stories are fake news, to someone. Fake is not the same as false, a story can be perfectly true, but people will call it “fake” if it doesn’t fit their narrative. We have entered a post-truth era. Which was why the March on Science was so ironic. People recognize that narratives rule the world, they just can’t see that they have their own narratives that they obey.

    1. And my narrative says everyone must be equal, or made equal, to everyone else. We cannot have any icky inequality going on here.

      Anyone who is not equal is either a victim or an oppressor. Persons of a “protected class” are automatically granted victim status unless they start to accumulate more than their share, in which case they are both traitors to and oppressors of their own class.

      We can “fix” this by forcing everyone to accept my narrative, so I want to empower a government of my choosing to make you do what I want you to do.

      Does that help you understand the progressive narrative? Their position is also morally superior [from a humanistic perspective of course] so is immune from criticism, by the way. No discussion or questions allowed.

    2. I try to figure out why progressives think the way they do, and I fail.

      They don’t think, they FEEL. Their motivations are 1) envy of the rich, 2) contempt for the poor, and 3) smug satisfaction that they’re right about everything, so they’re inclined to support politicians and bureaucrats who share their prejudices.


      1. But see, that is just the distorted counter-narrative that you have bought into about Team Blue’s true narrative.

        I doubt that Team Blue, generally speaking, has “contempt for the poor”. I think they probably do feel genuine compassion for the poor, but they mistake government handouts for compassion.

        1. Yeah, it’s way too easy and common just to assume that the people you disagree with are wrong because of some failure to think properly. I really don’t think it is true in most cases.

          I think it is true that a lot of lefty progressive types are motivated largely by emotional reactions to things. But so is everyone. We all like to think we are a lot more rational and consistent than we really are. I think that libertarians have a more philosophically sound basis for their beliefs. But that’s not really why most people are libertarian. It starts with an emotional, visceral reaction against other people trying to control and limit your choices. Not all libertarians are economics nerds. A lot of people just want to be left alone and it doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

          1. Funny story: my wife actually asked me last night why I loved her. Being honest with her, I told her I didn’t know, I just know that I do. And then I took a few minutes to explain that it’s perfectly rational to not have a reason or be able to explain emotions. Just because you can’t always justify to others what you think and feel doesn’t mean there is no justification.

            1. Oh, Sparky. The correct answer is “Baby, there are so many different reasons why I love you, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

    3. Yeah I think you are sadly right. But it’s even more than that. It’s not just about narratives emanating forth from each tribe, but it’s also about creating a believable distorted narrative about the other tribe that your tribe will accept.

      So Team Red says: We can create prosperity through unlimited tax cuts and trade restrictions to create a 1950’s era prosperity. Which is not supported by the evidence. But Team Blue says: TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!! Which is also not supported by the evidence. But it is believable to Team Blue’s tribal followers will believe it because, hey, a lot of those tax cuts *are* going to the rich. (Never mind that this will always be the case in a progressive income tax system no matter what, regardless of the intentions of the taxcutters.)

      And Team Blue says: We can create prosperity through government management of the economy. Which is not supported by the evidence. But Team Red says: SOCIALISM!!!!! Which is also not supported by the evidence (no matter what you think about food stamps, it’s a far cry from full-on Soviet central planning). But it is believable to Team Red’s tribal followers because Team Blue really does say some sympathetic things about socialistic ideas generally speaking. “Shared responsibility”, “it takes a village”, etc., etc.

      So it is just a war of competing narratives. Nobody is really searching for the truth anymore, or even fact-based anything.

      1. So the left isn’t really socialist even thought a socialist almost beat the statist candidate in the Democratic primary? And tax cuts don’t result in prosperity for the individual?

        Color me shocked.

        1. Depends on what you mean by “socialist”.

          1. The two sides really do, though, have a different definition of “socialism.”

          2. Government ownership of the means of production and centralized control over every aspect of society?

            I do agree though, when it really comes down to it I’m not sure that Bernie really fit the bill of a ‘good’ Marxist. That’s some hyperbole on my part.

            I do think there’s some fairly widely held belief on the left that in the case of Medical, at least, it should be 100% actual socialism in that the government should own and control the whole thing. Or at the very least, they love to compare and contrast with systems that are socialist. That can’t be coincidence and even a charitable reading of that indicates their preferred solution style.

            Selective socialism on an industry-by-industry basis are the building blocks of good intentions that pave our road to hell, though. Saying ‘they aren’t really socialist because they haven’t absorbed industry ‘x’ yet’ means that it isn’t true socialism until it’s too late, and this is something I don’t necessarily subscribe to. Trajectory matters, but again that isn’t the ‘true’ definition. Merely an opinion.

            1. The one way ratchet of socialism isn’t necessarily how it works. Just look at Europe and the UK. They got into lots of actual socialism for a while, but when it failed horribly, they largely backed off on it. Medicine being a notable exception in many cases. The pride and attachment they have in the UK about the NHS is just weird.

              As for the definition of the word, “socialism” gets used in very different ways. A lot of people say it when they are talking about welfare state stuff and really don’t mean government ownership of major industries (other than health care).

    4. Fake news can be true, but calling it news is fake because it’s old. That was my understanding of what people mean about half the time by “fake news”: old stories (true or false) being newly hyped. Right?

  5. Why Is Everyone So Willing to Believe ‘Fake News’ About Sex Trafficking?

    Everyone has to feel morally superior because they are insecure about their own thoughts and/or behavior.

  6. Who are the winners and losers in America’s quixotic crusade to “end demand” for prostitution?

    Winners: women for whom pussy power is the only redeeming feature.
    Losers: men

  7. The modern left has taught me that women don’t have agency. They only thing they should concern themselves with is the overall gross average of income of all women compared to that of all men, and if they should get an abortion this week.


    1. Thus sayeth the narrative.

    2. /sarc?
      Really? Maybe not. You just might be correct. (couldn’t bring myself to say right)

      1. I add the /sarc tag to indicate that I personally don’t believe this. I don’t think most leftists believe it either, but at the same time they have a distorted opinion of what defines a ‘right’. I find it odd that women believe it’s their body and therefore their choice, but that prostitution is illegal. Perhaps catchy slogans do not a political philosophy make?

        Either way these types of people apparently find infanticide to be an easier sell than getting rid of laws regarding whom they can have sex with legally, and on what basis.

        That in and of itself should tell you most of what you need to know, which is the modern leftist feminist movement is all about lack of responsibility and freedom from consequence under the benevolent rule of men rather than independent choice for a woman.

  8. Who’s driving the confusion?


    See: “competitor derogation”

    1. OH wow, that’s where I’ve been going wrong. I didn’t realize the only way to get a man was to… argue for laws against prostitution?

      1. You can raise the age of consent too, 21 is coming…

        1. But chickens don’t even live that long, SIV.

  9. ENB, you should slow down more when you speak – you know the material, so it’s easy.

    1. I know, I know. I’m an incredibly fast talker in real life so it’s not a nerves-on-air thing, just me. and this is the most frequent comment I hear, so I do try, but… sometimes better than others. I listened to a bit of this, and this was definitely not one of the better times

      1. I am the same way, so I understand.

      2. I’m the same way too! Especially when there’s just so much to talk about. It’s like it all wants to get said at once.

  10. Prostitution is one of those premiere ‘disorders’ most everyone with a fucking god or social ideology demands to treat.

    Whores exist as a craggy laboratory knee-spread for the self-vaunted idealists intent on mining mystical points for the magical creatures and insipid philosophers prancing in their heads and justice movements.

    Fucking outside the barbwire of the civilized is a blatant and threatening act of wonderful individualism- hated by the organized, bureaucratized, and governing.

    1. Yes, Agile. Every religion, every government, every hierarchical organization has always been interested in suppressing the free sexual expression of its subjects. This is because the experience of sexual pleasure is a profoundly individual act that reminds a person of his or her individuality, and his or her relationship to one other individual, outside of any sort of collective. This reduces the power that the collective has over the individual. An orgasm is a scream of “I AM!,” and the rulers of the collective want you to think “i am but a part of something greater.”

  11. Because sex sells.
    But we can only admit it in the context of advertising. As in click bait articles about sex trafficking.
    To address it as in actually selling sex, we are still going to violate the first amendment and follow the religious teachings. Like drugs.
    Otherwise, you know, like individual freedom might break out and spread or something.

  12. The part ENB talked about people getting charged with “promoting prostitution” for posting reviews is just ludicrous. Including an undercover cop? Who find women in a situation they later deem as having been trafficked, but leave them there for six months to build a case? The more it goes, the more bizarre it gets. It’s like there’s no actual point to it, whether a cover or secret, just sort of busy work for investigators. Like no one investigating cares, they just casually investigate things and throw around charges with a shrug. Punch-clock villainy policing.

    Then you add the stories about cops in so many places abusing their power over sex workers, shutting down safe systems for sex-workers when murder and assault should be treated more severely than prostitution, and the whole PR about saving vulnerable women when they just arrest/interrogate and forget about them. It’s such a mess, but you know, people just want to comment about fat feminists and what they want their daughters to be.

    I say that, but then again, I still think libertarians are better on so called women’s issues than democrats or republicans. Democrats pander, but they rarely treat women like individuals who can make their own choices, and both infantilize women.

    1. I feel like I’ve still learned a lot from discussions indirectly related to the articles though. But I know what you mean, it can really feel like a boys’ club sometimes, but I’ll take it over the alternatives any day.

    2. It’s such a mess, but you know, people just want to comment about fat feminists and what they want their daughters to be.

      Don’t let a few rotten Sparky’s spoil the barrel.

  13. RE: Why Is Everyone So Willing to Believe ‘Fake News’ About Sex Trafficking?

    Because people want to believe the worst.
    That, and bad news always sells.

  14. OH please. Are you seriously going to deny that there are people who are forced into sexwork against their will?

    Are you going to deny that capitalism itself forces some women into sexwork against their will?

    Keep those rose-colored glasses on. Wouldn’t want you to have to actually face reality. You’re clearly unprepared.


  15. “RE: Why Is Everyone So Willing to Believe ‘Fake News’ About Sex Trafficking?

    Because people want to believe the worst.
    That, and bad news always sells.”

    And sex always sells too.

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