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Sex-Trafficking Hysteria Is Eroding Privacy in Hotels, Airplanes, and More: Podcast

Elizabeth Nolan Brown talks about DHS's "Blue Campaign," which is pushing hotel and airline workers to call the feds if they suspect human trafficking.

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS/NewscomKevin Lamarque/REUTERS/NewscomIn her blockbuster exposé "Are You a Woman Traveling Alone?," Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown does a deep dive on the Department of Homeland Security "Blue Campaign." This campaign pushes the hospitality industry, air travel companies, and other businesses to call the feds if they suspect customers are involved in "trafficking"—an increasingly loose term that covers everything from slavery to traditional prostitution. The Marriott hotel chain, for instance, recently tweeted that all of its 750,000 employees worldwide are "being trained to help spot sex trafficking in our hotels."

For today's Reason Podcast, I talked with Brown about her story. More often than not, she writes, crackdowns on trafficking translate into rousting women sitting alone in bars and other common areas, snooping on fathers traveling with teenage daughters, or calling federally funded tip lines on guests who have "too many" condoms. In several recent high-profile cases involving airlines, "staff trained to 'spot traffickers' have harassed interracial couples and families. When people are asked to use gut instinct to stop real but rare horrors, relying on racial stereotypes and other biases tends to rule." Brown also documents the role of Polaris Project and ECPAT-USA, nonprofits that operate tip lines and provide training on spotting trafficking, in promoting these fears.

Whatever the intentions behind the Blue Campaign, and despite Donald Trump's promise in his State of the Union address to crack down on traffickers smuggling women across "wide-open areas" on the U.S.-Mexico border, there is no evidence that sexual slavery is on the rise in the United States. The result, Brown argues, is that consensual sex work is being redefined as trafficking and the privacy of all Americans is taking another hit.

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Photo Credit: Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • Crusty Juggler||

    The beauty of his majestic hair is making her cry!

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    The last girl to cry in that spot was Monica when she realized her dress would never be the same.

  • Eddy||

    "Your women... I want to buy your women… the little girl, your daughters... sell them to me... sell me your children...."

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    One of my favorite lines. From movies, of course.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Name 7'others.

    One of mine:

    "[the "five-point plan"]
    Mike Damone : All right, now pay attention. First of all Rat, you never let on how much you like a girl.
    [standing next to a life size cut out of Deborah Harry in a Record Store]
    Mike Damone : "Oh, Debbie. Hi." Two, you always call the shots. "Kiss me. You won't regret it." Now three, act like wherever you are, that's the place to be. "Isn't this great?" Four, when ordering food, you find out what she wants, then order for the both of you. It's a classy move. "Now, the lady will have the linguini and white clam sauce, and a Coke with no ice." And five, now this is the most important, Rat. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV."

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Rodney Dangerfield: "Well call me when you have no class."

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    I hear sex trafficking is also causing Uranus to look totally messed up right now.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Looks like a bad case of the piles.

  • Fats of Fury||

    That settles it. Uranus causes global warming.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    It's the methane, dude.

  • DajjaI||

    The basic idea is to get sex workers to confess to being 'trafficked' in return for leniency. They will then come up with some pretty elaborate tales. It's the same strategy as drug addiction: "I took the drug not because I wanted to but because I was addicted."

  • DajjaI||

    Also similar are the 'Spot the signs' campaigns: sex trafficking, radicalization, addiction.

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    guests who have "too many" condoms

    Who do I call to report hotel employees going through my belongings?

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    One can never be too safe.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    That's a lot of floral print. Is floral print the new piled up neck scarf?

  • perlchpr||

    Yeah, I had to sit through 30 minutes of propaganda about how sex work isn't real work in CDL school today for "Truckers against Trafficking" training. Whee.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    What, no lot lizards?

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    "Truckers against Traffic - Death Race 18"

    I'd go see that.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    I swear they're just softening us up for the real commissars. It is amazing how many people I know who totally believe the whole sex trafficking schickt. And how appalled they you when you say it's mostly bullshit. Like I don't care about little girls or something.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    You know that story in the Bible where the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah surround Lot's home and demand that he hands over his daughters to the mayor for an "examination" to prove that his house guests did not have relations with them?

  • Fats of Fury||

    Sex trafficking should be the exclusive domain of the DMV. After the johns wait in 5 different lines, take a test, get an eye exam and their photo taken the urge will have passed.

  • Benitacanova||

    Wow. I know you guys want to believe sex trafficking doesn't exist, but it does and it's life destroying. Of course some whores want to be whores, but there simply are not enough of them.

  • Longtobefree||

    What privacy at airports?
    Can we nail the TSA employees for sex trafficking?
    Why just women alone at bars? Make everyone bring a date.

  • Longtobefree||

    Oh, yeah, I forgot. How do they tell which ones are women?

  • sharmota4zeb||

    When people are asked to use gut instinct to stop real but rare horrors, relying on racial stereotypes and other biases tends to rule.

    Is that why the cops pulled a gun on my friend the day I moved him and his babby mamma into my town. It's strange how one of the other regulars at the Wellness Center died of a drug overdoes latter that night in the Wellness Center bathroom.

  • Nardz||

    I do love your stories, sharmota

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