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Prohibitionist dismay at UK sex slave stats shortage

by on August 16, 2010

ARCH prohibitionist Joan Smith has been bemoaning the latest estimate of sex trafficked women in England and Wales as “only” 2,600 in a piece in the Independent.

Prohibitionist partners Smith and MacShane

Joan, as readers may know, is the partner of Rotherham MP (and fellow prohibitionist) Denis MacShane, famous for his inane 25,000 sex-slaves-arriving-annually estimate and consequential vivisection by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. The former NUJ president should have taken Harold Wilson’s advice and not believed everything journos write in the newspapers (he cribbed that stat from the Mirror).

Smith and her fellow writer, Emily Dugan, cite an unnamed “senior police source” as branding the estimate – due to be published on Wednesday – “amateurish” and says similarly unnamed “experts and politicians” question its accuracy. The only one-time politician named in the report is disgraced former Tory MP Anthony Steen (see below). 

Prohibitionists clearly thrive on large numbers of sex trafficking victims. There’s no evidence they exist in great quantities, so have to be estimated, alongside excuses about the trade being ‘secret’ and ‘underground’ (as if armed robbers have convenient flashing neon lights on their foreheads advertising the fact). 

Smith and the Independent have apparently been leaked an advanced copy of the “estimate” by someone much miffed at its failure to conclude that there’s at least 10,000 sex slaves awaiting rescue. 

For most informed commentators, however, the 2,600 figure remains a gross exaggeration. It replaces an estimate of there being 4,000 trafficked women and children at any time in 2003, but that figure was UK-wide, and the new one just covers England and Wales, so it’s not much of a climb-down, especially as Scotland (which defines trafficking differently) claims disproportionate victims. 

In the meantime two national “Pentameter” inquiries into the UK sex industry by all 55 of the nation’s police forces, together lasting well over a year, found barely 250 persons deemed sex trafficked between them. However, this did not stop the invention of more prohibitionist laws and the tightening of others. 

The way the previous 4,000 estimate was reached can be read here, or you can take it from me that a sounder estimate would result from stringing together the first two numbers out of Guinevere or Lancelot on lottery night. We await with interest the rationale behind the 2,600 figure, which is the fruit of something entitled Project Acumen, and hope it doesn’t take as many years to materialise as last time. 

Say Smith and Dugan, who have apparently been privileged with a sighting of it: 

The study…relied on interviews with 254 women in London brothels and extrapolated the remaining national figure using newspaper reports and patchy existing data. It estimates that 17,000 foreign women work in the off-street sex industry but does not give data for the number of women who might be trafficked into street prostitution – or the number of British women that might be trafficked.

Well, I can remember precisely one street sex worker who was deemed trafficked in the UK. It’s generally accepted as being virtually entirely an off-street issue as they are supposedly captive. And 38 UK citizens were referred to the National Reporting Mechanism last year as possibly internally trafficked (for all purposes, not just sex), though less than one in three of all referrals were, in the end, deemed actually trafficked. 

But what does trafficked mean? Because it means something very different in the UK criminal justice system to what it means everywhere else. An adult sex worker who accepts the offer of a lift to work from the manager of her brothel is deemed trafficked in UK law, no coercion or deception required.  So what, exactly, has “Project Acumen” estimated?

It was supposed to look at all forms of trafficking, not just sex trafficking. A Metropolitan Police Authority report last year said it would:

use intelligence units nationally to provide the most accurate estimates available on the number of people trafficked into the UK, for both sexual exploitation and forced labour.

“Intelligence units nationally,” that said. Not the press clippings Joan Smith reports it as actually using. And former Justice Minister Lord Bach said in a speech, also in July last year, that Acumen would: 

review and analyse the victims of sexual and labour exploitation…The final report is due to be published by the end of February next year and we believe the findings will be helpful.

So it’s six months late (assuming this is the “final report”), which is pretty good going for the UK, and arrives anyway well in time for human trafficking paranoia leading up to London 2012, or 2013, or 14, or…whenever.

No mention in Smith and Dugan’s piece about labour exploitation, I notice. So we presume all 2,600 are supposedly trafficked for sex alone? Smith has form on this (she was one of those waxing most lyrical about 40,000 women supposedly being trafficked to the German World Cup in 2006, when reality saw four women and a man), so I for one would like to see Project Acumen’s report for myself.

Avid readers of Smith and Dugan’s piece will also have seen the reincarnation of former Tory MP Anthony Steen popping up as chairman of the Human Trafficking Centre.

Funny how Mr Steen told the Commons in January last year that, concerning sex trafficking victims:

It is pure guesswork and sensationalism when people talk about 4,000 to 6,000 – the figure is probably in the hundreds, not the thousands 

…whereas now he says that ‘senior police officers’ have:

estimated that 4,000 [sex workers] were trafficked. And that was just in London. My view is that the national figure is probably in excess of 10,000.

In the meantime, of course, he was named and shamed in the Telegraph in the expenses scandal for splashing out loads of taxpayer dosh on his Devon mansion. Still, he doesn’t seem terribly good at numbers. One hopes the Human Trafficking Centre has a good accountant.

More on ‘Project Acumen’ if…and when…it becomes public.

See also Laura Agustin’s Police quarrel about which bad method to use to estimate trafficking victims UK.

  1. Thanks again for another great blog. I had many a visit from Pentameter, and I worked with them on a few cases when I was still running brothels. Although they made a shocking mess we were always happy to see them. Others, also in the sex industry see trafficking as unexceptable, and although rare we were always very quick to inform the police if we had any concerns.
    What worries me is the total inability of any government to either read or add up.
    We can all follow the tracks of reports that produce the ‘sex slaves’ figures, that at one time had reached 80,000 if Harriet Harmen is correct. They are being forced to have sex at gun point with up to 40 clients a day?? Blimey.
    Where are they putting them all? And who’s doing their marketing? I’d love to have had that many clients, and still remain so discreet that the police from 55 dedicated forces can’t find me. Do they have unicorns on reception?

    Madam Becky x

  2. Madam Becky – You want Governments that read AND add up? I’m still waiting for a mere Home Office capable of falling over in a strait line.

    80,000? Hmm. Can’t remember an 80,000, though it may well have cropped up somewhere. Something like it cropped up in the European Parliament motion on the German World Cup, though I think it might have been 60,000.

    Where are they putting them all? Well, there’s this big hole under the Pennines…oops, what a give away…

  3. 80,000…. 60,000,….150,000. I can read, but I can’t add up. I know how many beans make 9 though, which puts me out of the running for a job in Downing St.


  4. what if a brothel manager catches a ride to work with one of the direct service providers? is the brothel manager counted as ‘trafficked’ too?

  5. Hi Maxine – In short, no.

    In (very) long, you can wade through:

  6. Meg Inwood permalink

    The numbers HAVE to be exaggerated so grotesquely – otherwise, how could these prurient, guilt-riddled, sex-obsessed Peeping Toms (and Thomasinas) possibly come up with any kind of potentially valid excuse to stick their noses into the bedrooms of the nation?

    What they need most, IMHO, is a good prostate massage for the men, and about an hour of attentive cunnilingus for the women. I don’t want to be accused of being a pimp or a trafficker, so maybe I’ll ask my girlfriend to post her rates and contact info on their web sites herself! 😀

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