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To be fair, it's a hard position to be put in as a company because you don't want to be the company that's saying on the record, we are not trafficking in children.

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Welcome to You're Wrong about where we return to topics that we talked about not that long ago because so much has happened somehow.

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Oh God, or nothing has happened or nothing has happened.

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But a lot is happening on Facebook.

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A lot of long phrases are getting hashtags. Welcome to You're Wrong about the show where I could be having a completely free Wednesday night, if not for Mark Zuckerberg and his, quote, choices.

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Yes, but I'm happy to be here with you.

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I'm Michael Hub's. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post. And Sarah Marshall, I'm working on a book about the satanic panic, which keeps getting longer, just like this endless episode that we're about to do.

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And we are on Patrón at Patrón Dotcom Slash. You're wrong about.

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And we're on PayPal and other places and we've been designing disco T-shirts for you guys.

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Very excited about that. And God today, I mean this is like kind of a mini another mini episode.

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It's a mini episode on top of a regular episode. So it's like when you got a Bloody Mary where they put like a little cheeseburger on as a girl.

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So like this is a little cheeseburger garnish part. And then once he got through this, then there's like a whole other drink. Oh, God.

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So one of the things that we love about our listeners is that oftentimes someone on the Internet will be like saying some bullshit. And then you'll find, like one of our listeners in the replies being like, that's not true.

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I learned about it on your wrong about the link to our show. And so we've become like ammunition to people like, well, actually seeing others, which I love.

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We're a footnote where we're footnotes, we're dynamic. Yes, Hubway footnotes.

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And so we thought we would like make a more deliberate kind of primer on the numbers that you see floating around right now. So we're basically just going to go through a bunch of the numbers that are on the various Instagram posts.

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All right, let's do it. So, OK, so we have some numbers. But first of all, do we want to talk about the wafer thing?

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Yeah, I mean, I know I feel like I know the basics of it, which is that people were looking at items on Wayfair that were like chest's or freezer's or like like large items that cost like fifty thousand dollars, like way more than you would think that they would actually cost.

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Yeah, they should have been like 500 bucks and they're like 10000. Right.

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And so rather than assuming that like a decimal place got put in the wrong part of the number, somehow a conspiracy of all that, these items were so expensive because they were being used to traffic children in the money you spend on the item includes the cost of the child who may be either literally shipped to you or like maybe you got them some other way. But I'm given to assume that the kid was supposed to be shipped inside of the furniture.

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And what definitely did not help, you know, like cabinets have funky names, right? Yeah. It turns out a lot of the products that were being sold, like one of them was called the Annabell Shelf. And then people started looking around and there was a girl named Annabel Wilson who went missing.

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And so it starts to look like what you're really doing is you're basically purchasing this specific child.

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OK, there was also a cabinet or something called Samya, and there was a girl named SAMEA Moumin that went missing.

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And so a lot of the screengrab that went around were sort of like this, the picture of this cabinet and then a picture of this girl that had disappeared.

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When does when does this start going around? Give us a timeline here.

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The first tweet about this was June 14th from a Q and on account. So it started on Twitter and then it moved to the conspiracy theories board on Reddit. And apparently that's where it really caught fire.

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So the traffickers kidnapped this girl, kept her in Liwei. And some traffickers are selling her to to some clients using the welfare system. Yes.

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I will also say Wayfair did not help. OK, so it wasn't just cabinets that were really expensive.

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There was also these weird things that the same pillow or the same shower curtain would be on wafer for like 50 bucks and then it would be listed elsewhere on the site for like 10000 bucks.

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OK, a couple days after this, like once it really explodes, Wayfair puts out a statement. The statement says There is, of course, no truth to these claims.

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The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced wafers, basically saying like, well, of course, the cabinet cost 50000 dollars.

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It's industrial, it costs fifty thousand dollars because of the absence of children yet. But, yeah, it sounds sketchy. I feel like what people want is like some kind of breakdown of like why like of people could have like an itemized list of where that money is going. I think that's that's what I would want.

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I mean, an actual explanation of why the products were at these bananas prices would have been way better than being like, oh, the prices are bananas, the prices are fine. Yeah. Because it doesn't do anything for the pillow that costs.

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Fifty dollars or 10000 dollars, if your parents catch you sneaking out to go to Jeff's house, you're not going to get very far by being like, I wasn't sneaking out. I was checking on the store window. Like I said, you have to be like I was sneaking out.

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But Jeff has cancer. Always you cancer. You know, it's not persuasive to act like the thing you're doing that is not normal is, in fact, normal. Like no one likes that.

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I mean, I think this is so typical of conspiracy theories where there's something that is out of the ordinary and then people jump to an extremely specific counter explanation for the thing, because this doesn't have to be child sex trafficking. This could be like drug trafficking. Yeah, maybe these cabinets are fifty thousand dollars because they're full of cocaine. Or maybe it's some weird money laundering thing.

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I mean, anything it doesn't have to be like an innocent explanation. Yes.

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Other than the kids names, the only other evidence that this was child sex trafficking is apparently there is a Russian search engine called Yandex, OK?

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And if you type in the sort of 10 digit product code in Yandex and then you follow it with Source USA, so SIRC USA, like any website from the USA, you hit enter. Apparently I have not done this for very obvious reasons, but apparently you would get like child pornography photos.

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Oh, of course.

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What journalists find out hopefully with like an incognito window or something is that if you type anything into this search engine with Source USA after it you get images of child porn like like words like the word cotton.

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Yeah, you can type in like cat playing with a piece of string and then sorcerous like these weird little letters at the end, like it's just a really sketchy Russian website with a lot of porn on it.

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So it's like a website that has a child pornography search code and like, OK, there's a great scoop there.

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Like, well, I know the hell is going on with this web, with the search engine.

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That's the story here, girls before predators, man.

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And then, of course, within days, people have to figure out that all of these, quote unquote, missing kids that, you know, are supposed to be stashed in the cabinets for the vast majority of them.

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Came home years ago. This poor girl, Salmiya Moomin, she has come home.

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This girl goes on Facebook live and she says like this, it's actually really painful period in my life. And it's not fun to go onto the Internet and find all of these photos that, like my family was putting around the city looking for me. I am not missing. I am not trafficked. Take me off of the Internet, please.

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I'm not even this picture anymore. Exactly.

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But so what's frustrating about this is it's very similar to me to the jet fuel can't melt steel beams thing.

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Oh, with with nine eleven. What is that again. This is like where Internet sleuthing gets you right. This idea, there's like the meta explanation that is baked into a lot of conspiracy theories that like I a random person with no specialist knowledge can do all of this sort of Wikipedia level research and crack these massive conspiracies.

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So the explanation of the jet fuel can't melt steel beams. Thing was that with 9/11, you know, the planes hit, the towers in the towers eventually collapsed. The conspiracy theory explanation is that apparently jet fuel only burns at 800 degrees or something. I don't know the numbers, but it's some it's some number.

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Some very high number. Yes, it's a very high number.

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And then to melt steel, steel has to be like twelve hundred degrees.

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Again, I'm making up these numbers, but some number higher than jet fuel burns that you're going to get some hate mail from metal urns.

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Yes, please, my friend, please do not embarrass. So as soon as these rumors start going around, actual structural engineers point out steel does not have to liquefy to lose a lot of its strength.

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Uh huh. Like maybe you could crash a huge thing into it.

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Maybe then if you heat steel up to whatever it was, 800 degrees, it's going to become really fucking weak and it can't hold up the other floors of the building and the building collapses. So it's all these people without specialist knowledge who are speculating about these technical things that they do not understand. And coming up with baroque theories. So the same thing happens here where people look into this.

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They're like, well, why else would the cabinets be 50000 dollars? And then people who actually work in online retail point out that a lot of the pricing on online retail sites these days is algorithmic. So the vendors, it's all like these third party vendors that are posting ads on Wayfair. They'll actually troll other websites and be like, oh, well, that cabinet on this other website is 200 bucks. So we're going to price it at three hundred bucks.

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Prices change all the time. And like human beings do not look at these things, right? So sometimes the algorithms can go a little haywire.

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There was infamously a textbook, a medical textbook on Amazon that was priced at twenty four million dollars a couple of years ago because there were two companies and each one of them was watching the other company's website and they would raise.

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Their price, so if you go to one hundred, I go to 200, you go to 300, I go to 400 and it just kept climbing up and up and up and up before anybody noticed.

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Oh, my God. There's this whole thing that it looks like Wayfair doesn't like it when third party vendors have items out of stock like it reduces your rating on Wayfair to like have a bunch of items that are out of stock.

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So when you run out of a pillow instead of saying it's sold out, what you do is you just change the price to ten thousand dollars and then nobody ever tries to buy it again.

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Yeah, but anyway, I mean, I don't know, it's so like perfunctory to debunk these things because of course it wasn't true.

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Well, but then I mean, what it shows us is that there are an appreciable number of people who do believe and I think this is kind of getting to our next segment, but like child trafficking looks like this, like it looks like kids being put into cabinets and shipped via Federal Express. Yeah.

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I mean, there's also the thing that is important to a lot of moral panic, this idea that it's hiding in plain sight.

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You know, you often see this thing of, you know, they put zip ties on your car and then right when you come over to investigate them, that's when they kidnap you. It's this idea that after that, every time you see a zip tie, you're like, oh, the traffickers like this is evidence. I see it. But other people don't see this idea that there's these innocuous things around you that are signs of something sinister. And I think these high prices on a random website, it's just like those zip ties, right, where it's like out of the ordinary.

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But it's also common enough that it can make you think that this problem is everywhere, because every time you see a high price on a retail website after that, you're like, oh, the traffickers.

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This is like Dr. Paster logic. He's like, oh, my God. Has a rash like that proves that Satan wrapped his actual tail around her actual neck. Exactly.

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So do you want to talk about some numbers now? Oh, my God. Can we talk about my favorite number?

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First, I was just about to send you a screen grab of it. Is it the one the six six six one here? I'm sending you the screengrab.

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So it's funny because this is and that kind of like a live laugh love. I know. Aesthetic, totally sort of Wollar that you see at HomeGoods. Yeah. And so at the top it has an image of it's not an image, it's like a stencil kind of cutout of a hypodermic needle. And underneath that it says a child in America is sixty six thousand six hundred and sixty seven times more likely to be sold to human traffickers than die of covid-19.

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In addition, your masks assist and then being transported undetected and unidentified by anyone.

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I do love that they said sixty six thousand six hundred and sixty seven like they they didn't go all the way there. Like, no, we don't to be too obvious. Yeah.

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It just makes it look like a more like number. No, you're totally frohna.

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So of course, I mean this is so dumb. But I did, I did the math on this.

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Please give us the math. The math. It's bound to be spectacular.

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The number that I could find. I mean, it's hard to get good numbers on this, but the number that I could find is at 76 children have died of covid as of I think this is like as of July 2013. It's not an updated number, but it doesn't matter because this whole thing is fake anyway. So who cares? But anyway, if you multiply that by sixty six thousand six hundred sixty seven, you get five million kids.

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So in the time that we've had covid, five million kids have been sold to traffickers.

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So five million.

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So like a million kids a month is what that brings down to that number is seven percent of the total number of children in the population.

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I guess that's my next question. Are these being shown to us as the same numbers, the same level of direness, or are there statistics where it's like the numbers used to be lower, but they're higher because of the masks?

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The masks thing has become a weirdly prominent aspect of this moral panic in the last couple of months. It's not clear to me what the logic is, because I get the logic is that if you're a trafficker and you kidnap a child, the child has a mask on, then people will not recognize that as a missing child. But like how many members of the population know what the missing children look like, first of all.

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And second of all, if the myth is that a million children are going missing every month, then like before I go to Wal-Mart, I'm supposed to know what all the missing children look like in my area.

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That is like twenty thousand missing children in Washington state. That math, if you just break it down to like every state gets the same amount. So say it's like 5000 in the Seattle area. So you guys have to memorize the names and faces of 5000 missing kids.

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Yeah, just going through my binder every morning. Five thousand kids like preparing Miranda Priestly for a gala.

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I actually think that there's something really pernicious in this ad which doesn't get remarked upon. OK, the thing that really bugs me about it is this idea that they're being sold to human traffickers.

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So there's this idea that children are being kidnapped and then there's this international network of sort of shady businessmen. Who are literally buying and selling children, I mean, this is what the Wayfair conspiracy was based on two yeah, two full transactions are taking place here and like three separate abuse events, like the child has kidnapped the child, is sold to the traffickers and then the traffickers then turn around and I guess sell the child to someone else. So it's like.

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Exactly, yeah. It's like an economic world, apparently, where there are middlemen and bankers and corporations and like is this whole robust economy of child snatching and sorting and selling. Yes.

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And I want to be crystal clear that there is no evidence that that has ever happened. Yeah.

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What I think this depends on is this idea that there is some rapacious demand for sex with children. Everyone in society should know that attraction to children is quite rare in the population. People who are attracted to prepubescent children, we know that it is less than one percent of the entire population. It is actually quite rare for people to be attracted to prepubescent children.

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And then what are the numbers for people actually acting on that?

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Well, this is the thing we don't know, but we know that it's relatively small because they do these fell on the tree test where they can actually test the amount of arousal that you exhibit based on certain photos so they can show you photos and see how aroused you get. And so there's some debate over like how good this measurement is. But based on the information that we have, most people who are attracted to prepubescent children are not only attracted to prepubescent children.

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So what we are pretty sure of is that the vast majority of people that are attracted to prepubescent children live their lives. They get married to people. They probably never tell anyone about it. Maybe they tell a therapist, but they get married, they have kids, they live their lives. They don't really act on it. That's it. So it's not the majority of people who have these attractions who act on them or they they lead solitary lives.

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But the point is that it's possible to harbor these feelings without letting your life be guided by them.

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But so the other barrier that I think is also really important. So pedophilia is pretty rare in the population. Acting on pedophilia is pretty rare.

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And the number of people who are interested in purchasing sex with abused children is also very small.

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I realize this is really disturbing to talk about, but actual abuse cases, actual abuse of children, which is predominantly done by relatives, acquaintances or people in positions of power.

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Part of the grooming process is pedophiles convincing themselves that these relationships are consensual, that it's actually very rare for a child molester to, like, identify as a child molester. But they think that they are doing is having a relationship. Yeah. And so if you are purchasing sex with a kidnapped child who is, you know, in a hotel room or chained or bound in some other way, extremely upset, that destroys that fantasy.

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Right. It reminds them that they are harming children and they do not want to be reminded of that. And so, again, just the market of people who are interested in these kinds of transactions with children are vanishingly small. It doesn't mean it doesn't happen, but there just isn't a market for this kind of behavior with prepubescent children.

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Yeah, like within this this very rare in the scheme of things, means of molesting a child. I think it is like still rare to molest a child or to abuse a child. And the way that we're being taught to envision. Yeah. Every single instance of anything like this. Right.

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And this is also, again, disturbing to think about. But there's also just the logistics of it that most people who are violating against children, there's oftentimes substance abuse issues.

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There's oftentimes mental illness issues.

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These are not very functional people, typically the ones who actually offend.

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And so the idea that they're interested in paid sex with a minor and they are good enough at the Dark Web, they have these networks of international elites. They have enough money to be paying for this on a regular basis.

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I mean, that's just like another leap of implausibility. There's not that many people that are interested in harming a child in this way and capable of purchasing this kind of activity. Right.

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I mean, I feel like if I'm someone who wants to harm a child, it's hard for me to couple that with the kind of like, very calculated executive function. Yeah. That you would need in order to go through this whole complicated kind of dark Web transaction process. And then also, you know, the people who are being involved in these conspiracy theories. You know, Kuhnen is very much about the alleged misdeeds of the Hollywood elite. I think that within the scenario, it's supposed to be, you know, wealthy, powerful people, but it can't all be the elites if we're talking about these numbers.

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Right. And also, I mean, if we look at the real cases that we know about. Right. Of people like R. Kelly or Jeffrey Epstein. You know, Jeffrey Epstein is about as close to this stereotype as you get. I mean, he had a plan called the Lolita Express. So, like, he's really a great example of someone who knew what they were doing.

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But what's interesting about the Epstein case is that was he buying kids online? No, he was using his power to make people trust him. This is the same thing that R. Kelly did. I'm going to make you a singer when we see real cases of this.

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It's not people that are just like buying kids off of some shipping container or using the dark web. It's people with power and without accountability. Yeah, and that doesn't mean that they're global elites and they're flying you around on private jets. It can just be a soccer coach who's very well liked by all the other teachers in the school. The thing that drives me nuts about all of this, like kidnapped kids stuff, is it distracts us from the fact that in real cases, the problem is not that victims don't come forward.

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The problem is not that nobody sees anything.

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It's that they do see things.

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They do report things, and nothing happens. All of this is a distraction from the patterns that we see in real cases of child abuse.

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So even in Epstein's case, who clearly didn't have like a moral objection to sexually abusing children, even Epstein was not like a buying and selling kids on some sort of international network, because why bother?

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Like, why create more work for yourself? There's actually I found a really interesting study of every single human trafficking case that has been prosecuted in the United States between 2000 and 2015. Do you know how many of those cases were from organized cartels?

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Zero, literally zero. I mean, there were some that were linked to gangs like three or four people. There were some that were sort of like mom and pop.

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They call them operations, but there was nothing with any ties internationally. There was nothing with any level of hierarchy or organization.

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I really don't think we should use the word trafficking unless it's like totally unavoidable, which I don't know what it would be, because it's like if we if we mean traffic in terms of like, you know, anyone engaging in underage sex work for any reason, in any situation is trafficked. People don't picture that when they hear the word trafficking. Oh, totally. I mean, they picture you see you being crammed into a way for a cabinet.

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Oh, yeah. And also, like, if you're a, you know, queer kid who runs away at age 16 from your extremely abusive and violent parents, you end up being homeless.

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You have no options because there's no services available for homeless youth in America. The only way that you're going to get a warm place to sleep is by having sex with somebody. So you have sex with that person. You sleep over at their house just calling that trafficking.

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Like, does that help anyone?

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Yeah, we're going to send away the guy who purchased sex with a teenager. Maybe he knew she was 16. Maybe he didn't. He definitely should have known. He's now a trafficker. He goes away for forty years. Great. Does that give her a place to stay? Does it make her less vulnerable to that happening to her again?

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Does that make her less likely to have needed to run away to begin with? Does it make families better? Exactly.

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So it's just like, fine, if you want to call it trafficking, but it's not clear that's helping anybody. Yeah, OK, next.

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No, you want to join another. No. Yes. So another one that we've been sent. I don't have a screen grab of this one.

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This is the exact wording, 300000 times per year, underage girls are sold for sex.

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Can I choose like red, yellow, green freebies, like a snoop scale? We're like red is like totally untrue.

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Yellow is like, OK, maybe kind of. And green is like, yes, I feel like this is a yellow one. We're like, I believe that there can be like three hundred thousand individual transactions between clients and underage sex workers who are being coerced into sex work and aren't legally able to consent like that seems possible.

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This number is actually a sort of game of telephone version of a number that has been around for years. This is one of the most prominent numbers that you find that 300000 children in the United States are at risk of being trafficked, which is the Vegas statistic and the whole world.

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Yes, because I'm at risk of every fucking thing.

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I mean, just on its face, the idea of people being at risk of something is completely absurd because we're all technically at risk of everything.

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I'm at risk of a meteor right now, and yet I bravely carry on. Also, it is based on a 2001 study where they break at risk kids into seventeen categories. So there's like homeless children, kids in public housing. One of them is female gang members. One of them is child victims of unwanted exposure to sexual materials via the Internet. And of course, they're all overlapping.

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Right, because, yeah, some of the kids that are homeless also get sent texts like they can be at risk so many ways all at once.

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This is like the trajectory that they go through in the paper. It's kind of amazing. There's five hundred and twenty three thousand runaways, which isn't true, but we'll get to that later. 35 percent of those are away from home for more than a week. That also is not true, by the way. And then of. That 30 percent of them are at risk of being trafficked. No, no methodology given there. Their guess like it feels like 30 percent.

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Yeah, this is not a recipe. Yes. You are not adding nutmeg.

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So this is how they get to 300000 is they just add up all the categories. And the author of the paper now says that he would not publish it today.

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So this month, I mean, this number appears on like anti trafficking websites to this day.

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So I guess to sort of it's like we started off with a real number of something and then extrapolated that to like sort of random numbers of other things. Yeah. And then the researcher disowned their own work. Yeah.

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And the Internet doesn't care, although this methodology actually shows up elsewhere. So there's an infamous University of Texas Austin study that says that seventy nine thousand children are trafficked in Texas alone. And the way that they calculate that number is of the two hundred and ninety thousand children who experience abuse in Texas.

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Twenty five percent of them will be trafficked. It's not clear where they get the twenty five percent from, but they're just like, OK, a lot of kids experience abuse. Twenty five percent of them will be trafficked. Math, math, math. Nine kids are being trafficked in Texas. The most amazing thing about the study and you find this so much in trafficking statistics, we have the estimate that there are seventy nine thousand children, victims of trafficking in Texas.

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Right.

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They then note in the same study that in the previous year, the police in Texas only identified 320 victims of trafficking.

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And the implication is that the police are doing a terrible job, which is a weird thing for a conservative meme to be implying.

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What do you think about it?

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We know that other types of crimes are underreported, right? Everybody knows that for every rape that gets reported to the police, there's three or four or 10 that don't get reported for this number to work. For every reported case of child trafficking, there would have to be 256 that are not reported. There is no other crime that has a ratio like that.

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If things were happening on the scale and I think this probably comes back to some degree to the fact that people, I think, are bad at visualizing what a a lot of an item would look like. Yeah, you cannot picture, you know, sixty thousand three hundred thousand children. Yes. Yeah.

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OK, next number, we're going to send you a tweet. There you go. OK. All right. You want to read the tweet or I guess read the infographics the tweet contains? I do.

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It's also weird because a lot of these have that fuzzy look like you can tell they've been sort of like screen grabbed and passed around a few times.

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Right. Like sort of folded up in somebody's pocket. Yeah. Yeah. OK, so this graphic says missing children per year, Spain twenty thousand. Australia twenty five thousand. France thirty nine thousand, which is like a nice specific not round number that makes it look more credible. Mexico forty five thousand. Canada fifty thousand. Germany one hundred thousand.

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United Kingdom two hundred and thirty thousand.

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United States eight hundred thousand eight hundred thousand.

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And then there is an accompanying image and it's in that like classic meme look with like impact font. Yeah. And it says children don't just disappear. Yeah. And then it's images of four red shoes which I know are like a theme in Kuhnen. Yeah.

[00:28:58]

It's very it. Yeah. Yes. So this number goes around a lot. This, this idea that there's 800000 missing kids in America and 100000 in Germany.

[00:29:07]

I mean every number on that info graphic is wrong. By the way. I looked at the other countries really.

[00:29:13]

I mean, just to pick one, it says there's two hundred and thirty thousand kids go missing in the UK. It's actually a hundred and twelve thousand.

[00:29:19]

But anyway, putting that aside, I like the eight hundred thousand number because sometimes you come across numbers in human trafficking that are like practically wrong, like at any level of detail, they're wrong in a different and new way.

[00:29:34]

So first of all, eight hundred thousand is not the number of missing kids in America. I don't I don't know why this has I mean, I do know why this has caught on with people, because it's a really big number. But this number is from a 2002 study and it's based on nineteen ninety nine data. One thing I really don't like about these things is that we always see this phrase go missing right off. Kids go missing every year.

[00:29:57]

What these big numbers refer to is not kids who disappear. These are reports of missing children.

[00:30:05]

And there's a huge difference because the same study that found there were eight hundred thousand reports of missing children that year also found that ninety nine point eight percent of them returned home. So if you believe the eight hundred thousand number, you also have to. I believe the ninety nine point eight number, so that number was based on a survey that collected all of the reports to the police of missing children, plus people that report it to like NGO's and stuff like there's other agencies that take reports of missing children.

[00:30:38]

So there's kids that are getting counted twice. Yes, exactly. There's kids that are getting kind of twice. And also that also counts kids that run away more than once. OK, which is actually quite common, like especially kids in abusive foster care situations or custody battles, if there's like a really ugly custody battle going on. My husband took the kids for the weekend and he didn't bring them back. You have to report that to the police as missing for them to go to your husband's house and try to get them back for you.

[00:31:04]

And oftentimes that will happen a number of times in the year because you're still legally obligated potentially to give the kids to your husband. So a lot of these reports are actually being generated by like the same kids over and over again.

[00:31:15]

So if your parents had, like, a really nasty custody battle in nineteen ninety nine, you can look at that number and be like, yeah, like 50 of those are me. Yeah, I'm that good.

[00:31:24]

A much more recent number than that is that in twenty nineteen there were four hundred and twenty one thousand kids reported missing to the FBI.

[00:31:33]

Doesn't sound as good Mike does it. And same thing with this FBI number. Over 99 percent of the kids come home. And so as we have discussed on the show so many times, we think there's somewhere around a hundred and fifteen actual stranger danger kidnappings of children per year.

[00:31:49]

Another piece of evidence for this. This is actually interesting.

[00:31:52]

There's only one hundred and sixty one Amber Alerts in twenty eighteen. So if there's like this massive wave of missing children, it's a little weird that there's only one hundred and sixty one Amber Alerts because stranger danger kidnappings are exactly what Amber Alerts are designed for.

[00:32:08]

Yeah. There's also have you seen this number that the average trafficking victim or the average sex worker, depending on which screengrab you look at, starts commercial sex when they're 13 years old? Have you seen this? I have not seen that one.

[00:32:21]

I like this one because it's based on the same 2001 article that produced the 300000 kids are at risk of trafficking statistic.

[00:32:30]

So it's already debunked by the guy that wrote it. That number comes from qualitative interviews with one hundred and seven sex workers.

[00:32:38]

There's also a 1982 survey of sex workers where they asked sex workers how old they are the first time they had sex and the average age was thirteen and a half, which is a different question. Yes.

[00:32:50]

What I also love about this statistic is that Polaris, which is one of the biggest anti trafficking organizations in the country, pylorus itself has a debunking of this statistic, really good for them, making good choices.

[00:33:05]

The anti trafficking organizations don't even stand by this one. Yeah, that's bad. So please stop smashing that like button.

[00:33:14]

OK, next. No, let me send you another screen. Grab that. Oh, boy.

[00:33:19]

So we have a silhouette of a person with live long hair, kind of a Rachel.

[00:33:26]

And the text says human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world, which makes it sound like they're trying to recruit you to be a major in human trafficking. With an estimated forty point three million victims worldwide at any given time. Victims are young children, teenagers, women and men.

[00:33:49]

It's people. Those are just all the people.

[00:33:52]

Not not binary well killed, but not adults. People who identify as neither women nor men. They are safe. No, everyone else is fact non binary.

[00:34:01]

We just want you to know everything's going to be fine. You're going to be OK. So I'm going to talk about this forty point three million victims worldwide. No. OK, so this forty point three million figure comes from the International Labor Organization. And this is one of those ones where we have to keep zooming in on the number because forty million trafficking victims includes an extremely wide range of behavior.

[00:34:28]

So first of all, around sixteen million of those victims are in forced marriages.

[00:34:36]

So this is a weird thing that has happened that the legal definition now includes everyone who is in a forced marriage.

[00:34:43]

And how are you defining a forced marriage while we're on the subject? It includes anyone who was made to enter a marriage in the last five years, regardless of their age.

[00:34:52]

What is made to mean, though, even? Well, exactly. I mean, this is the problem with these statistics is that there's a huge spectrum of, like, forced ness within that.

[00:35:02]

Yes.

[00:35:03]

I don't want to go down a whole rabbit hole because, like, I would need to spend a lot of time looking into this issue to discuss it with any level of nuance.

[00:35:11]

But I think the main thing is that it's not, what, ninety nine point nine percent of people would consider trafficking to be.

[00:35:18]

Yeah, if you want to question the ethics of. Having their marriages arranged by the parents of the bride and groom or what have you that are happening in a country where you don't live and where you maybe don't know anyone, then you can, like, sit, you know, with that and think about is this something where I can learn enough to determine whether or not my opinion is helpful here, but it's not as exciting as a number like 40 million.

[00:35:49]

Right.

[00:35:49]

I mean, I would also say that, like, as somebody who worked in development for 11 years, I think that if you're looking for a development issue some way that you feel like you can be helping the developing world, don't pick something that's like a deeply entrenched cultural practice like this that you don't know about. Like if you don't speak the language of a country, don't start getting yourself involved in. It's like relationships between men and women type institutions.

[00:36:14]

I don't want to offend practices and say that like they're good. I'm just saying that, like, if you don't know that much about this and you just heard about it on a screen grab on Instagram, don't get involved, fix things in America where like you actually know how things work.

[00:36:26]

Right?

[00:36:27]

So once we take out the 15 million that are in forced marriages, we're left with twenty five million. OK, so 20 million of these people, the vast majority are forced laborers.

[00:36:37]

This is anybody who is working under conditions where they cannot leave. Basically, they do not have to be moved across borders.

[00:36:45]

So this can be somebody in the town where they grew up not being paid or they were lied to about their recruitment conditions or they're being paid under the table and they can't go to anyone to try and enforce being paid a living wage.

[00:37:01]

A huge component of this is undocumented immigrants. I've interviewed people in America who are undocumented immigrants and their bosses say if you quit, if you complain that I'm not paying you, I will call ICE on you. So this is actually like a big problem in the world.

[00:37:16]

Yeah. Although one of the weird methodological things with this, with all of the numbers that are produced by the ILO report, is that there's something in deep in the footnotes, in the methodological appendices that they do this by surveying people they talk to on the phone. It seems there's some sort of in-person component of this.

[00:37:33]

If they ask somebody whether they're in a forced marriage or they've done forced labor, if they refuse to answer, they mark that as they are a victim.

[00:37:44]

And that's not right. It's not great. They also do a really weird thing where instead of asking you, like, are you a victim of forced labor, they ask you, are you or anyone in your immediate family a victim of forced labor?

[00:37:58]

So, again, you're going to, you know, people who are potentially being counted multiple times and that for one thing. Exactly.

[00:38:05]

They're deliberately choosing methodologies that are going to make the numbers as high as possible again. So we started with 40 million. We remove everybody that's in a forced marriage. We're down to twenty five. Then we remove everybody who's in forced labor. We finally get a sexual exploitation. So according to the study, there are five million victims of forced sexual exploitation, of which one million are children.

[00:38:28]

So if what you're concerned with is child sex trafficking, you should not be using the 40 million number. You should be using the one million number.

[00:38:34]

What's very weird about this section of the report is that they don't actually survey people. This isn't based on anything. So what they're basically doing is they have another data set of survivors of trafficking, survivors of for sexual exploitation. And basically what they do is they just apply the stories that they get from those victims to the various countries. So if, you know, some percentage of their victims are from Kenya, they'll just be like, oh, well, Kenya has like this many forced sex workers, huh?

[00:39:04]

This is actually a really big problem with like any global statistics.

[00:39:08]

Is that because it's really, really, really expensive to do surveys and, you know, more than 190 countries, what they usually do is this clustering thing. So rather than doing interviews with people in like Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, that's really expensive to do that in all four countries.

[00:39:24]

What you do is you just interview people in Kenya, you get a sample there, and then you're like, OK, Uganda has around one third the per capita GDP of Kenya.

[00:39:34]

So we assume that child sex trafficking is higher there because the poverty rates are higher. And so you adjust the number upwards and you say, well, Uganda has a smaller population than Kenya, so you adjust the number downwards. So you basically just take these numbers from Kenya and then you adjust them upwards and downwards according to various economic conditions in Uganda.

[00:39:54]

Yeah, I, I don't I don't think that's good. This is my beef with any of these.

[00:39:58]

Sort of like the Global Slavery Index is one of the worst ones. That's another trafficking one.

[00:40:03]

What you're basically doing is you're assuming exactly the thing you're trying to find out.

[00:40:08]

Kenya like I was looking at police violence for our episode last week. Right. So if you say like, well, OK, there's police in Britain shoot about three people a year and police in Germany shoot about ten people a year. Well, you see. Has a bigger population, so let's say police in America shoot 20 people a year. That's that's good, right? And it's like, well, no, because the exact thing you're trying to find out is, are there unique social, economic and policy conditions in the United States that would make this behavior different there if you're interested in child sex trafficking?

[00:40:41]

You can't just say that Uganda has more because it has a higher poverty rate, because maybe Uganda has less.

[00:40:48]

Maybe the country has really good policies that prevent child sex trafficking, or maybe there's something in the culture that keeps this from happening as much as you would expect, given its population, GDP, all of these other factors. This is the entire point of the exercise, right.

[00:41:05]

Because presumably you are focused on finding out what the actual numbers would be, because that's the first thing that you need to know to get an accurate sense of like what do we need to do for some kind of intervention? And so if you're not even looking directly at the actual country that you're projecting these statistics for, then it's like, so you're flying blind. Like you don't know anything about the kind of trafficking that's taking place. You don't know what industries it's clustering around like it's and it seems like you have more information than you actually do if you're reporting a number.

[00:41:37]

Exactly. Because it sounds quantitative. But all of this stuff about sex and there is not actually based on any survey data, it's not really based on anything. It's just you applying these numbers of victims that you have already. Does that make sense?

[00:41:50]

Yes. You know, to me, what's what's most frustrating about this is that the phrase human trafficking essentially means nothing because it means so many different things. But if we're seeing names about it on Facebook and Instagram, then like you never see or I certainly can never remember seeing a meme that is trying to show the face of, like human trafficking in the sense of, like, your server might be getting screwed by their boss. Of course, it's not about that.

[00:42:22]

You know, even if the numbers were 100 percent accurate to what they were claiming to describe, like the phrase human trafficking is just it's useless at this point because it people don't understand it as referring to the thing that it is, for the most part, referring to. So it's like language becomes unusable at that point.

[00:42:42]

I mean, I've actually had two conversations in the last week with immigration and labor lawyers who work on trafficking cases. So one of the lawyers I interviewed actually helps trafficking victims apply for trafficking visas. Right. There's a special trafficking visa status.

[00:42:58]

First of all, they said that neither one of them have ever been contacted by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

[00:43:03]

There's this myth now that, like the Wayfair, human trafficking conspiracy theory is like preventing the anti trafficking organizations from doing their work.

[00:43:13]

The trafficking hotlines don't do anything. The only thing they do is call the cops, if that's what you need them to do.

[00:43:19]

They don't actually perform any services like Ashbery, Abraham and Inside Llewyn Davis, they said, I don't see a lot of money here.

[00:43:28]

What you find when you start looking into the actual problems of forced labor in this country is that government policy is complicit in it the entire time.

[00:43:37]

So what happens is a lot of people come to America on farm worker visas, which allow them to work legally, but do not allow them to change employers. So if you want to quit your job, you have to leave the country.

[00:43:51]

This is a program that is designed for abuse. The employers know that their employees cannot leave or else they'll get deported. So they have no incentive to give them decent working conditions, no incentive to pay them on time, no incentive to follow through on any promises.

[00:44:09]

This is what drives me nuts, is that when you talk to the anti trafficking organizations, you're like, OK, what do we need to solve this problem? Like you're telling me this problem is huge. What do we need to solve it?

[00:44:19]

And they say, like, oh, more awareness, more people need to know about it when you do it. Like more trainings for cops, trainings for nurses, trainings for pilots.

[00:44:27]

I do not know how much more aware people could get at this point.

[00:44:32]

We are wildly, like most Americans are more aware of human trafficking than like antibiotic resistance. Like there's a lot of issues that we should be more aware of. Yeah.

[00:44:39]

And this idea of awareness, it's like people are being trained to look for the kind of thing that they're not going to see very much. And we talked about this when we did this episode last fall. But the thing where, you know, if you're if you're seeing these posters and you're looking for a child in visible distress who is being stranger danger kidnapped in front of you, then like if you're looking really hard for that, you might not see other things.

[00:45:04]

This is another thing that drives me nuts that I've actually asked human trafficking organizations like the ones that I have mentioned on this episode. I've asked them, are there any cases where somebody has called one of your hotlines and a child has been rescued and they could not give me a case?

[00:45:20]

And meanwhile. One of these lawyers was telling me that when she helps her clients apply for TV sets for these trafficking visas, if they're turned down, ICE will go and deport them because their address is often on the paperwork.

[00:45:34]

Oh, my God.

[00:45:36]

And we have all these organizations that are saying, oh, we really need awareness, awareness, awareness. And then you look into it and you're like, no, there's actually some pretty specific legal changes that we need a change to the visa program.

[00:45:48]

If you come here as a farm worker, if you leave your job, you have six months to find any other job you want. No questions asked that would prevent a huge amount of trafficking ending homelessness.

[00:45:59]

How many kids are engaging in sex acts because they don't have a place to stay? If we give them a place to stay, they will not be as desperate improving the foster care system or the love of God.

[00:46:12]

Right?

[00:46:13]

It's like it's all right there, but it's not because it's this invisible, all powerful cartel and they're having kids through Wayfair and they're making billions of dollars every year and they're hiding in plain sight. And so it's like I feel like it plays into just this desire for helplessness, you know, that's like what can we do? What can we do? No one cares. And it's like, here's three things. And it's like, no, right now the cartels are too big and too powerful.

[00:46:38]

We just have to keep sharing.

[00:46:40]

Meems, I just have to keep looking for zip ties and the chardonnay all day, find my sort of main take away.

[00:46:46]

And the thing that I try to hammer into people whenever I rant about this at parties, which is all the time back when there were parties, this is not normal.

[00:46:55]

Which part? I mean, there's a lot of like, you know, random Harris County human trafficking task force.

[00:47:04]

They'll say like human trafficking by the numbers and the list. All of these numbers that we just talked about, 300000 children at risk. They'll say 800000 missing kids.

[00:47:12]

These numbers swirl around. Right. And they're old and they're sketchy.

[00:47:17]

And the researchers don't even stand by them any more. This is not normal.

[00:47:21]

I worked in development for 11 years. I've been to a million conferences.

[00:47:25]

I've talked to people that work on like deforestation or like female genital mutilation, income inequality. You ask them about these issues and they can tell you basic facts. Right. How much deforestation is there in the world?

[00:47:37]

Where is it happening? They don't have perfect information, but they have a general sense. Right. And then you look at trafficking organizations and it's like, OK, how many people are trafficked? And they're like, well, there's this number from 2002, but like, the person doesn't stand by it anymore. And like, we had to take it off our website because it's bad.

[00:47:55]

Know this this is a basic fact about your main issue. What is the prevalence for the last week?

[00:48:03]

For something else, I was looking into gun violence. 3000 kids are killed every year by guns in this country. And you go to their websites and it's like, OK, it was like twenty seven hundred last year and now it's like 2800. Right. And there's like different data sources and like they're broken down by sort of suicides and homicides and accidental and on purpose. And, you know, it's like how many black kids and how many white kids and what are the ages of the kids.

[00:48:25]

And then you look at trafficking organizations and a lot of these trafficking organizations, if you go to Shared Hope International, which is like one of the main anti trafficking organizations, there's no fucking numbers on their website. They do not have a basic estimate of prevalence and they don't seem to have any interest in getting better numbers. This issue has been a major moral panic in the United States for more than 20 years.

[00:48:50]

And in all that time, millions, tens of millions of dollars in donations. They haven't put together a consortium of NGOs and a bunch of experts to try to really crack how this is happening, who what's happening to where it's happening.

[00:49:05]

The only numbers that this entire field is producing on a regular basis are the National Trafficking Hotline figures, which are literally anonymous calls to a hotline.

[00:49:17]

They reflect nothing. All they reflect is how paranoid random members of the population are about this issue.

[00:49:25]

It is completely inconceivable that you would want to solve a problem and be this uninterested in how it's actually happening.

[00:49:34]

And then the Mobius strip that you got into is I can say, well, we don't have the numbers because the traffickers are so powerful and they cover up their tracks. And so it's hard to get an exact estimate. And then, you know, the response to that is like, OK, then why are we so sure that they're so high? Right. There's this family of statistics where we just want high numbers. And it was the same. And, you know, stranger danger in the eighties.

[00:49:58]

We talked about that, you know, stranger danger was the just first year from which trafficking panic like mckirdy. Yeah. And that seemed to have been based on a desire not to calmly assess the situation and do what needed to be done. Like I think a lot of people did want to do that. But the broader cultural tenor of that was like, let's be scared all the time. Yeah, let's find a reason. To be in a state of fear and reactivity all the time, no matter what.

[00:50:25]

And also, I mean, this this is one of my beefs with like the way that the media covers this that go on Snopes gone, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal. There's so many fact checks of all of the numbers at the heart of the trafficking panic.

[00:50:39]

And it's the same organizations putting out these bad numbers again and again.

[00:50:42]

And so Washington Post will have like one of these facture columns of like other 300000 figure doesn't make any sense. The 800000 figure doesn't make any sense. But anyway, sex trafficking is like a huge issue and we don't want to minimize it.

[00:50:53]

And it's like this massive problem. And you're like, wait a minute, why are we still taking the fact that this is this huge issue that is worthy of posters in every fucking airport?

[00:51:03]

Seriously, we don't have the basic evidence now. It's like, OK, you cheated on the last test and then you cheated on the test before that. You cheated on the test before that. But I'm just going to give you the test and like, not look at you while you're taking it. It's no big deal.

[00:51:16]

Like, fool me over and over again over the course of decades. Like, shame on me.

[00:51:22]

Can I tell you my my theory about why we're seeing so much of this right now? Do it OK? I feel like what this fear reflects and I feel like what is reflected in the 80s and what the satanic panic reflects. So many other panics about children that like are claiming to be for the welfare of the child, but are like targeting something that is either like not a problem that many children are actually facing. You know, these panics that like are about protecting children but always manage to miss the point spectacularly.

[00:51:53]

Yeah. And I think that does reflect the fact that you cannot ignore that America is a dangerous country for children. They get shot. They shoot each other. Yeah. And we know how many toddlers shoot each other per year. And we can look at a chart and it's all right there. But it's not exciting to have actual numbers, is it? And it's not exciting to be like, what if we have to challenge our culture in the specific way to make the world safer for our toddlers or whatever?

[00:52:20]

You know, because so many things that we need to do for children and so many of them are like hard and expensive and they involve actually listening to children and learning about what they need and like not just sort of treating them as props for whatever political ideology we may have. I mean, and the fact that this is coming to a head around covid and in the summer before we are going to start sending children back into school.

[00:52:50]

Yeah, I do feel like there is some amount of projection and misdirection happening because we know that maybe kids do die of covid it at much lower rates than other demographics. But like seventy six children, it's still a lot of children. Yeah. And that number is going to get higher.

[00:53:08]

And so it feels like a way of being like, yes, we are going to sacrifice all these children. Right. But you know who's sacrificing more children, human traffickers. Yeah.

[00:53:19]

I also think that there's a thing and we've seen this before for people that are sort of generally on the left, generally progressive to be like, well, you know, at least we can all agree that we need to ensure the safety of children. Right. Like a lot of the people jumping on the human trafficking bandwagon are like pretty left wing celebrities. There's, you know, one of the fact checks I read had a quote from Amy Klobuchar, who was using one of these.

[00:53:41]

Oh, well, human trafficking numbers. I think a lot of people are coming to this issue from actually a good place.

[00:53:48]

And I think we need to be very skeptical of the fact that this is a narrative, human trafficking that is extremely important to the religious right, to conservatives and to Kuhnen supporters.

[00:54:02]

And like if those are the people that are pushing this right now and those are the people that keep bringing it up when we're in the middle of a pandemic for no particular reason, we need to ask ourselves if they are really acting in good faith for the protection of children. We just need to be really careful with the way that we amplify and accept the framing of organizations that seem like they share our values but are not working toward the same goals, because that's exactly what we did during the stranger danger.

[00:54:31]

Panic, right? Well, this is a Reagan thing, but we can all agree that we need to keep children safe. Did that make children safer? No. All it did was give us like three strikes laws and charging people with much harsher crimes than we used to because we've literally done this exact same thing before and it didn't work out.

[00:54:52]

So I have been watching all of the Paranormal Activity movies this week. One of the tropes and horror that I think is silly but also enjoy in that way is that a child thinks that they have connected with a spirit and then the child is tricked because it's not a ghost or a kind or neutral spirit. It is a demon. And the energy that you give to the demon makes it stronger.

[00:55:17]

And I feel like engaging with. Statistics about human trafficking is like thinking you're talking to a ghost on your Ouija board, you know, and you're connecting with this benevolent spirit and you don't know what you're feeding like. That might be too scary of a metaphor, but I do feel like, you know you know, if you share a statistic that's like for awareness and saying like, oh, my God, like, this horrible thing is happening according to this Instagram post, I'm not going to individually fact check this, because even if it's not right or not completely right, like people still benefit from being more vigilant about children being abused like that can't be bad.

[00:55:58]

But I think that, you know, that statistic you think you're feeding the child and you think you're feeding like the child's welfare, but you're really feeding Cindy McCain and you're feeding on him.

[00:56:12]

You're feeding this idea that, you know, no, like don't pay attention to what's going on. Pay attention to to this story that we are telling you. Right. And I don't know if you care about children. There are so many ways to show that. And I think that it's bullying to, you know, be throwing around these sensationalistic statistics and these very sort of triggering images and sort of daring people to, like, not retweeted or to not share it.

[00:56:41]

Right. You're playing like empathetic chicken with people at that point. Right? You're saying like either you pass on my message, either you further this conspiracy theory I'm sharing or you don't care about children. Right. And no one gets to decide how you go about trying to make the world a better place.

[00:57:00]

I mean, I just think that if you really care about children, you will play them disco with your.