Tuesday, February 24, 2009

FBI rescues teens like GW liberated Iraqis.

When it comes to reports in the media, it is sometimes important to notice what they don’t tell you. This is especially true when the media is just acting as a PR firm for politicians or various government agencies. You normally can tell when a report is taken almost verbatim from a press release issued by the agency in the question. These reports always sound very impressive but typically lack hard information. Consider this story dutifully reported by CNN.
Law enforcement officials arrested more than 500 people, and took custody of 48 juveniles in a coordinated 29-city weekend sweep aimed at combating child prostitution, the FBI announced Monday. Task forces made up largely of state and local police officers arrested and booked what authorities said were 464 adult prostitutes, 55 pimps and 55 customers on state charges. While most faced local charges, a senior FBI official said he expected there were would be some federal charges as well. The FBI Monday said 19 searches were conducted, netting a total of $438,000 in cash, plus illegal drugs, cars and computers.
The four dozen juveniles were recovered in the third phase of Operation Cross Country, an initiative that seeks to help child prostitutes and crack down on people who control them and patronize them.
We have two terms used in this report. One is “juveniles” and the other is “child” or "children". Both cover a wide range of individuals. In legal terms a child can be 17-years-old or 5-years-old. Which you are referring to changes the story rather dramatically. The entire report is clearly based on an FBI press release. My suspicion was that the FBI intentionally, and perhaps dishonestly, used the term “children” and not juveniles in their release. So I went to check it. Here is how they wrote their release:
“During the past week, the FBI joined our law enforcement partners in three-day national enforcement action campaign …. [which] led to the recover of 48 children being prostituted domestically. Additionally, 571 criminals were arrested on a combination of state and federal charges for the domestic trafficking of children for prostitution and solicitation. “We continue to pursue those who exploit our nation’s children,” said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III…. To date, the 32 Innocence Lost Task Forces and Working Groups have recovered 670 children…..
As I assumed, the FBI referred only to children and never once said juvenile. I suspect CNN added juvenile to make the report reflect what I suspect are the facts – that very, very few of those “recovered” were actually children. The FBI's motivation was to sensationalize the information as much as possible.

To illustrate my point, let us turn to how the anti Second Amendment lobby twisted the facts about gun deaths, in a very similar way. You will remember that they had some relatively high number of “children” who were supposedly killed with a gun every day. They included accidental deaths and murders in the same category. First, many of the victims were actually older than 18. And a large percentage of the others were over 16-years-of-age and often involved in violent gang activity. But say “children” and the public thinks of a rosy-faced little girl playing in her front yard – not a violent, 6’1”, 200 lb gang member protecting drug turf. If you need to sell an agenda you want the public to think of the first image and must discourage them from thinking of the second. Sure, its dishonest, but it works.

I have previously discussed the inconsistency of how the politicians and police define child. A hulking 17-year-old can be defined as an “innocent child” when it pleases the government or as a “dangerous criminal who must be treated as an adult” when that works to their benefit.

Who were the “children” recovered by the FBI? They don’t say. They have not released actual numbers indicating how many of those “recovered” (which means arrested) were of the various ages. They could all have been 17 for what we know. In fact, I suggest that the neglect of the FBI to release hard numbers is probably due to the fact that none of the “children” they arrested were actually what any of us would normally call children. Instead they are sexually mature adolescents. I’m not saying I think such adolescents should be involved in prostitution but I am saying the FBI is not being fully candid. This is a PR exercise meant to kept the child exploitation panic fueled.

Here is one potential piece of evidence. This is film footage of some of the FBI raid in process. What is missing? From my look at the footage what I don’t see is anyone who appears to be a child. The women who are being arrested all appear rather mature.

Some years ago the U.S. was engaged in a panic about “millions of missing children” and part of that panic was that many of the missing had been abducted into prostitution. Of course the actual numbers of children kidnapped by strangers was extremely small – numbers fluctuated between 64 and 150 per year, not millions. To reach the millions, they had to include all children taken by one parent in a custody conflict, all kids who ran away from home and all those who disappeared for a short time. Out of that panic the government created the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an agency which, of course, was heavily involved with this series of raids as part of a continuing campaign to justify their existence. This agency has to help fan the hysteria to stay employed.

At that time of that panic I read numerous reports claiming that there could be up to several million child prostitutes on the streets of America. I investigated all the hard data I could find. I used lots of different studies and government reports to attempt to discover the facts. One thing I discovered was that if you looked at the actual data of arrests for prostitution, around 90% of those arrested were of adults over the age of 18 and that almost all the remaining arrests were of teens above the age of 16. The numbers of actual children (prepubescents) involved appeared to be zero. Only a very small number of prostitutes were under 16. These same “children.” under different circumstances would be tried as adults by the same government that now brands them as children.

An Associated Press report gives us a little more information but then exhibits the second trick of the panic-mongers. First, they dropped the FBI's intentionally misleading label of “children” and spoke of “teenage prostitutes.” But they used the phrase “some as young as 13” to describe them. What does that mean?

When a report says “some as young as 13,” that is telling you that out of the entire lot the youngest person arrested was 13. So we know that no actual children were involved and that all the arrests were of pubescent teens. But there is still important data missing. How many of those arrested, or “rescued” as the FBI calls it, were 13? No report I’ve seen comes close to telling us. If I had to guess I would suspect that one of the women was 13-years-old. I think it is tragedy that a 13-year-old is prostituting herself. And I would rather not have even one girl of this age working the streets. But can’t we give the public realistic and accurate numbers so they understand the real magnitude of this issue?

Of course the government doesn’t want to do that. Real numbers make the panic look far smaller than it really is.

What I found interesting is that the current numbers, as they appear in media reports, don’t differ much from those I found twenty years ago. (By the way: “panic” refers to an overly-emotional campaign designed to exaggerate the real magnitude of a problem.)

About 10% of the prostitutes arrested were under the age of 18. None of the prostitutes arrested were prepubescent. We don’t know how many were of what age, but I doubt that if they were mostly in their lower teens that the FBI wouldn't have made that very clear. That they didn’t mention this indicates that almost all of those arrested were 16 years of age or older.

Another thing to consider is what is going to happen to these teens. The FBI said: “The vast majority of these kids are what they term ‘throwaway kids,’ with no family support, no friends. They’re kids that nobody wants, they’re loners. Many are runaways.” This is true. And most runaways are not in their lower teens but are older teens who are more able to care for themselves.

These teens basically will face imprisonment as part of their “rescue.” The government won’t call it prison but it will be prison in every other sense of the word. “Most of the children are put into the custody of local child protection agencies.” What we are being told is that they will be warehoused by bureaucrats until they turn 18, at that time they will be turned out onto the streets. What they will have to show for this is an arrest record that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. These teens are being “rescued” with all the care and finesse that George Bush used to “liberate” the Iraqi people. Some of them may eventually be grateful for it – if they survive the experience.

Who is to blame because teenage runaways are turning to prostitution? Could the laws passed by our politicians, which make it difficult or impossible for teens to find full-time jobs, be involved? I suspect that is the case. When you close legal markets to people they have to turn to illegal markets. Government regulations encourage runaways to turn to prostitution or pushing drugs. Our caring politicians are the biggest pimps around if you consider the role they play in closing other options to these teens.

Many kids run away because they must. There are plenty of abusive homes out there with kids being victimized. With legal work closed off to them, with them on the streets, hungry and afraid, they turn to what will earn them the most money in the shortest period of time. If the government really wanted to “rescue” these teens why not reform the laws that restrict them from finding legal employment? Instead, they turn them into criminals as their only means of survival and then they “rescue” them and incarcerate them in what is nothing more than glorified prisons.

I am sure the FBI sees this operation as an example of good government. I see it differently. This is just another example of how government helps create tragic problems for people and then uses its heavy hand to smash those people for having the problems the government helped create. Many of these kids were victims before they went on the streets and they chose the streets as their “best” alternative. The government’s answer is prison for them instead.
Turning the practitioners of non-violent vices into criminals is unlikely to be very helpful to them. That these teens now have criminal records will hinder any attempt to avoid prostitution. When they are eventually released from the juvenile prisons, their arrest record will make it harder to find legitimate employment. That may force them back into the only profession they know; one where an arrest record is the norm. How that helps these kids, I don’t know.

The reality is that many kids have to leave home. This will remain true for the rest of human existence. Some families are too toxic and the kids who escape them are making the best choice they can. Our bureaucratic labor laws, however, have closed the escape portals for these kids. Legal work is almost impossible to find on a full-time basis and that means the teen, who must leave home, has little option but to seek illegal work. If we want to help these kids we should be giving them more options, not turning them into prisoners with arrest records.

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