But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. – George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”
One of the City of Boston’s many nicknames is “The Hub” and there is some truth behind it. Boston is a transportation, commerce and communications hub for the New England region, perhaps even a bit beyond. Then there’s the historical importance of Boston, especially with regard to the American Revolution, both in terms of events and intellectual inspiration. Yet it’s hardly the “Hub of the Universe” that some jokingly refer to, nor is it on the same tier as New York or Los Angeles.
I raise this because prohibitionists, both the ideological fanatics and the cynical opportunists who ride their coattails, have a tendency to distort the meaning of words so that they make them sheer drivel. The word hub has become one such term, when used in their attempts to foment panic around human trafficking.
Often we think of hubs in terms of central points of convergence, where people and goods arrive on their way to another destination. Airlines fostered this, with their relatively cost-effective method of having the bulk of their flights travel into and out of a major metropolitan airport. Of course, given the size of the United States, and the number of airlines currently active, we also have “focal cities” which serve as secondary hubs, not to mention very large cities serving as hubs for multiple airlines. Still, by sheer volume, we’re able to determine where these air travel hubs are, and their relative rank in terms of volume and other factors:
Let’s contrast this with a map recently issued by the Polaris Project, a so-called anti-trafficking organization which Elizabeth Nolan Brown called “one of the biggest purveyors of bad statistics dressed up as ‘human trafficking awareness'”. This map supposedly shows the various “hubs of human trafficking” in the United States:
How is it that human trafficking not only has more “hubs” than the airlines, but in remote places like Montana? Furthermore, given that human trafficking is an underground industry, just how did Polaris determine where and at what level this or that location is a “hub”? Indeed, this whole map begs the question of how any city or town, of any size or location, is designated a “hub of human trafficking” – and my own hypothesis of how and why is rooted in an age-old political paradox.
Too many American politicians are prone to promising their constituents two key desires: law and order, and low taxes. That creates a problem. In order to accomplish the former, you need to raise revenue; but so long as you fulfill the latter, you’ll inevitably fall short unless you find another source of cash. Lately, a major source of that revenue has come in the form of civil asset forfeiture, yet the old standby has been to get Federal grant money by claiming that your jurisdictions has some “problem” connected with some issue that will get national politicians riled up enough to fork over some dough. This was very common during the War on Drugs (with even small towns claiming to have an “epidemic” of drugs) and the War on Terror (because we can’t let even one small town become a “soft target”). So with the War on Trafficking (which is, in reality a War on Sex Workers) all you need to get your piece of the pie is to declare your locale to be a “hub of human trafficking” – and it doesn’t even matter if you have no real data to prove you’re a hub, because the prohibitionists who started this whole boondoggle never even bothered to set any criteria for defining a hub. Add to that the number of “non-profit” groups like Polaris with their hands in the cookie jar, and you can see how the number of hubs multiplies, and how much of our tax dollars goes to feed the cycle.
Now, I certainly don’t expect either crusading fanatics or political opportunists to see the light of day. Part of me, however, is hoping that a combination of economic realities and not-so-enlightened self-interest will lead to a clash between the two camps as they vie for shrinking grant/tax monies, leading to someone somewhere deciding to clarify what is meant by “human trafficking” and what constitutes a “hub” wherein such an enterprise goes on. When that happens, that will be yet another opportunity for sex workers and their allies to be heard, and to propose real alternatives.