Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions. — Edward R. Murrow
Politics has always included sloganeering. Slogans and catchphrases are effective psychological tools for conveying basic values and concepts to a mass audience. The downside is when they become loaded language, using emotional appeals to reduce a complex issue into a simplistic “problem-solution” dualism.
Donald Trump’s approach to immigration policy is one such example. He appealed to nativist fears by conflating Mexican immigrants with dangerous criminals, and Muslims with terrorism. From these simplistic premises, he proposed simplistic solutions – “build a great, great wall” along the border with Mexico, and institute a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Forget that only a small fraction of violent crimes are perpetrated by immigrants, or how the wall and the ban would adversely affect our economy, or the harm such policies would cause to real people and their families. Forget also that these policies would have no effect on crime or unemployment. Forget those inconvenient facts – just build that wall, okay?
It’s no coincidence that such anti-immigration policies and rhetoric have pervaded the contemporary crusade against commercial sex. Not just that they hope tightening border controls will somehow aid their so-called “fight against human trafficking”, or that the beginnings of “end demand” in Sweden were linked to fears around migrants entering that country. Trump’s approach follows the same pattern of thought and action as the prohibitionist fanatics.
- Trump portrays immigrants as violent criminals and terrorists; prohibitionists portray all sex workers as powerless victims.
- Trump proposes a simplistic solution of physical and legal barriers to immigration; prohibitionists propose a simplistic “end demand” solution of punishing buyers and online advertising platforms.
- Trump ignores any questions, criticisms or evidence of the damage caused by his policies; prohibitionists ignore questions, criticisms (i.e., how “end demand” policies may lead to an increase in supply) or evidence of harm caused by their fearmongering, such as innocent families being subjected to SWAT raids, or sexual abuses by police themselves.
- Just as Trump’s policies do nothing with regard to crime or unemployment, prohibitionists’ fixation on “sex trafficking” and punishment fails to address the even larger problem of labor trafficking or the economic circumstances leading many individuals to enter sex work.
Both “build a wall” and “end demand” are deceptively simple reductions of complex issues, and the basis for policies that fail to address real problems while creating or exacerbating others. And before the prohibitionists clamor to accuse groups like Amnesty International of doing the same, they should look at the full scope of Amnesty’s recommendations for defending the human rights of sex workers, and the process by which they arrived at their policy. They need to look beyond both rigid ideology and emotional appeals, and listen to the people most directly involved – sex workers themselves.