$260,000 PLUS PER YEAR!

This post is inspired by this blog post written by a sex worker immediately following Operation Northern Spotlight, a policing initiative that was aimed at fighting human trafficking.

Yes, you read that title correct, $260,000 PLUS PER YEAR! Well, that is apparently how much the traffickers make in profits per year, per individual victim, and remember there are many (page 2, column A, para. 1). So that means that the traffickers are making MILLIONS! Per year, as per the “many” victims.

But where exactly did this figure, the profits of the human traffickers, originate from?!

When I first started reviewing and critiquing human trafficking narratives, I was always interested in the sources of information. It is particularly compelling when government-related organizations release information and figures on human trafficking because rarely do you ever see a “works-cited” or a “references” page. The Canadian Women Foundation’s page on human trafficking, where I first found the source of this figure (the profits of the human traffickers) cites $280,000 per year in profits. Some sources cite this $280,000 per year and others, like Sweet Emily J highlight, cite the $260,000 per year in profits (and some, like PACT, cite $183,000).

Image Source: Canadian Women's Foundation

Image Source: Canadian Women’s Foundation



Post Bill-c36 and post JUST committee hearings, I am beginning to see this $280,000 figure being thrown around even more so.

Let’s have a closer look at the source of this information.. 

Remember, as Mackay pointed out, “victims of prostitution are many” (p. 3, column A, para. 1). But the victims of prostitution are not just those engaging in the selling sexual services, it also includes children exposed to prostitution (like you know, how prostitutes and prostitution are around children literally all the time), communities (be aware! your neighbour might be a prostitute) and society (*gasp* The. Entire. Society.) are also victims to prostitution. Who knew that one could be both a victim to society and an offender to society! Kind of like how the old laws: society needed to be protected from prostitutes and prostitutes needed to be protected from themselves. Neat how that happens, eh? Yeahno.

However, this isn’t a critique about the Bill itself. This post isn’t also a critique that prostitution is “intricately” connected to human trafficking, as Mackay asserted–though scholarly articles (like this one) highlight the problems with conflating human trafficking with prostitution, wherein prostitution is purely used as a legal term (a term more related to the social and economic aspect of prostitution would be “sex worker” as employed in the previous cited article). This post is a critique of this figure, the profits of the traffickers.

Specifically from MacKay’s testimony at the JUST meetings, he tells us the following:

  • Prostitution is an underground activity
  • Prostitution is inherently violent
  • Prostitution and human trafficking is “intricately” connected
  • Prostitution is associated with organized crime

Subsequently, from MacKay’s testimony, he also tells us:

  • The demand (the buying) side of prostitution fuels prostitution, human trafficking, organized crime, and also that there are really no specific statistics given the underground and elusive nature of prostitution (see page 11, column A, para 4 for a specific reference MacKay outlining that it is difficult to get statistics)

MacKay speaks from an authoritative position as a government official. A lot of what he says is rarely ever backed up with statistics, as he noted himself (again see page 11, column A, para 4). But there is one organization in Canada that has calculated (what seems out of thin air) one particular figure. This figure relates specifically to the profits of human trafficking. You can see the image below for these figures:

Image Source: CISC

Image Source: CISC

There is one thing about the source of this table. It doesn’t provide the source of its calculations–how did it come to the figures that are in the table above? *Poof* Profit of human traffickers out of thin air! Actually no, the CISC most likely obtained the figures from online ads of escorts and it appears that they reported the average range of what online escorts will charge per hour in major urban centers (as outlined below). Also, given that the RCMP reports HERE, an apparent valid source of information are online classified ads (like craigslist, backpage, and others).

Using online escort ads from classified ads as source of this information is really problematic because of its validity. In other words, this source of information comes into question because we must ask, does it really measure what they are trying to measure–profits of human traffickers. Even as Mackay asserted, traffickers are so elusive and underground that it is hard to collect statistics (and it is safe to say other figures) on this population group (again see page 11, column A, para 4). How can one figure obtained from invalid sources be touted as authoritative?

Not only this, as Sweet Emily J called attention to, there are major problems with the way these figures are calculated from a sex worker’s perspective who wants to maintain a steady stream of income. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of human trafficking–to controlling the profits made off the victim at a steady rate. So you would expect at minimum that a trafficker would require a steady steam of income and if the victim didn’t produce that required amount, from the sources listed above, violence would ensue, and hence, Mackay asserting the inherent violence.

Even if you break down these figures, it just doesn’t add up…from a trafficker’s perspective, whose goal is to control victims and you know, make that $280,800/year profit!

The above table tells us that one victims brings in $900/day and for 365 days a year and this same victim will net a profit of $280,800 (this is minus calculations for lodging, clothing and food–this is actually quite nice of CISC to include that in their calculations).

But if we actually take a look at these figures as raw figures, we see that one victim would bring in a total amount of $328,500 working 365 days a year. If the victim were advertising 300/hour, they would (at minimum) have to be staying in a $250/night hotel–no sex worker who charges $300/hour who works in an urban centre in any province stays in anything less. Otherwise news travels quick (via review sites/boards) that the rate paid doesn’t match the services offered. $300/hour is good chunk of change for any client and as Emily J says, “anti -prostitution folks like to think that ‘johns’ will just stick their cock in any hole, but this is a service industry, and clients demand good service for their hard-earned money.” I would like to be clear though, I am not here to knock on sex workers who charge less than $300/hour or sex workers who stay in hotels that charge less than $250/hour. I am critiquing the $280,800/year profit.

In order to risk losing out on profit (900/day), the trafficker would have to (logically) avoid having his victims working out of shady locations. Yet, as noted above, if news travels that the services advertised do not match the services actually offered and if word gets out that the victim’s services are not worth the amount being charged, then the trafficker will be forced to resort to booking hotels that allow the $900/day to be maintained. If the trafficker is forced to resort to lower-rated hotels, then the victim would be forced to see more clients per day to maintain the $900/day. However, to maintain a steady stream of income at the rate of $900/day, that would mean that the trafficker must book clients back to back or double book clients (to account for clients who do not show up or who cancel, because that happens too). If this is the case, at the lowest rate, it would be $100/client/hour (the lowest going rate based on online escort ads that an urban market may handle or else clients begin to question the quality of services, and who ultimately want to avoid “bad service” will begin to avoid subpar services). Sure, some sex workers charge less than $100/client. But for traffickers, that translates to a loss in profit. Continuing $100/client, the victim would then have to see 9 clients per day to maintain the $900/day. There are 24 hours in a day and if a victim is seeing 9 clients per day that means the victim could work for 12-14 hours to see the 9 clients (with minor breaks to freshen up, clean, eat, rest). This also means that the victim would have to be in a hotel 24 hours a day and also 365 days a year–hotel management would begin to ask questions. So the trafficker would have to continuously move their victims (but the definition of trafficking is so broad that some victims do not have to be moved to be considered victims which then becomes a contradiction based on the above).

Again, once news travels that it isn’t worth paying the $300/hour then the trafficker runs the risk of losing out on clients and thus, profit. As Emily J also highlighted,

So even if a client does see a trafficked girl (unknowingly or knowingly), it’s probably not going to be a good experience, and he is not likely to repeat with her, or recommend her to others. Despite what anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution activists think, most clients who purchase sexual services take many precautions, and actively avoid the nasty situations where trafficking may be likely to occur. They want a consensual interaction with a happy provider who enjoys what she is doing.” (Source)

News will travel fast that the “new girl” (because according to both personal anecdotes and government sources traffickers must keep their victims “new and fresh” or else they lose out on profits) isn’t worth the hourly rate advertised. It then becomes practically impossible to maintain the $280,800/year.

 

Also, as found within the sources above, that traffickers will book the hotels, book the appointments, take the calls, and also sometimes feed the victims drugs. If a trafficker was advertising the victim for $300/hour, at a 250/night hotel that would amount to $91,250/year in hotel costs. Now add in food, let’s assume, $50/day, which would be $18,250/year in food costs. These two figures together amount to a total of $109,500. Don’t forget there is also “information” that there exists a “National Trafficking Ring”:

Image Source: RCMP

Image Source: RCMP

So how do some of these victims get to and from point A to point B? Travel isn’t exactly cheap in Canada. Depending on where you are traveling to and from, for instance, it can be quite expensive especially if you are flying. It could be assumed that traffickers could also use their own transportation like their own vehicles. Yet, purchasing gas isn’t exactly cheap either. On average, to fill a tank of gas for a small car is approximately $60. If we were using this as a figure to calculate travel costs and if traffickers are moving their victims from city to city on this alleged national trafficking circuit, then I would use the $60/day/365 because you know, got to have to those victims moving! That amounts to $21,900.

But according to the RCMP, we also have reports of controlling victims through drugs and alcohol. So these figures do not even include the monies to purchase that. When cocaine busts usually happen, policing agencies usually report cocaine being sold at $10/point (meaning $100 for a gram). So if we were using the same figures as policing agencies, that would be $36,500 ($100/day/365) per victim.

To sum it up, we have the total costs to the trafficker:

  • 36,500 (drugs)
  • 21,900 (travel)
  • 91,250 (hotel)
  • 18,250 (food)
  • TOTAL: 167,900

 

The difference from the original $328,500 (the raw amount for one victim working 365 days a year at $900/day)? $160,600. This figure doesn’t even add up to the lowest amount that PACT reports as highlighted by Emily J. As noted above, this is amount is calculated on services being sold at $300/hour. Some services are sold a rate less than $300 (also discussed by Emily J). We need to adjust these figures to those amounts and if services being sold are less than 300/hour, then to achieve the $900/day per victim, the victim would have to see so a certain amount of clients per day. Yet, based on Emily J’s blog post, the population of men who can legally (meaning 18-64) pay for sexual services does not add up to the figure of the profit of traffickers, even in a major urban centre (Ottawa) that cites trafficking as a problem. Emily J also points out the fact that in order to achieve the $260,000/per victim/per year, a trafficked person would have to see 3.65 clients per day (which would be at the $300/hour rate). So, again, as I pointed out, to achieve the $900/victim/year, the victim would have to be forced to see more than three clients per day to achieve that rate! While some sex workers do see more than three clients per day, to maintain more than three clients per day for 365 days a year would be virtually impossible. Because if victims are moving around according to the RCMP on this alleged national trafficking ring and to avoid raising questions by hotel management, then you would have to account for travel and time spent booking into hotels. Then you would have to account for time to post ads, to take bookings and then for time to actually see clients.

Note: The above rate of the hotel comes from renting a “nice” hotel directly from the hotel site like a Delta in an urban centre. But if we were to adjust for discount hotel booking sites, the range would be $100-150 for a “nice” hotel in an urban centre. The rate then becomes 36,500 (total $215, 350) and 54,750 (total $197,100) respectively. As I outlined above, I chose to base my calculations off of “nice” hotels because in order to see the amount of clients, according to Emily J’s calculations, and to maintain the 900/day profit, every single day of the year, this is where the trafficker would have to hold his victims otherwise news will travel fast that the services offered do not match the services advertised or rate advertised and he would risk losing out on profit. This, however, does not correspond with the anecdotes from the NGOs that fight human trafficking. The story that comes out those discourses are that women are held in seedy hotels all hours of the day servicing clients around the clock. If that were the case, it then, as a described above, it becomes virtually impossible to maintain this profit 24.7 if you factor in the fact that hotel management will begin to question (and hotel management does) the amount of traffic to a hotel room, then victims will have to be continuously moved which traffickers will have to do to avoid raising any flags and if you factor in time spent traveling to and from various locations, to and from different hotels, and time spent booking into the hotel then placing ads, taking bookings, and time to actually see clients. 

However, like I previously mentioned, the trafficking definition seems to be broadening itself to include victims that are not transported to various cities. If we remove travel and hotel from the calculation, we arrive at a figure closer to the 280,800 (raw: 273,750). I removed hotel because some reports on human trafficking cite that trafficking victims are kept in condos or rooms in houses–so saying the traffickers owns the condo/house, then it reduces the costs in controlling the victim. But still, if we were to apply these to figures to Emily J’s analysis, it just does not add up! It is virtually impossible to maintain a profit of $280,800 per victim per year.

In closing, I do not refute that trafficking exists. Rather, I call into question the figures that produce these human trafficking discourses. Like Emily J says, “[trafficking] does not exist in the huge systematic ways that some people want you to believe, and perpetuating false numbers and lies only serves as sensationalism and does nothing to actually help the issue.”

And as I stated in my own testimony, conflating sex work with human trafficking does an injustice to the victims and sex workers.

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