Boots in the air

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!

That is, unless your garbage cans contain used condoms, or you frequently hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your room door, or the maid sees “excessive” sex paraphernalia in your room, that maybe reeks of “cigarettes, marijuana, sweat, bodily fluids and musk.”

Perhaps the desk clerk noticed you avert your eyes and not make eye contact, or your teenage daughter was “dressed inappropriately for [her] age” or with “lower quality clothing than companions.”

Maybe you sport “suspicious tattoos.” Please don’t bring a lot of photography equipment. Whatever you do, don’t keep restocking your mini bar. Leave your lubricants and douches at home. Don’t pay for your room with cash. Don’t pretend you are older than you look. And, never, ever refuse the maid service more than one day!

If they spot any of these things most people do, the hotel staff is trained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to phone their hotline and report your suspicious behavior. The DHS Blue Campaign is not just about hotels. Airline personnel are now the new “boots in the air” organized to spot traffickers and their supposedly hapless victims. Not only are we forced through humiliating security theater by the Transporation Security Administration when we fly the friendly skies, but now we are being watched by Big Brother and his minions even as we check in and board the aircraft and fly.

In early 2016, Kathleen Chan and Jay Serrano, residents of Astoria, Queens, were forcibly removed from an American Airlines plane at JFK airport by three armed Port Authority police officers.

The Asian and Puerto Rican couple were pulled off their flight and interrogated because of vague suspicions by the cabin crew that she was too submissive and deferential to him and because they shared a cup of juice! American Airlines released a statement that out of “an abundance of caution” their personnel were trained to look for human trafficking.

Our U.S. way of life didn’t used to be about an abundance of caution. Rather, it used to be based on the expectation of privacy and respect for the individual. Our right to travel is eroded as the DHS Blue Campaign spreads from airline employees to truck drivers, then to Amtrak and bus lines workers, turning our transportation system into a spider’s web of baseless suspicion.

From 2000 to 2002, the State Department claimed that 50,000 people were trafficked into the U.S. each year for forced sex or labor. By 2003, the agency reduced this estimate to 18,000–20,000, further reducing it to 14,500–17,500 in subsequent reports. That’s a 71 percent decrease in just five years, though officials offered no explanation as to how they arrived at these numbers or what accounted for the drastic change. These days, federal agencies tend to stick to the vague “thousands” when discussing numbers of incoming victims. In other words, no one really knows the actual extent of human trafficking, but everyone is sure it’s all around us. The sex trafficking moral panic is the result of decades-long anti-prostitution efforts by religious prohibitionists—I’m looking at you, Salvation Army—joined by anti-male feminists. Throw in politicians looking for a way to juice up their base with new programs to “help” those soiled doves forced into unspeakable bondage that the pearl clutching voters in Peoria find shocking. Don’t forget the lazy, ratings- or circulation-hungry media who breathlessly report every new sex trafficking warning by law enforcement inevitably followed by run of the mill prostitution crack-downs.

Isn’t it time we have an open conversation about decriminalizing sex work?