Doubting Landesman.

Media criticism.
Jan. 27 2004 7:19 PM

Doubting Landesman

I'm not the only one questioning the TimesMagazine's sex-slave story.

Click  here for links to all of Slate's pieces about Landesman's sex-slave article, New York Times Magazine Editor Gerald Marzorati's defense of the article, and Daniel Radosh's blog entry.

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My old pal Neal Matthews, a journalist who has lived in the San Diego area for 30 years, doubts Landesman's reporting that boats transport sex slaves from Baja California to San Diego or points north. Matthews, a former Navy diver who knows his way around the Mexico/California coast, writes:

The more I think about it, the more unlikely it is that these girls are landed by boat. Getting into a boat on the beach on the Mexican side would be tricky, unless you were pretty far south of the border, at a little cove called Popotla, near Fox Studios, about 10 miles south of the line. And unless you landed at Imperial Beach, just north of the border, which is crawling with La Migra [immigration police], you'd have to drive the boat north past Coronado, which is mostly Navy-controlled beaches, and patrolled (it's where the SEALS train). The closest beaches then are in raucous Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, or Pacific Beach, where coming in even at 3 a.m. would be difficult unwitnessed. Beyond that is La Jolla, mostly rocky, and then you'd be getting low on fuel. It's just so unlikely.

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In an addendum, Matthews writes:

One other obstacle to getting ashore is the kelp beds and drifting kelp that would require the small craft to travel well offshore, where it's rougher. Of course, you couldn't have any lights on the boats, and the skipper couldn't see unless he had night vision gear. Very dangerous. Somebody would have capsized and bodies would be washing up on the beaches by now. Hasn't happened.

Landesman writes that many sex slaves are regularly murdered by their pimps, prompting this sensible question from Nation columnist Katha Pollitt:

If there are that many sex slaves and if after 2-4 years many are routinely murdered in the brothel, where are all those bodies? It's not that easy to hide a body (or is it? it's not as if I've tried). You would just think that given that sexual slavery has been going on, according to Landesman, for some time, by now there'd be hundreds of unclaimed and unidentified bodies of women and children stacked up in the morgue.

None of this is to dispute the existence of sex slaves in the United States. Women, girls, and boys are transported into the country and pressed into sexual service. In the Plainfield, N.J., case, which Landesman features in his lede, two people got 17-year sentences for enslaving four Mexican girls. (Oddly, Landesman doesn't mention their confession and August 2003 sentencing in his piece. As I noted yesterday, this is a Landesman tick: He repeatedly introduces some dramatic scene like a bust or an open-air brothel and then abandons it, making the reader go whaaa?) But Landesman's story fails on every level to convince me—and 95 percent of Press Box readers who sent me e-mail, I might add—that "perhaps tens of thousands" of women and children are spending the night as sexual chattel. I await real evidence.

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If you're joining the story late, see yesterday's column, "Sex Slaves of West 43rd Street." Send your observation about the Landesman piece to pressbox@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.