Regular readers will no doubt be familiar with Margaret Brooks who, early last year, all but flat-out accused me of being a sexual predator (and worse). Later that year, she wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education wrapping a patently absurd argument for the revocation of student rights up in a bold-faced screed against sex education. Last week, once again collaborating with discredited academic hack Donna M. Hughes,1 she completely jumped the shark.

Brooks’ latest claim? Sexuality educators increase HIV rates on campus by talking about sex on campus. No, really, that’s her argument. This, quite literally, makes about as much sense as claiming listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll will make the devil possess you, but that’s nevertheless what her argument boils down to. Observe:

At least four students attending universities in Rhode Island have contracted acute HIV infections within recent months. […] Universities must examine what they have done, and are doing, to prevent the spread of HIV and to minimize their students’ risks of contracting the deadly disease.

It appears that Brown and some other prominent universities have fallen short in this regard by allowing their undergraduate student organizations to bring in prostitutes, porn producers and performers, and sex toy sales representatives under the guise of “sex education.”

Did you catch that? “Allowing undergraduate student organizations to bring in” people who Brooks disagrees with, which she routinely inaccurately characterizes, have “fallen short” of protecting students from HIV. No wonder Margaret Brooks, Donna M. Hughes or anyone else from Citizens Against Trafficking want to avoid talking to us! (Hughes wouldn’t even shake hands.) Poor chaps, they seem to think they’ll be at higher risk of contracting HIV if they do!

Rather than debunk Brooks’ absurdity myself, I’ll simply point you at Dr. Charlie Glickman’s analysis. However, I do want to take this opportunity to highlight another pattern of sex-negative fear-mongering: opportunism.

Opportunism 101

Sometimes it feels as though sex-negative and similar conservative campaigns come out of left field. Censor the Smithsonian? Redefine rape to attack abortion coverage? Book, then rescind, Tristan Taormino’s keynote speech? But there’s actually a simple method to the madness. It looks like this.

If you believe X, then, given Y, advocate X. Facts be damned. For example, if you believe lowering taxes is good, then a budget surplus is good reason to lower taxes. Of course, if there’s a high national debt, then lowering taxes is also a good idea, in order to “stimulate the economy.”

In the words of Stephen Elliott on a prior Kink On Tap episode, all things being equal, hypocrites have more options. So let’s take a look at how this plays out with sex-negative campaigning.

Example: Statistics laundering, sports, and sex trafficking

As Charlie Glickman highlights, Brooks makes a number of spurious claims regarding HIV and campus statistics:

She starts off with a statement about how “At least four students attending universities in Rhode Island have contracted acute HIV infections within recent months,” which she describes as a sudden increase and a recent outbreak. According to wikipedia, there are 12 colleges and universities in the state, with a total student population of 81,720. And this report says that the rate of reported HIV infections in Rhode Island between 2000-2008 varied between 10.4-14.3 per 100,000 people each year, with an average of 12.05 per 100,000. (table 13, p. 29).

An average of 12.05 per 100,000 is equivalent to 9.85 per year among all of the university students, assuming that the rate of infection among college students is the same as among people in Rhode Island in general. So if 4 new HIV infections have been identified “in recent months,” that’s not surprising. That’s how many new HIV infections there are in just under 5 months, according to the numbers.

Here we see a classic tactic of anti-sex campaigns: information laundering. Many “anti-trafficking” windbags are notorious for misleading statistics. In Summer of 2010, so-called anti-trafficking activists warned that there would be 40,000 trafficked women and children to “supply demand” for tourists attending the World Cup. The claim was as easy to debunk in 2010 as it was in prior years,2 in part because the fear-mongers hadn’t bothered to update their claims with new data since 2006. They did the same thing with the Vancouver Olympics, too.3

Then, just a few weeks ago, the same groups stoked the same fears using another sporting event: the Super Bowl. Once again, the evidence to back anti-trafficking campaigner’s lies simply never materialized. What always materializes, though, are unfounded fears about sex trafficking when major sporting events are announced.

So, to review, if you believe sex trafficking is rampant (i.e., you believe X), then given a major sporting event (i.e., given Y), you advocate X, facts be damned. The analogy to Brooks’ argument holds, too. If you believe college sex education is harmful (i.e., X), then, given a news article or two about HIV (i.e., Y), you advocate X, and again, facts be damned.

Or, put more crudely, if Brooks can’t convince someone with facts, she’ll dazzle them with bullshit. That is, after all, her tried-and-true M.O.

But you don’t have to fall for it. Her rhetorical acrobatics are totally see-through. Brooks may have taken a page out of Glenn Beck’s playbook; in due time, she’ll be warning us of the sex radicals’ caliphate. (I’m almost looking forward to that one!)

Help stop anti-education lies!

Two of the hardest hit by Brooks’ lies, Megan Andelloux and Aida Manduley, have responded to the preposterous HIV link. Please help me and my friends by blogging/forwarding/tweeting/Facebooking links to this post, Charlie’s post, or other responses any which way you can. Distributing the following press release via email is also much-appreciated:

Sexuality educators set the record straight: “Talking about sexuality does not increase sexually transmitted infections” despite what non-experts report.

Megan Andelloux
[email protected]

Contact: Aida Manduley
[email protected]

In yet another attempt to shut down access to quality sex education, South-Eastern New England conservative advocates hit the sex panic button in a multi-state, email and phone campaign to colleges all over New England last week.

On February 3rd and 4th , certified sexuality educator and sexologist Megan Andelloux (AASECT, ACS) received word that numerous colleges and university faculty received a document stating that colleges who brought sex educators such as Ms. Andelloux onto their campuses were linked to the increasing rate of transmission of HIV in RI. Furthermore, among other misleading “facts” that were “cited,” the author of this bulletin claimed that Brown University was facing an HIV crisis, which is false.

Citizens Against Trafficking, the face behind the fear-mongering, spammed numerous local institutions from a University of Rhode Island account with its latest malicious missive that targeted specific individuals as well as Brown University. The author of the letter, Margaret Brooks, an Economics Professor at Bridgewater State, suggested that colleges and universities that host sexuality speakers, including those who are professionally accredited, are partly to blame for the four new cases of HIV which have been diagnosed amongst RI college students this year.

Ms. Andelloux states: “My heart goes out to those students who have recently tested positive for HIV. However, there is no evidence of any link between campus presentations on sexual issues and the spike in HIV cases. Rather, I would suggest that this demonstrates a need for more high-quality sex education to college students.“ It is unclear why people at URI or Citizens Against Trafficking, a coalition to combat all forms of human trafficking, is attempting to stop adults from accessing sexual information from qualified, trained educators. What is certain however, is that this Professor of Economics miscalculated her suggestion that a correlation exists between increased HIV rates in Rhode Island and the type of sex education these speakers provided at Brown University: one that emphasized accurate information, risk-reduction, pleasure, and health.

Barrier methods have been shown by the CDC to reduce the transmission of HIV and other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Research has shown that when individuals have access to medically accurate information, are aware of sexual risk reduction methods, and have access to learn about sexual health, the number of infections and transmission of STIs decreases, pain during sex decreases, and condom use increases. The CAT circulated bulletin is blatantly misleading about many issues, and often omits information that is crucial to understanding the full picture of sex education at Brown and in Rhode Island.

When individuals who do not hold any background in sexuality education speak out in opposition because of their fear or prejudice, society becomes rooted in outdated beliefs and pseudo-science that do injustice to people everywhere. Furthermore, when those individuals personally and publicly attack those devoted to providing sex education with false and misinformed accusations, it not only hurts those who are defamed, but also the community at large.

We ask for an immediate retraction of the vilifying and inaccurate statements made by Ms. Margaret Brooks and Citizens Against Trafficking in their latest newsletter. We also ask that esteemed local universities such as URI and Bridgewater State continue to hold their employees to ethical standards of normal scientific inquiry and require that their faculty hold some modicum of expertise in a field of education before raising the public level of panic over it.

Megan Andelloux is available to answer any questions the press, Margaret Brooks, University of Rhode Island or Citizens Against Trafficking holds. Aida Manduley, the Chair of Brown University’s Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council and Brown University’s is available to discuss the upcoming Sex Week and sexuality workshops held at Brown University.

Megan Andelloux
Shanna Katz
Reid Mihalko
Aida Manduley

# # #

  1. For an analysis of why Hughes’ statistics can not be trusted, see Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution by Ronald Weitzer. []
  2. Just skim the main findings section of the linked report, which states, “All data, information and experts’ statements that are available to date strongly indicate that an increase in human trafficking, during and after the World Cup did not occur. It is concluded that the 40,000 estimate was unfounded and unrealistic.” []
  3. Here’s an ad-hoc roundup of even more reports debunking these claims compiled by Iamcuriousblue. []