No, Ashton Kutcher isn't guilty of human trafficking, but he and his wife Demi Moore know that some people are. And this is the basis behind one of their most passionate causes.
As part of their Demi and Ashton charitable foundation, they have set up a campaign called "Real Mean Don't Buy Girls." The project has received a lot of attention for its YouTube videos featuring celebrities like Sean Penn, Jessica Biel, Drake, Edward Norton and Justin Timberlake. Their stated goal is to "eliminate child sex slavery and human trafficking."
On the DNA foundation website, the couple states some facts about child sex slavery in their "get informed" section. These facts include the shocking number of 12.3 million people enslaved worldwide. They also say that somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 children are enslaved and sold for sex just in the United States.
Other statistics include the fact that the average age of a girl sold into sex slavery in the U.S. is thirteen and that the global sex slavery market generates $32 billion in profits per year.
This all sounds scary, but The Village Voice says that its entirely untrue.
In an article published by the Voice on Wednesday entitled "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight," the magazine accuse Kutcher of perpetuating a myth about child sex slavery.
There are not 100,000 to 300,000 children in America turning to prostitution every year. The statistic was hatched without regard to science. It is a bogeyman. But well-intentioned Hollywood celebrities aren't the only ones pushing this particular hot button. The underage-prostitution panic has been fueled by a scientific study that was anything but scientific. The thinly veiled fraud behind the shocking "100,000 to 300,000 child prostitutes" estimate has never been questioned.
They go on to say that Kutcher isn't alone in getting the facts wrong and lists a dozen or so news outlets that have reported the same statistic including the USA Today, CNN, The New York Times and Salon. They state that they did their own digging and found the numbers of child prostitution much less apocalyptic than Kutcher reports -
Village Voice Media spent two months researching law enforcement data. We examined arrests for juvenile prostitution in the nation's 37 largest cities during a 10-year period. To the extent that underage prostitution exists, it primarily exists in those large cities. Law enforcement records show that there were only 8,263 arrests across America for child prostitution during the most recent decade.
That's 827 arrests per year.
Some cities, such as Salt Lake City and Orlando, go an entire year without busting a child prostitute. Others, such as Las Vegas, arrest or recover 100 or so per year. Compare 827 annually with the 100,000 to 300,000 per year touted in the propaganda. The nation's 37 largest cities do not give you every single underage arrest for hooking. Juveniles can go astray in rural Kansas.
But common sense prevails in the police data. As you move away from such major urban areas as Los Angeles, underage prostitution plunges.
The Village Voice says that the 100,000 - 300,000 figure that Kutcher quotes is actually the number of children "at risk," not the number actually involved. They even go after Kutcher's YouTube celebrity campaign, saying that the videos are "ostensibly about an intense issue" but that they "reek of frat-boy humor." Check it out for yourself, this one starring Drake.
This article has prompted a 2-day Twitter war between Kutcher and The Village Voice. Yesterday evening, Kutcher fired off a series of tweets -
@villagevoice speaking of data, maybe you can help me... How much $ did your "escorts" in you classifieds on backpage make last year?Hey
@villagevoice speaking of Data... How many of your girls selling themselves in your classifieds are you doing age verification on?Hey
@villagevoice Find another way to justify that YOUR property facilitates the sale of HUMAN BEINGSHey
What Kutcher is referring to is the classified ads that Village Voice still maintains. In their article, they describe the nature of these and say that they are why they have a stake in the discussion:
From its earliest days, the Village Voice has run adult classifieds. Today, those classifieds are hosted online at Backpage.com. Having run off Craigslist, reformers, the devout, and the government-funded have turned their guns upon Village Voice Media.
Solicited by advocates, such websites as Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and others in the mainstream media raised the alarm that America’s children have been enslaved in prostitution, thanks to the Internet.
It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion.
But the facts speak for themselves.
The Village Voice shot back at Kutcher with these tweets -
@aplusk, we’ll bite. Tell us the hard facts you have collected. We'll fact-check for you.OK
Each party has rattled off over a dozen more tweets @ each other, with Kutcher suggesting that news outlets who have an interest in trafficking may have an interest in skewing facts. The Voice continues to say things that "you would expect hotline calls of net searches, but where are the victims? Police only find 800/year"
@villagevoice you keep collecting the check from Selling Girls on Backpage and leave helping them to people who give a F**kHey
fact: The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline has received nearly 1,500 calls this month alone
@aplusk Is money for "awareness" programs that whip up fervor over mythical numbers really better than actual treatment for homeless teens?
@aplusk's mythical sex slave numbers matter: activists use them to target legal adult freedoms, not underlying teen problems.Here's why
fact: Since Jan, 1.9 million people have searched for terms on the NCMEC watch list, “kiddy sex,” “child rape,” “little girls nude.”
Kutcher hasn't said anything overnight, and this was tweeted just a couple minutes ago -
@aplusk Still sleeping? How about you wake up and help us convince Congress to spend money on treatment of real teen problems, not hype.