Remember those weird anti-child sex slavery PSAs that Ashton Kutcher made back in April? They were so weird! Each PSA had a celebrity doing a “manly” thing, like washing his car with barbecue sauce or shaving with an eagle’s talon, and then at the end it would say “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.” Huh? Look, I am totally against child sex slavery. Let me make that very clear: if it was put to a vote I would vote NO on child sex slavery without even hearing the other side’s position! But I’m not sure how a cheeky commercial with Justin Timberlake really moves the needle on that issue. (Watch the Justin Timberlake anti-child sex slavery PSA, and others, here.) Apparently, the Village Voice agrees that those ads were weird, and they’ve even gone so far as to debunk some of the arguments that Ashton and his child bride, Demi Moore, were making in the press about the cause:
But the point isn’t that the PSAs are fatuous and silly.
The real issue is that no one has called out Kutcher and Moore for their underlying thesis.
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.
Boom goes the science-amite! The article goes on to break down the existing statistics on child sex slavery, finding that there are only about 800-something arrests for child prostitution per year. That’s not as many! By a lot! Naturally, Ashton Kutcher, did the one thing he could to provide a powerful counterpoint: he started writing angry Twitters:
Oh brother. I’m not a publicist or a celebrity-damage-control specialist, but can I just say that anti-child sex slavery movement aside, Ashton should really try and keep the defensive references to how he only “played stupid on TV” to a minimum. It makes him sound really stupid! Anyway, this is where everything gets kind of tricky. Because, you know, despite the ham-handedness of the way in which they seem to be going about it, one can assume that Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are trying to make the world a better place, so what is the point of criticizing them? Well, the point of criticizing them is that celebrities often seem to take on charitable causes in order to make themselves look better to the public and to sweep away any vestiges of guilt about having a different Maserati for every day of the week. The PSAs that Ashton Kutcher released definitely reeked of vanity in a particularly shameless way.
But let’s look a little more at what the Village Voice is actually saying because it’s pretty interesting:
But what no newspaper has bothered to explain—and what Moore and Kutcher certainly don’t mention—is that the figure actually represents the number of children Estes and Weiner considered “at risk” for sexual exploitation, not the number of children actually involved.
Furthermore, the authors of The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, released in 2001, admitted that their statistics are not authoritative.
“The numbers presented in these exhibits do not, therefore, reflect the actual number of cases in the United States but, rather, what we estimate to be the number of children ‘at risk’ of commercial sexual exploitation,” they wrote, underlining their words for emphasis.
Who, then, is at risk?
Not surprisingly, the professors find that any “outsider” is at risk.
All runaways are listed as being at risk.
Yet the federal government’s own research acknowledges that “most runaway/thrown-away youth were gone less than one week (77 percent)”—hardly enough time to take up prostitution—”and only 7 percent were away more than one month,” according to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children 2002, commissioned by the Department of Justice.
According to Estes and Weiner, transgender kids and female gang members are also at risk.
So are kids who live near the Mexican or Canadian borders and have their own transportation. In the eyes of the professors, border residents are part of those 100,000 to 300,000 children at risk of becoming whores.
Whoa, what? That’s crazy! That is for real nuts. People who live near Canada? Children who ran away from home for a week? WELL, I WILL HAVE YOU KNOW THAT ASHTON KUTCHER ONLY PLAYED STUPID ON TV AND HE IS JUST GETTING STARTED. (I imagine Ashton Kutcher making a harrumph face at this point.) The article also has a pretty thorough examination of the Global Philanthropy Group run by Trevor Nielson, which is a company that celebrities pay as much as $200,000 to help craft their philanthropic media campaigns. Weird! They are just like us in almost every way, I’m sure, but maybe not in that way so much. But, again, one could argue that debunking a celebrity’s role in a charitable activity is counter-productive. Celebrities DO have louder voices than the rest of us, and if they want to lend those voices to something worthwhile, there is no real harm in that.
What gets particularly head-scratchy about this situation, then, is actually Ashton Kutcher’s backlash-to-the-backlash Twitter campaign (see above). What’s THAT all about? No one actually expected him or Demi Moore to actually crunch their own numbers on this thing. The fact that they’ve been touting exaggerated statistics just like, as the Village Voice points out, so many other newspapers and websites and basically everyone, seems like it is not their fault, really. So, what it is probably about is the fact that as much as we are ALL against child sex slavery and do not want there to be any, making a big, self-aggrandizing deal of a horrible scourge that only affects 800 people (or so) a year is kind of ridiculous. Oh, not for those 800 people, I’m sure. For them it is a real nightmare. But that is still very few people. To put that number of people into perspective, 26,000 people DIE each year from THE FLU.
REAL MEN DON’T DIE FROM THE FLU!
Of course, even more importantly, the Village Voice actually does take some pot shots at Ashton and Demi, pointing out that Ashton plays “stoners” (but just for TV, says Ashton, on Twitter) and Demi once “played a stripper,” neither of which details seem particularly salient to this discussion. The Village Voice probably could have avoided making those comments. But the reaction that they generated, turning this into a thing about Ashton’s and Demi’s pride rather than the issue of child sex slavery, seems to expose the whole problem. We should all try and make the world a better place however we can, but, you know, don’t be gross about it.
I rest my case.