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.


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.

Comments (56)
  1. How would you get the talon up to your face? Do you take it from the eagle? Do you tranquilize the eagle and then grab its ankle and do it? This is troubling.

  2. Since the airings of those PSAs, girl buying among the real men demo is down. The Village Voice should check the facts.

  3. Also, that Village Voice issue features Woody Allen talking jazz, evangelism. There’s probably a WHOLE LOT of uncertainty.

  4. soo do people know that arrests does not equal prevalence so the argument of your data is bad and here’s my bad data isn’t a very strong one. Another example of where arrests, as a measure of prevalence, are very off is in drug use and sales.

    • The number is no doubt higher than ~1,000. Arrests are a fraction of the total record. It is definitely, however, much less than 100,000. That number is hugely inflated.

      • They may very well be both off – thats the point. The data is extremely difficult and saying one is inaccurate while throwing out another inaccurate number is not helpful and potentially just as harmful since now we have ppl touting around the VV’s numbers as truth. VV article has some good points but they go about it in a very sloppy, douchebaggery kinda way.

    • Yeah think of the 299,200 child prostitutes that we miss every year! The police are doing a horrible job.

  5. I know how to settle all of the child slavery arguments. We just sit down, make a list of pros and cons, and decide whether child slavery should be allowed.

    You’re welcome.

  6. I think if they broadened the issue up and include the sex slave trade around the world this wouldn’t have been an issue. I think, although I can’t point to any reliable source right now, eastern europe and latin american countries are having an epidemic with this right now.

    • It’s been a big problem in southeast Asian countries for many years as well. There’s a book, Disposable People (which is from like 1998 or 1999, but is still interesting) that talks about all the slavery that’s still (or was at the time of publication) going on all over the world, sex-related and otherwise. It’s pretty interesting. I’d send a copy to Ashton, but I’m sure he’s already read it, because he’s really smart IRL and smart people read books.

    • I spent some time working in Kenya, at a home for rescued girls. Im a photographer and I was doing some filming with a colleague (our client was the org that supports the home), and I asked the guy in charge of the home if we could see what the girls were rescued from, for context footage, all undercover like. I was REALLY hoping that he would say “No no, that’s too dangerous.” Instead he was like “Yeah sure, let’s go.” and I was like “Ohh okayy ugghh.” Long story short, coming face to face with a 65 year old German guy arm-in-arm with a 12 year old Kenyan girl in a night club and him looking at me like “Is something wrong?” while I had a mini-nervous breakdown will stay with me for a long time. I saw some pretty weird shit over there.

      • I really had a hard time with this comment. I want to upvote your comment but down vote 65 year old German guy arm-in-arm with a 12 year old Kenyan girl in a night club. In the end I decided to upvote.

  7. I wonder if Ashton was a child sex slave?

  8. the thing that i find most hilarious about the PSAs is how they were designed as if the child sex trade was a casual consumption choice that one might just accidentally sort of decide to do rather than seek out, and therefore needs to have an anti-marketing campaign similar to other casual consumption choices, ie don’t buy hamburgers from mcdonalds because styrofoam containers are bad. logic circles!

    • “don’t buy hamburgers from mcdonalds because styrofoam containers are bad”

      Ask your parents, Son of Gabe.

      • that dude from the “lindsay lohan: economist for the future” post needs to come in here and make a crack about substituting one good for another and the elasticity of child sex slavery. “well i guess child sex slaves makes me not a real man, so maybe instead of buying one of them, i will spend the same amount of money on AXE body spray in order to try and nab me a fully developed adult lady!”

  9. During the time it took Ashton and The Voice to fight this out on Twitter, 9,563 children were sold in to slavery. And that’s a fact*

    *That is not a fact.

  10. I don’t read The Village Voice but prostitution ads in the back of those types of newspapers and magazines (thinking of the vile Washington City Paper here) really is a tricky subject (Free Speech v. Potential Exploitation) and I am very happy Ashton Kutcher brought it up, even in a defensive manner.

    It’s such a touchy subject that even The Wire handled it inappropriately. If it’s too hard for The Wire, maybe The Village Voice and Ashton Kutcher should just call a truce.

  11. … Damn you, Van Halen.

  12. the way he seems so strongly defensive about it makes it seem very likely that some time in the next 5 years, we’ll see Ashton Kutcher buying a girl…probably on Twitter.

    see also, this guy:

  13. Some days, Ashton Kutcher is the iceberg, and our opinion of his ridiculous stance on how to best stop child sex slavery is the rest of everything else in the universe other than the iceberg, including the penguins.

  14. I don’t even know anymore. First I go and buy mosquito nets for Africa because Bono tells me to. That just ended up putting the domestic mosquito net manufacturers in Africa out of business. Then I listened to Jenny McCarthy talking all about autism and vaccinations and now all of a sudden I’m at risk to get the measles!? I think Ashton should just team up with Lindsay Lohan to raise awareness about hyperinflation. Because that does sound hyper-scary.

  15. The entire “awareness” campaign is ridiculous and I can’t fathom how it would be beneficial to the issue in any way, so I’m loathe to even kinda sorta side with Ashton here. But. Of all the things in the world to exaggerate the severity of, I’m not that bothered by this? I think actually figuring out the facts and logistics instead of this “every border child” would help narrow in on the actual causes/ environments and bring in a focus to help, of course. But I’m not upset by people taking child slavery too seriously, I’m okay with people getting worked up over it. Especially considering the types of banal non-issues people get hysterical over, I’m wiling to give this one a pass.

    • But if you don’t start with facts, how can you possibly hope to solve a problem? Or rather, if you misunderstand or misrepresent the facts, which is what seems to have happened in this case. If you think that child sex slavery is an epidemic affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone (and apparently, that it’s a casual choice consumers are making that they can be pursuaded out of if JT tells them to) , then perhaps starting a celebrity ad campaign is a reasonable response.

      But if it isn’t, then that campaign is a waste of money and time and is diverting attention and money away from the real problems and real solutions.

  16. I read all that but couldn’t get past the part where Gabe called a commercial “cheeky.” He’s taking his BBC obsession too far.

  17. Oh my god… I grew up near Canada! I was a border child! I’ll do ANYTHING for money.

  18. I thought the psas were ridiculous and frankly unlikely to effect any sort of change. However, this village voice article is making me raise one eyebrow and put on my quizzical face. I guess I would rather have the issue brought to light in a hamhanded way that not talk about it at all, and while facts are for sure super important, and changing numbers will only hurt ones argument, the VV rebuttal is really rubbing me the wrong way.

    Also, what the hell with the personal attacks, VV? Did we learn nothing from yesterday’s Palin thread? Yes, GI Jane is not my favorite movie, but that is literally the worst argument I could have against something Demi Moore says, unless she is trying to convince me that GI Jane is my favorite movie.

  19. Has no one stopped to think that Ashton’s maybe making these ridiculous PSA’s so they’ll have a butterfly effect that will wipe out child prostitution forever?

  20. How can Ashton say with such authority that prostitutes advertising in the Village Voice are underaged?

  21. 1. I hate when people take real issues like child exploitation and abuse (of any age) and turn it into an insulting and moralistic campaign against consenting adults (like “real” prostitutes).
    2. Using your clout to spread the word against child sex slavery is a little like using your clout to spread the word against murder. I’m not going to fault him for it, but it’s widely known to be a bad, horrible thing, while less obvious outrages go unrecognized by many people.
    3. I’m pretty sure Ashton Kutcher played himself on Punk’d.

  22. I’m really excited that I actually read this Village Voice article while actually in New York instead of reading it via the internet in my usual Australian bedroom. SO COOL OF ME, YOU GUYS!

  23. “If you want to dispute the online data I’ve collected about the consumption of child porn” – There’s GOT to be a better way to put that.

  24. What “real man” is using Timberlake or Ashton F’ing Kutcher as a template?

  25. I think my real problem with the Kushner campaign and the inflated numbers is not that sex trafficking should not be considered a ‘big deal’ even if just a few kids are affected, but that it fed into a Lifetime movie of the 90′s fantasy that the white picket house down the block that nice Mr. Smith lives in actually has Russian girls in the basement and everyone’s husband goes there, OMG. Yes true on some blocks, but not most, i’m nearly certain. To assume that sex trafficking is everywhere, all over, and if you are not a slave or a pimp you are probably a John, and its clearly unstoppable, so lets just CUT down on the demand, like with vegetarianism, by making it seem ‘uncool’ is silly nonsense at its silliest. For one thing, its not everywhere. And you are not going to cut down on the demand by making it seem unhip. Its NOT HIP TO RAPE ENSLAVED KIDS IN AMERICA. Its just not. If someone is doing this at the white picket house down the sububan cul de sac (they are not) they are probably really sick and/or under the throes of an irresistible compulsion, not that we shouldn’t chemically castrate them or put them away forever or whatever you want to do with them, ok, I am not going to get into defending child rapists here, heaven’s no! I get that its a seriously bad thing with a super high recidivism rate. I just don’t think that its a breezy choice that can be changed after being told that Justin Timberlake would not approve. Really, the child rapist never thought Justin Timberlake would think its ok. There is a societal stigma, FOR ONE THING. And yes, it does makes sense that it was the work of a ridiculous celebrity PR campaign and not an issue Ashton or Demi REALLY feel passionately about, and yes, Celebrities mucking about in areas in which they know nothing really DOES damage the cause, because right now the issue is minimized and trivialized by the V. Voice’s poking holes in the inflated data (and yes, it does appear that their motivation may have been just to draw attention away from their own complicity). The end result of the deflated and clownish campaign is to make any movement to end this (how about lets support a non celebrity movement based on trying catch really bad people on the ground floor of the exploitation/organization rather than a casual media influenced metrosexual consumer who does not exist? YEAH TRY THAT maybe???) seem tainted by the brush of this TOMFOOLERY. So, yes.

  26. real men don’t twitter


    I tide fashion Good-looking, not expensive Free transport

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