Control Tower

Ashton Kutcher's Child-Sex-Slave Freak-Out

Will someone give Ashton Kutcher a glass of orange juice? Because he's officially the Anita Bryant of sex workers. How did Mr. Dude, Where's My Car? turn into Mr. Dude, Think of the Children? By pushing bogus statistics about children in the United States being forced into prostitution. Combating underage prostitution is Kutcher's new cause, and he told CNN's Piers Morgan, "There are between 100,000 and 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States today."

Wow, that's a big number. Just for perspective: The city of Everett has about 100,000 people; Tacoma around 200,000. Enough child prostitutes to populate entire cities would be a bad thing—if it were true. But it's not. The often-quoted figure came from professors Richard Estes and Neil Weiner. It is not the number of child prostitutes; it is the number of children Estes and Weiner consider "at risk" to be sexually exploited. Any kid who runs away from home, even briefly, is in that number, as are transgender youth, gang members, youth living near a national border who have a car, and anyone Estes and Weiner deems an "outsider."

Village Voice Media published a scathing article about Kutcher's crusade (printed locally by VVM-owned Seattle Weekly), highlighting the misrepresentation of an elastic figure from a questionable study. When asked by the Village Voice how many actual kids are forcibly taken into the sex industry, Estes answered, "That number would be very small... a few hundred people." VVM proposed its own figure: 827. According to VVM, that's the average number of underage prostitutes arrested annually nationwide.

Obviously, 827 is far fewer than 100,000. However, arrest records alone aren't a credible yardstick, and VVM is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. But you see, VVM is not merely a disinterested observer. Buoyed by its success in shutting down Craigslist's adult services section, the fundamentalist-feminist complex is pressuring another adult site,—which is owned by Village Voice Media. VVM is defending itself from accusations of negligence in preventing child prostitution on its site.

Regardless of VVM's motivations, no one really knows how many child prostitutes there are: not law enforcement, not scholars, and certainly not "rescue" organizations. They should stop saying they do. Their response to this: "Well, any child being sexually exploited is too many, so it doesn't matter if we inflated the number." I agree with the first part—but truth does matter. Unscrupulous people use those bogus statistics to get government grants. There are only so many tax dollars to go around. We just slashed millions of dollars from a federal nutrition program for children. Who's rescuing those kids?

Children being sexually exploited is reprehensible. But the people for whom Kutcher shills use scare tactics not only to fund their industry, but also to institute "proactive policing" of adult sites—meaning: censor and pressure them out of existence. Americans have given up a lot of freedom and privacy to people who say it's for our own safety. I'm dismayed to see the protection of children becoming, like patriotism, the last refuge of scoundrels. recommended


Comments (31) RSS

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Great column, with some much-needed perspective, especially in this publication. I hope it helps more people come to their senses a bit. Thanks.
Posted by gloomy gus on July 14, 2011 at 1:52 AM · Report this
"...youth living near a national border who have a car..."

Wow, that's just... wow. Extraordinary and nonsensical. Thank you for shedding some light o these so-called statistics.
Posted by Elaine on July 14, 2011 at 3:38 AM · Report this
Great column, MM. In particular, I love the closing paragraph. With so much sensationalism, it's good to see someone take the time to tear apart numbers like these, as well as pointing to the reasons both the researchers and VVM might have for inflating.
Posted by supdegrave on July 14, 2011 at 3:56 AM · Report this
Especially with the current budget/deficit fight going on, there look to be even fewer dollars to go around. Most improvement for the resources we hove is what we've got to aim for.
Posted by story_in_progress on July 14, 2011 at 5:40 AM · Report this
Well said. Fear-mongering seems to be the favorite pastime of many leaders in our country. It's up to us, the citizenry, to not let them get away with it, and I laud you for doing just that.
Posted by teathededanu on July 14, 2011 at 6:17 AM · Report this
Well done.
Posted by Hannah in Portland on July 14, 2011 at 6:44 AM · Report this
"The fundamentalist-feminist complex" is truly a frightening concept.
Posted by SeanB on July 14, 2011 at 8:26 AM · Report this
Thank you for putting the truth out there. It's scary to see such sensationalism based on completely false information.

I'm always weary of any statistics in the media, but it's still shocking to see such blatant lies uncovered. I can understand rounded-up numbers or surveys that aren't fully representative, but this case is obviously someone profiting off of people's goodwill.

Makes you wonder what else is a complete lie.
Posted by Krystal on July 14, 2011 at 9:06 AM · Report this
Well said.

I'm getting really fed up with all the psuedo-science and statistics that get used to push nanny laws or used to incite fear so some company can profit off of it "for the greater good"

Posted by satori on July 14, 2011 at 10:50 AM · Report this
Excellent work. Stranger: please assign Mistress Matisse longer pieces! She's so talented -- I can't get enough of her laser-sharp writing.
Posted by June C. on July 14, 2011 at 11:06 AM · Report this
And if they shut down Backpage, then what? The government and media pressure shutting down anything else they disapprove of with the use of blatant and indefensible lies?

VV currently works with law enforcement to report and remove possible ads that involve minors. The prostitution industry also works hard to police itself because every case of a 16 or 17 year old involved in prostitution (who can legally have sex with adults but become both criminals and victims simultaneously if they receive anything of value) is used as an excuse for violent raids and arrest. Internet advertising has done more to clean up the sex work industry than the last 100 years of prosecution.

In this economic climate, we have to focus on tactics that actually work! It wasn't that long ago that the City of Seattle executed a violent raid (rifles out, SWAT gear on, women tossed to the ground and handcuffed on the floor). One of the women (who enjoyed her job because of the flexibility and excellent pay that she used to take care of her young child instead of relying on public assistance) had an asthma attack and police spent minutes ignoring her and then debating whether they should allow her into her purse to get her inhaler. They had spent months paying officers to go in and get handjobs to bust an establishment that had been operating peacefully in the neighborhood for 8 YEARS. Did prostitution stop in Seattle because of the hundreds of paid personnel involved? Of course not. They are still in the exact same location but now they go to work in fear instead of the comfort and security everyone enjoyed peacefully previously. All the women there were US citizens over 18 who had decided that sex work was their best option. Many had advanced degrees or were students, some were high school dropouts, most were single mothers and all of them were making more than $100/hour working a flexible part time job.

Let's waste money raiding a McDonald's. Ridiculous labor law violations and tons of single mothers who have to take food home from work to supplement the unliveable wage they receive. I got my first job at one at 15. No one called that trafficking.
Posted by ishf on July 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM · Report this
@10 I agree! This article was well written and spurred me on to do scads more reading and research. Nice job, MM.
Posted by cat in a sweater on July 14, 2011 at 1:42 PM · Report this
Nicely written MM. As the saying goes "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics"

People get turned off when they discover they've been lied to, and this issue is too important to lie about, even if your aim is noble.
Posted by JoeCool on July 14, 2011 at 2:08 PM · Report this
Best analysis of this I have seen anywhere. Maybe thestranger should lend this editorial to the seattleweekly or the seattletimes. It's very important for public officials to not act on a pretty bad lack of facts. The Mayor is meeting with the SeattleWeekly maybe they should print this out and ask him to read on.

I would think that the Seattle Police have a rough idea of how many juvenile prostitutes are in the city. I haven't seen the major release this number. Do they arrest them? The johns? Does the Mayor have these numbers? If not why not?
Posted by jd23 on July 14, 2011 at 2:09 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 15
That last paragraph made me want to give you a big old kiss, MM. (Or, you know, whatever you'd prefer as a sign of affection...;)

Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on July 14, 2011 at 3:57 PM · Report this
"An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will." Thomas Jefferson

Misrepresentation of the facts or worse, representing conjecture as fact is disingenuous and lowers the discussion to the level of politics. Thanks for speaking out to shine a light on misguided efforts.
Posted by SeaHorse on July 14, 2011 at 5:06 PM · Report this
OutInBumF 17
I thought Kutcher had a brain in his this. Sigh.
Posted by OutInBumF on July 14, 2011 at 10:46 PM · Report this
MM-thank you for this article.

The more the citizenry focuses on non-problem problems touted by "experts" like actors, athletes, etc the less the people running things have to explain their lame-ass choices.

Is child-exploitation a problem? Absolutely. But child prostitution is a raindrop in an unquiet sea compared to forced-child labor (where were *your* clothes made and by whom?), de-funding primary education, and kicking hungry kids off food subsidy programs because our elected officials can't balance their checkbooks.
Posted by bob_o_bard on July 15, 2011 at 2:49 PM · Report this
Wonderful points made. I have to concur that inflated facts harm any validity of the proponent of the claims. As someone who briefly survived as a sex worker in my mid 20's I didn't run into many under 18 in Seattle 5 at most. All five were 17 and doing it independently and of their own volition. The idea of there being enough to populate 3 Everetts or the entire Olympic Peninsula is just ludicrous.
Posted by Penaetis on July 15, 2011 at 5:56 PM · Report this
Great column, Matisse! Thank you so much for calling attention to the bullshit statistics and even more bullshit motivations of stupid movie stars.
Posted by Rhythm on July 15, 2011 at 7:06 PM · Report this
Really well-done! People often use the "but think of the children" argument against things that they simply don't like. No one can argue against helping endangered kids, so anyone and everyone play politics and use it for their cause. it's ironic and fucked up that the people that claim to care are actually just another set of people using those at-risk kids for their own agendas. All those psa's are a huge waste of time and money and all they do is make celeb pockets fatter. Get that money into some services and programs and then maybe it will make a difference.

Know what pisses me off more than some dipshit idiot alarmist conservative pricks judging me and calling me names? In all that sky-is-falling, fear-mongering, false-alarm raising bullshit nothing changes. Nobody's kids get helped. It's just a lot of talk and fighting. Words don't make a difference actions do. Raising baseless fears and overstating the problem doesn't help get at-risk kids the services they need. Being real is what helps people. It's like, don't pretend you care about the kids when all you care about is judging people that are different from you.

Posted by doesn't make a difference on July 15, 2011 at 7:31 PM · Report this
Well said. These numbers are just like the old ritual Satanic abuse nonsense that ruined so many lives.
Posted by pstemari on July 15, 2011 at 8:01 PM · Report this
Moralists are always worse than the causes they fight for.
Posted by certaindoom on July 16, 2011 at 8:18 AM · Report this
OH I KNOW how we could put a dent in child prostitution..howsabout actually prosecuting child sex abusers and effectively keep them away from other children?
Posted by Caralain on July 16, 2011 at 5:01 PM · Report this
echizen_kurage 25
Excellent column, except for those three little words: "fundamentalist-feminist complex." Feminists hold widely varied and even opposing positions on a great many issues, including the sex industry; the only core tenet of feminism is that one's gender should not limit one's rights or opportunities. I am sick and fucking tired of seeing "feminist" used as a casual synonym for "fringe-dwelling lunatic" and/or "sex-hating prude."
Posted by echizen_kurage on July 17, 2011 at 7:28 PM · Report this
I can appreciate the sentiment, but I do think a celebrity bringing attention to the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a good thing. When I was working at the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) agency in Harlem, NYC in 2007, we had a very difficult time even convincing voters to pass laws protecting rather than punishing underage prostitutes. GEMS was probably helping hundreds of CSEC victims in NYC alone. Other reports from Atlanta during a major sporting event estimated more than a thousand girls trafficked for sex. Based on what I know about the life, I would expect all of these numbers to be extremely conservative. Of course, even ball parking the number at 5000 or so is still many fewer than Kutcher is quoting. So obviously a misuse of figures. But I think we are talking about at least a few thousand kids. Given the racial and socioeconomic issues and the average age of entry into prostitution (it is 13, btw), I can forgive an exaggeration of numbers if it means we are TALKING about CSEC as we are here. Bravo, Kutcher, even if your numbers are off.
Posted by wxPDX on July 18, 2011 at 2:55 PM · Report this
I appreciate the perspective that this article presents and the reality check it provides regarding the statistics being exploited in the public rhetoric. However, I have a hard time accepting it at face value. Mistress Matisse stands to face serious professional disadvantages if the sex industry were persecuted more seriously in the name of protecting children. The safe and consensual sex industry has a terrible overlap with the human and child trafficking industry and I would be more inclined to accept MM's perspective if she didn't avoid that part of the discussion. Ashton Kutcher may be using hyperbolic figures in his awareness campaign and thus risking our precious tax dollars, but what does MM propose instead? Protecting vulnerable children from being sexually exploited for profit is an important goal--what kind of awareness campaign or re-writing of legislation would be more effective than what Kutcher is doing? That's the article I want to read.
Posted by adrun on July 18, 2011 at 8:29 PM · Report this
@27 How about a truthful ad campaign? Sure, no one wants to see child molesters buying kids but lying about it doesn't help that. Money is tight and there's a lot of people, kids too, who need it other places too. Get your story straight and make a case from there but face facts, the government is not a bottomless well of money.
Posted by Larkshead on July 18, 2011 at 11:25 PM · Report this
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@25 - while I agree with people lazily conflating feminism with prudishness, I think you missed the fact that Matisse was qualifying the TYPE of feminist she was referring to.

While I think labelling it a "fundamentalist-feminist COMPLEX" might be a bit exaggerated, there certainly are those feminists who are lampooned as "Women Against Everything". And who unfortunately seem to wield a lot of power when their ideas line up with the religious fundamentalists.

I certainly don't think Matisse was trying to label all feminists as "fundamentalists" - quite the converse. But, yes, I see how it could be ambiguous in the context - maybe slightly more clarification that the label is supposed to a distinguishing one rather than a general one (describing all feminists) wouldn't hurt.
Posted by Trix on July 19, 2011 at 6:33 AM · Report this

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