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, Backpage.com—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