Real Men Get Their Facts Straight

Ashton and Demi and Sex Trafficking

"It's between 100,000 and 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States today," Ashton Kutcher told CNN's Piers Morgan on April 18. That, says Kutcher, is how many kids are lost to prostitution in America every single year. "If you don't do something to stop that, that's when there is something wrong with you, in my opinion."

"We want to make a difference with this," chimed in Kutcher's wife, Demi Moore. "We don't want to just come and talk about it. We want to actually see a change, and that's not going to come by us just, you know, jumping in and doing a little bit and coming and talking."

In order to "make a difference," Kutcher and Moore recently launched a series of public service announcements under the banner "Real Men Don't Buy Girls." In the spots, Kutcher plays a scruffy doofus who'd rather toss out his smelly socks and put on a pair fresh from the package than do a load of laundry. "Real men do their own laundry," an off-camera voice booms. "Real men don't buy girls."

Ivan Nikolov/


Editor’s note:
Congress hauled in Craigslist on September 15, 2010. There, feminists, religious zealots, the well-intentioned, law enforcement, and social-service bureaucrats pilloried the online classified business for peddling “100,000 to 300,000” underage prostitutes annually.

Those same numbers had already inspired terrified politicians, who let loose hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession.

The Craigslist beat-down was absurdist theater.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking” culminated with the humbled attorneys from Craigslist announcing that they would close down their adult classified business.

The First Amendment was shouted down in the name of children.

Village Voice Media watched with more than passing interest.

From its earliest days, the Village Voice has run adult classifieds. Today, those classifieds are hosted online at

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.

SPECIAL REPORTS: The Truth Behind Sex Trafficking Archive

For an interactive map with all 37 cities' info, go to

The message is somewhat bewildering, given the lack of context, but there are more like it, all part of a campaign featuring celebrities Justin Timberlake, Sean Penn, and Jason Mraz doing cartoonishly manly things, such as trying to shave with a chainsaw and find a car while blindfolded in a parking lot.

Along with his wife, Kutcher, the titular dude of Dude, Where's My Car?, has become the public face of an effort to stop underage trafficking since leaving That '70s Show and Punk'd.

The PSAs have made some observers scratch their heads and others guffaw. Ostensibly about an intense issue—childhood sex slavery—the videos reek of frat-boy humor.

"Is it just me or is there, like, no connection whatsoever between Sean Penn making a grilled cheese with an iron (manly!) and the horrific situation of someone paying for an enslaved 7-year-old to give them a blowjob?" wrote a blogger on

A blogger for Big Hollywood suggested viewers "sit back and take in a full year's supply of empty-headed, self-important Hollywood narcissism."

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.

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.

The figure has echoed across America, from the halls of Congress to your morning newspaper, from blogs both liberal and conservative. Google it and you'll get 80 pages of results.

Last month, the New York Times breathlessly confided, "An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American-born children are sold for sex each year."

The Gray Lady was not breaking new ground.

USA Today: "Each year, 100,000 to 300,000 American kids, some as young as 12..."

• CNN: "There's between 100,000 to 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States..."

• Media Bistro: "There are an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 victims of child prostitution..."

• Salon: "Roughly 100,000 to 300,000 American children are prostituted each year..."

• Family Court Chronicles: "Nationwide, 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation..."

• Wikipedia: "Anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation..."

• U.N. goodwill ambassador Julia Ormond: "100,000 to 300,000 potentially trafficked..."

• Press TV: "Child trafficking rampant in the U.S. An FBI bulletin shows that 100,000 to 300,000 American children..."

• Orphan Justice Center: "An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children in forced prostitution in the U.S...."

• C-SPAN: "Children in our country enslaved sexually...from 100,000 to 300,000..."

But a detailed review of police files across the nation tells another story.

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.

When the local police data was shared with a leading figure in the struggle against underage prostitution, the research struck her as ringing true.

"The Seattle Police Department totally have a handle on the situation and understand the problem," says Melinda Giovengo, executive director of YouthCare, which runs a live-in shelter for underage prostitutes in Seattle. "That seems to be a very accurate count and is reflective of what the data shows."

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Having worked for the better part of a decade at a sexual assault and abuse crisis and support center, I can tell you that it is the vast majority of sexual assault and abuse cases that do not get reported. It's generally not more than 20% at best in any given location. The city I live in is not large. Our center had 3000-5000 client contacts per year. That's separate contacts with people, not individual survivors, and could be anything from a call for support lasting 15 minutes to a trip to the hospital lasting several hours. Many people do not call right away, especially children, who usually wait until decades later when their traumatic symptoms become overwhelming as adults with children the age they were at the time of abuse, for example. Many, many children who are abused, filmed and otherwise prostituted by the people who are supposed to be protecting them never tell anyone for a very long time. This is intensely painful and puts people at risk for drug abuse, suicide, adverse economic, emotional, intellectual and interpersonal conditions of all kinds. It's too bad that people feel they have a right or reason to minimize it in any way. 


Village Voice Media has had people attacking them left and right lately because they profit greatly from all the ads that people have put for prostitution on their site. One of those type organizations has been blasting them, so now it appears they're trying to save face by denying this issue really exists.

In the Bay Area, in Oakland, California, there are THREE officers--not three platoons of officers, not three SWAT teams of officers, but three *officers*--who work on this issue. This is in one of the bigger cities in an area with a population of over 7 million. How many arrests do you think three officers could make in a year, in a city of 400,000, and in a large metropolitan area? Many other cities around here have no one even working on this issue at all.

So, yes, it's rather difficult to get data from police officers who do not exist.

Also, many argue (correctly) that these children are victims, not criminals, and thus should not be arrested. As this article did point out, there's nowhere to put them once they're arrested--so I would imagine that many of them go free due to that fact alone--not allowing them to be added to the "numbers arrested."

In the article, it's repeated many times that there are no accurate facts...and then the sidebar states that "the facts speak for themselves." This is nothing but VVM trying to save their own butts by mudslinging. Can we stick with facts--that there aren't really any?

And how about irrelevant sidetracking: What's the reason they start talking about Canada? Are child prostitutes legal there? Of course not.

I find this a disgusting article by VVM that uses propaganda to distract our attention from themselves, and to undermine what is really going on: There is an undetermined number of children being sold into sexual slavery, and these are people who happen to be famous who are trying to stop it. The "issue" is CHILDREN.

Even one is too many.

I agree with Maggie Neilson: "And I don't frankly care if the number is 200,000, 500,000, or a million, or 100,000—it needs to be addressed. While I absolutely agree there's a need for better data, the people who want to spend all day bitching about the methodologies used I'm not very interested in."