Child Sex Trafficking Takedown Has A Problem With Ashton Kutcher

How do you write an "investigative" piece about inflated sex trafficking numbers and almost entirely undermine yourself? Village Voice Media shows us a few ways with its cover story this week.

You can have a commercial interest in such an angle, for one — the company has been targeted by anti-trafficking organizations for advertisements on its Backpage.com site. (It's also used its editorial pages to defend its business practices this way before.) An editor's note says, "It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion. But the facts speak for themselves."

You can write the whole piece in an erratically snide tone that spends at least as much time mocking Ashton Kutcher's career and his charity's PSAs as it does muckraking. He is called a "technically literate, if ill-informed, advocate" who, we are needlessly reminded, "made his bones playing the prankster, dummy, and stoner." Also, the story notes, Piers Morgan tried to use him to get more Twitter followers. (Huh?)

And you can broadly accuse advocates involved in fighting the trafficking of children of "hav[ing] their hands out for government funding or charitable contributions." Then, abruptly pivot to sudden concern for sex workers: "The lack of shelter and counseling for underage prostitutes—while prohibitionists take in millions in government funding—is only one indication of the worldwide campaign of hostility directed at working women."

As for the rest of it, we'll boil it down for you: The story points out that the estimate of 100,000 to 300,000 trafficked children in the U.S., which is widely used in the media and in Kutcher and Moore's campaign, is based on a vague, unscientific number of children "at risk" of it. The actual number of arrests and prosecutions nationwide is extremely low, although that is manifestly a very limited indicator. Look how you can say that without being, collectively, such a disingenuous asshole.

Real Men Get Their Facts Straight [Village Voice]
Earlier: The Trouble With Child Sex Trafficking Statistics