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Child Sex Trafficking Takedown Has A Problem With Ashton Kutcher

Illustration for article titled 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.

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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."

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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

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DISCUSSION

missnormadesmond
MissNormaDesmond

This article is kind of stupid on the face of it. Do the authors think that the number of people arrested for selling drugs every year equals or even approximates the number of people actually selling drugs? Then why would arrests be a reliable indication of how many underage prostitutes there are, except perhaps as a ratio? (I'm pretty sure the cops take selling drugs seriously, too.) They then interview an expert whose ridiculously low-ball estimate is disproven simply by the number of arrests per year they've already given. Yes, the numbers being given by Kutcher et al are most likely much too high, and the way they were arrived at is specious. When you're accusing people of using shoddy methodology, however, it really behooves you not to commit precisely the same error.

Meanwhile, quoting multiple major news organizations using the inflated numbers kind of weakens the case they're obviously trying to make, which is that Kutcher's a dipshit who's culpable for talking out his ass. It's to his credit that he reacted with horror to what he had no reason to know were inflated numbers, and made an effort to do something about it. What exactly is the Voice doing to help anyone these days? I mean, it used to be a great publication, but that's been over for some time now. This piece alone pretty much puts a stake in the heart of that. "Not an easy task, says Maggie Neilson, whose previous work was in the hot, hot, hot area of microfinance. " What the *fuck* is that? Is it supposed to be anything besides stupid, mean-spirited bitchery? Because it's definitely not journalism.