You may be aware of this ridiculous “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign started by dim bulb celebs Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. You can google or Youtube the commercials. They exemplify everything wrong with how Hollywood approaches issues:
- The campaign started because the two yo-yos involved watched a documentary on sexual slavery in another country.
- The focused on this as a morally simple issue. No one is for child sex slavery. So even if their solutions were useless or even counter-productive, they would still earn unwarranted praise.
- They were then exposed to a “study”, now cannon, that claims there are between 100,000 and 300,000 underage girls in sexual slavery in the United States, a number they have repeated endlessly.
- Being Hollywood idiots, they decided that, instead of learning something about the issue, they would make “funny” commercials under the theme “real men don’t buy girls”. These commercials are the “We Are the World” of their time and about as entertaining. Apparently, men who relax by raping children might be dissuaded from doing so by a commercial.
There are gigantic problems with the campaign, most of which were exposed in this week’s Village Voice article. The Voice has been a target of trafficking claims since it runs escort pages. But they marshaled a very damning case against the “Real Men” thing.
First, there’s the 100-300,000 girl claim. It’s garbage, as Maggie McNeill has demonstrated numerous times. We have about half a million prostitutes in the country total, which makes the 300,000 number look insane. It would mean about 1 in 100 underage girls are in sexual slavery at a time when crime rates in general and sex crimes in particular are plunging like the reviews on one of Kutcher’s movies. It would mean there are almost as many child sex slaves than there are child Jews, slightly fewer teens in slavery than teens who are lesbians and many more child prostitutes than child Muslims. It would mean entire communities would be pillaged by pimps.
But you don’t even need to go that far because the study doesn’t even say what Kutcher says its says. The study actually says that 100-300,000 are “at risk” with “at risk” being defined so loosely that all runaways are considered at risk. More scientific approaches indicate there may be 10-20,000 underage prostitutes of any kind and only a small fraction of those are doing it against their will. The experts cited by the Village Voice estimate that the number of sexually exploited children is more in the hundreds or low thousands.
Now any child in sexual slavery is a horrific tragedy. Thankfully, there are a host of smart things we can do about it. We can legalize prostitution for adults, freeing up resources to help minors. We can throw more money at shelters and counseling for underage kids. We can throw people off the sex offender list that don’t belong there so we can keep a closer watch on the truly dangerous (preferably from inside a prison cell). We can especially focus on LGBT or promiscuous kids who are thrown out of their homes and sometimes turn to whoring just to survive.
But that wouldn’t make the Hollywood celebrities feel good and it wouldn’t line the pockets of various organizations and it wouldn’t please the anti-prostitution forces. And that may be the most devastating part of the Voice article:
Despite the tidal wave of cash going to nonprofits purporting to raise awareness and task forces hoping to prosecute (with little track record of success), someone’s been left out: the victims.
Although Congress has spent hundreds of millions in tax-generated money to fight human trafficking, it has yet to spend a penny to shelter and counsel those boys and girls in America who are, in fact, underage prostitutes.
So the Hollywood celebs get to fell good about themselves, the non-profits rake in money, the politicians get to grandstand and … no one is actually helped.
Naturally, when this sort of gig is exposed, the beneficiaries react. And react they have. Kutcher has gone on the warpath on Twitter, calling on sponsors to abandon the Voice and successfully getting American Airlines and Domino’s to pull out. It’s hard to blame the companies; they’re not interested in the subtleties of the issue. But it tells you what shaky ground Kutcher is on that he’s having a Twitter Tantrum consisting mainly of linking shaky studies and horror stories.
Now I would normally ignore this. I like it when celebrities expose themselves as idiots. But there is a potential for this campaign to make things far worse. For one thing, the campaign has made it clear that they want to target all prostitution, no just child prostitution and the federal money is flowing to prohibitionist causes. This will inevitably make things worse as it’s much easier for the authorities to bust consenting adults who advertise at the Voice than little kids who are shopped in secret. So they can claim they are “cracking down” when they are, in fact, diverting precious resources away from the problem.
(I’ll leave you to ponder the condescension of a famous celebrity, who could bed any woman he wants, telling men who may not have other options that they’re not “real men” if they hire a consenting adult woman.)
For another thing, Kutcher and his minions frequently conflate trafficking in child sex slaves with all human trafficking. But the vast majority of human trafficking involves smuggling willing people into this country from Mexico and other central American countries for work. I oppose illegal immigration, but conflating it with child molestation is going to create the same problems as conflating adult prostitution with child molestation: resources will be diverted to attack the larger, easier but less insidious problem. We’ll nab tens of thousands of illegals at the cost of neglecting the actual child prostitution problem.
This debate finally illustrates why I get so terminally focused on numbers and data and defining issues as clearly as possible. In order to address a problem, you have to define it and characterize it correctly. You can not get distracted by side issues and irrelevancies. People who exploit children are sneaky and devious but, thankfully, not very common. We need to go after them with the law enforcement equivalent of laser bombs, not carpet bombs. Leave the adult whores and the illegal immigrants out of it. Work the problem.
And ignore the self-satisfied celebrities.
Update: Just to make one thing clear: I think Kutcher is sincere in wanting to combat human trafficking, which is admirable. But I think he’s going about the exact wrong way, the Hollywood way, which is not admirable. It makes him feel good but it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. And I think, deep down, he suspects this, given his reaction to the Village Voice calling him out.
In the best of all worlds, this foofaraw would end in smarter action. I somehow doubt that will happen. All he’s doing at this point is aiding more destructive policy.