Village Voice vs. Demi & Ashton

Late Tuesday evening ( June 28th) a story entitled “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight” by Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin and Kristen Hinman, appeared on the Village Voice media website; it uses the widely and justly ridiculed Ashton Kutcher/Demi Moore anti-prostitution ad campaign as a springboard for examining the fantastically exaggerated claims of “child sex trafficking” fetishists.

First, the story compares the widely-touted “100,000-300,000 trafficked children” myth I debunked back in January with the police arrest records of the 37 largest American cities and found that in the past decade there were only 8263 juveniles arrested for prostitution among them, an average of 827 per year (roughly 22 per city per year).  Even if one assumes that these cities together have only half of the underage prostitutes in the U.S., that still gives us fewer than 1700 per year.  Ask yourself:  Even considering the incompetence of police departments, which is more believable: that police catch roughly 5% of underage prostitutes per year (by my estimate), or that they catch only 0.27% per year?

The article then moves on to the 2001 Estes & Weiner study, the original source of the fabulous number; as I reported in my column of April 2nd, the study “guesstimated (by questionable methodology) that ‘as many as 100,000-300,000 children and youth [of both sexes] are at risk for sexual exploitation’ of one kind or another…this guess is for BOTH sexes, for ‘children and youth’ (not just children), and most importantly represents those at risk of some form of ‘exploitation’, not currently involved in one specific form (sex trafficking).”  That “questionable methodology” (such as including all runaways, female gang members, transgender youth and those living within a short drive of the Mexican or Canadian borders as automatically “at risk”) was criticized in the Village Voice article by the University of New Hampshire’s Dr. David Finkelhor, who said “As far as I’m concerned, [the University of Pennsylvania study] has no scientific credibility to it…That figure was in a report that was never really subjected to any kind of peer review.  It wasn’t published in any scientific journal…Initially, [Estes and Weiner] claimed that [100,000 to 300,000] was the number of children [engaged in prostitution].  It took quite a bit of pressure to get them to add the qualifier [at risk].”  Professor Steve Doig of Arizona State said the “study cannot be relied upon as authoritative…I do not see the evidence necessary to confirm that there are hundreds of thousands of [child prostitutes].”  He also said, “Many of the numbers and assumptions in these charts are based on earlier, smaller-scale studies done by other researchers, studies which have their own methodological limitations.  I won’t call it ‘garbage in, garbage out.’  But combining various approximations and guesstimates done under a variety of conditions doesn’t magically produce a solid number.  The resulting number is no better than the fuzziest part of the equation.”  And when pressed by the reporters, Estes himself admitted, “Kids who are kidnapped and sold into slavery—that number would be very small…We’re talking about a few hundred people.”

Not that any of this bothers Maggie Neilson, Ashton & Demi’s “celebrity charity consultant”; she told the reporter “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.”  Presumably it would still “need to be addressed” if the number were 827, so why not just say 827?  Because, of course, that wouldn’t justify pouring millions down police department and NGO toilets instead of spending it on programs to help actual underage prostitutes (as opposed to phantom multitudes of “trafficked children”):  as the article explains, “…though 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.  In March of this year…[two senators] introduced legislation to fund six shelters with $15 million in grants.  The shelters would provide beds, counseling, clothing, case work, and legal services.  If enacted, this legislation would be the first of its kind…[it] has yet to clear the Senate or the House.”

The article ends with a clear indictment of government attitudes in prohibitionist regimes and an equally-clear statement that sex work is work:  “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.”  Village Voice recently told a group of sex worker rights activists that they are behind us, and that this is only beginning of a campaign for decriminalization; this could at last be the public voice we’ve needed for so long, and I eagerly await the next salvo fired in defense of whores.

14 Responses

  1. [...] post on Bound, not Gagged, a blog for sex workers, is worth reading. It provides some context to some of the hyperbole around [...]

  2. Looks to me like Ashton just got Punk’d

  3. Real men respect sex workers.
    Real men are nice to sex workers.

    How about those slogans?

  4. @advocate: My column of April 22nd had a similar title. ;-)

  5. I followed a link to one of Demi and Aston’s “Real Men” videos you had posted on your blog entry, Maggie. I suggest that we create our own real men videos with slogans like the ones above or the one Maggie included in the blog entry she linked to above. Slogans like, “Real men respect sex workers! Real men support the rights, well-being, and safety of sex workers! Real men are nice to sex workers!”
    After all, at the end of the video I watched, it suggest that we create our own real men video, so why not do this sex workers’ justice style? Some sex workers and allies have excellent videography skills, so it would be great if somebody could take this project on. I don’t really have videography skills, unless you count doing live webcam.

  6. I’ll be happy to post links to any such video advocates care to make. :-)

  7. So, have these ads explained how they are going to replace the income that the sex workers are losing from not being “bought?”

    Well, I’m sure our government’s generous social welfare programs will take care of it. After all, we are obviously a compassionate, caring society that would never let children starve in the street after we deprived their mothers of an income… right?

    Oh… http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41631002/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/some-schools-cut-lunch-options-kids-who-struggle-pay/

    Maybe this is actually just a well-funded campaign for some people to push their own sexual hang-ups on everyone and has nothing to do with compassion?

  8. Maybe they’ll start a program like the “rescue” groups fund in Southeast Asia, which forces the “rescued” workers into sweatshops at roughly 1/10 their previous income?

  9. I’ve been wondering about this issue you brought up, Maggie, concerning sex workers being sent into other occupations (such as sweatshops) in which the working conditions are no better and sometimes worse than in sex work. Last year, I was reading a website with links to different places where we can by goods made by former trafficking victims and proceeds benefit certain anti-trafficking organizations. Is anybody familiar with this?
    If so, I have some more questions:

    -Do the former trafficking victims receive any pay from the goods they produce? If so, is it a livable wage?

    -How much agency do they have concerning their working conditions?

    i’d appreciate any information that people could provide.

  10. SWA — I’ve seen those orgs/goods too and have wondered the same questions. Their websites never answer these things, which isn’t very reassuring since they’re supposedly helping victims of abuse/exploitation.

  11. I’m also wondering if the former trafficking victims who make these products have any say in how the money brought in from the goods they produce is spent.

  12. Probably not, as they don’t seem to be part of the BOD of these orgs.

  13. I challenge sex worker advocates to identify as abolitionists, thus proactively redefining how the term is being used: http://veganvixen1.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/sex-worker-advocates-as-abolitionists/

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