June 30, 2011 at 4:19 PM ET
In this corner, weighing in with more than 7M Twitter followers and fighting for exploited children, self-appointed voice of the digital generation, Ashton Kutcher!
And over here, weighing in with a weekly circulation 200K, a couple of Pulitzers and a parent company that owns Backpage.com, an adult services website referred to by one lawyer as a "safe house" for pimps, the Village Voice!
These formidable foes fought their first round in the Twitter ring Thursday, following the publication of "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight," the Village Voice cover story critical of Kutcher and his wife Demi Moore's anti sex-trafficking crusade. Critical not of its well-meaning insipidness, but the campaign's oft-repeated, yet specious statistic that "100,000 to 300,000" children in America enter prostitution every year.
On Wednesday night, not long after the story went live on the Village Voice website, Kutcher tweeted a series of increasingly combative challenges to the Voice via Twitter aka America's Salon (where all the most thoughtful discussions take place). He threw down the gauntlet by mentioning a lawsuit filed last year filed against Village Voice Media's Backpage.com, that states the adult ad service knowingly allowed a minor to be pimped on the site: "hey @villagevoice hows[sic] that lawsuit from the 15 year old victim who alleges you helped enslave them going?"
(It's a lawsuit "riddled with errors," according a statement from Village Voice Media released soon after the lawsuit was filed.)
Kutcher didn't get a response that night, but he didn't wait for one either. His tweets came fast and furious.
Note the time proximity of the tweets.
As you'll read, Kutcher mocked the Voice for not returning his tweets immediately, but it seems the staff was just off for the night. (Not everybody stares at Twitter 24/7, turns out.)
The Voice responded via Twitter Thursday morning: "Wow, @aplusk having a Twitter meltdown! Hey Ashton, which part this story is inaccurate? http://tinyurl.com/3nme6l8" @villagevoice tweeted, including a link to the story.
The classiness of the exchange did not increase with the audience logging on to watch the Voice bait the willing Kutcher, in what's essentially a meaningless (but entertaining!) slap fight over a very grim topic.
The Voice's tweets (including retweets of Kutcher and others) look like this:
So what have we learned? Well, for one thing, freaking out on Twitter does not speak well of you or your cause. Anyone with a soul agrees that sex trafficking is horrible. If Kutcher believes the Voice's article states otherwise, he is mistaken. It's the severity of the numbers and how to address the problem that are contentious issues among advocates and law enforcement.
As part of the property that owns the lucrative Backpage.com, the Voice is upfront in admitting it's got a dog in this fight. It's also right in calling out the unfounded numbers blindly repeated by advocates and the media, not to mention Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.
The main fact of the story the Voice asked Kutcher to question concerns the alleged 100,000 to 300,000 sexually-enslaved children in America. "A detailed review of police files across the nation tells another story," the story reports:
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.
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.
"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."
It is true that police departments do not arrest every juvenile engaged in sex work. But, surely, they don't ignore the problem.
The Voice, previously reported, and anti-sex trafficking experts agree, bad science and fuzzy math lead to tax dollars diverted to organizations that truck in alarmist fiction.
"Despite the tidal waveof 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," the Voice reports, noting the lack of funding for shelters for underage prostitutes.
Child prostitution rightfully inspires outrage, and enslaved children should be helped. But it's hard to fix a problem when you're not working with the facts.
The Voice writes in a follow-up story on Kutcher's Twitter Tantrum: "If Kutcher's serious about solving the problem and wants to be a "real man," he'll support the Wyden/Cornyn Sex Trafficking Bill, which actually helps the victims affected by this horrific crime."
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