Players: Ashton Kutcher; The Village Voice
Opening Serve: This week's Village Voice featured an article entitled "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight," countering the figure touted by Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and other Hollywood celebs involved in the "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" campaign that "100,000-300,000 children in America [are] turning to prostitution this year. Village Voice writers Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin and Kristen Hinman insist that this simply isn't true and that the number, based on underage prostitution arrests per year in the 37 biggest U.S. cities (where they argue such activity is most prevalent), actually hovers around 827. The 100,000 to 300,000 figure, which they point out has been touted by several major news sources, came from professors at the University of Pennsylvania. The part of their research that's been repeatedly left out, though, is that "the figure actually represents the number of children [the professors] considered 'at risk' for sexual exploitation, not the number of children actually involved."
Return Volley: Last night, Ashton Kutcher lashed out at The Voice on Twitter, bringing up the alt-weekly's own embroilment in a sex trafficking lawsuit that aims to hold the paper's Backpage.com responsible for allegedly facilitating prostitution and child exploitation. Kutcher launched an 11-tweet rant at the Village Voice, writing "Find another way to justify that YOUR property facilitates the sale of HUMAN BEINGS...if you ever want 2 have a productive conversation about how 2 end human trafficking as opposed to belittling my efforts lmk." He also exclaimed, "REAL MEN DON'T BUY GIRLS and REAL NEWS PUBLICATIONS DON'T SELL THEM."
The Village Voice's official Twitter responded to Kutcher about four hours ago announcing, "Wow, @aplusk having a Twitter meltdown! Hey Ashton, which part this story is innaccurate?" and linking to the Voice piece in question. The Voice kept going, challenging Kutcher: "Ok @aplusk, we'll bite. Tell us the hard facts you have collected. We'll fact-check for you." When Kutcher doesn't response, The Voice continues to try to egg him on. "Where's your fight now @plusk? Did you sleep in, or are you just tuckered out from last night's Twitter tirade?" they write. "What do you have to hide, @aplusk?" they ask, declaring that "If @aplusk is a 'real man' and he wants to help solve the problem, he'll retweet this" with a URL of a blog post written by The Voice's Nick Pinto. Pinto insists that "the problem he and Demi are touting on a media tour is a vastly inflated epidemic. [And] 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 victims affected by this horrific crime."
What They Say the Fights About: The Village Voice thinks Kutcher and Moore's touting of the exagerated 100,000-300,000 figure diminishes their banner cause because, they say, it's not true. Kutcher argues that, not only is the figure right, but The Village Voice is currently being accused of aiding and abetting this disturbing crime trend, however big it really is.
What the Fight's Really About: The aforementioned story from this week's Voice, as well as one from March denouncing the data on online sex trafficking that was used to take down Craigslist's classified section. It seems as though these articles, in the wake of The Voice's own trafficking and prostitution suit, are deliberately championing The Voice's case. As The Awl's Myles Tanzer notes, "The story defends Village Voice Media's ownership of the classified site Backpage.com," where "adult ads" may be posted, and over which a fifteen-year-old sex trafficking victim sued.
Who's Winning Now: Fans of both sides have demonstrated their support, but there's no clear winner. The Voice seems unfit to position itself as an authority on sex trafficking when it's being accused of facilitating such a crime. Regardless of whether 800 or 300,000 American children are subjected to prostitution each year, both sides seem to agree that this is a trend that needs to be combated. In that case, maybe both players should focus their energy on fighting sex trafficking, not each other.