July 2, 2011

Child Slavery, and What Real Men Do.

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore have become involved in the fight to end child slavery. They released a series of “Real Men” PSAs that end with the phrase Real Men Don’t Buy Girls. I’ll discuss the ads later on since I used to work in advertising.

The Village Voice ran a piece criticizing some of the statistics that Kutcher’s thrown out while promoting his charity work. Namely that 100,000 to 300,000 children are involved in prostitution each year. Which came from a study that says that number of children are at risk, not involved.

Kutcher then declared a Twitter war on them, pointing out that their Backpage ads site has been accused of allowing underaged girls to be sold for sex. And it went back and forth, and now Kutcher’s focused on their advertisers.

Obviously, I applaud Kutcher for bringing this subject to light. A lot of people are unaware that here in the US, child prostitution does occur. However, I implore him to get his statistics right. If what the Village Voice says is true, then he and Moore (and others involved) have been overstating the number of girls taken into sex slavery annually.

I honestly don’t want to take sides. I really don’t. Yes, child slavery is horrible. But giving faulty statistics doesn’t help anyone. Before anyone thinks I’m heartless, consider this example. Charity A has blanketed TV/internet with statistics of how horrible something is. Someone points out, citing studies, that Charity A’s statistics are overblown. The majority of people will wonder what else Charity A has exaggerated and stop listening. However, I do agree that the Village Voice should be making sure that they crack down on their Backpage ads to make sure that sex trafficking isn’t occurring. So really, I think everyone’s a little right and a little wrong. (I will point out that while the VV points out that arrests for child prositution are low, those figures can’t be used to determine how many children are being trafficked annually)

Now, the ads. I’m sure you’ve seen them. They feature a male celebrity doing something stupid. Kutcher’s ad shows him peeling off dirty socks and throwing them away, then opening a package of socks and putting on a brand new pair. “Real Men Do Their Own Laundry.” Sean Penn makes a grilled cheese sandwich with an iron. In other words, they’re completely useless unless you already know what they’re referring to. Not only that, it makes all men out to be completely useless schmucks who happen to not resort to child slavery to do their laundry or make a sandwich. I’m sure they think they’re clever and will make people want to learn more- but frankly, every time I see those ads anywhere… I just want to change the channel because they’re insulting to any enlightened man out there who is trying to fight against child slavery. Or really, any man who is capable of taking care of himself.

So yes, folks, real men don’t buy girls. However, real men know how to do their own laundry. They know how to fix themselves a sandwich, and can shave with a razor. They also know that Twitter isn’t always the place to wage battles. Kutcher was trying to mock the Village Voice for not being on Twitter 24/7, which just made him look silly. Honestly, had Kutcher done as other celebrities have done, and written a piece for the Huffington Post to publish – it might have gone a long way. He could have articulated his point in more than 140 characters.

Instead, we have a petty war over a very serious issue. A war that’s had little to do with pushing people towards organizations that help children that are sold into slavery, or children that are being trafficked- but mostly to do with trying to smear the other person/paper involved. In which ultimately one will be the victor, but children will ultimately be the losers.

(TL:DR summary: Guys, stop fighting. Figure out the right statistics, push some charities and make sure that this is about the children affected… not your egos. And honestly, making fun of a serious subject isn’t the way to get people to take it seriously.)

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