Sex Trafficking, Cont.

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Michelle Goldberg follows up the Voice's reporting with some of her own:


In an investigative series titled "The Truth Behind Sex Trafficking," the Voice and some of its sister papers have set out to debunk the notion that the commercial sexual exploitation of children is either widespread or increasing. Its reporters have done a commendable job of tearing apart some of the groundless and probably inflated statistics that anti-trafficking activists throw around. But they have replaced them with equally implausible figures minimizing the scale of the problem. They've substituted denial for hype. 

So far, the most high-profile piece in the series was last week's Village Voice cover story attacking the anti-trafficking activism of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, two juicy if easy targets. It centered on Kutcher's claim that there are "between 100,000 and 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States today," a number often cited by activists and journalist alike. As reporters Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin, and Kristen Hinman show, that number comes from a study that purports only to measure the number of children "at risk" for commercial sexual exploitation, and even then, its methods and assumptions seem flimsy. The reporters quote Jay Albanese, former head of the Department of Justice's research division, now a criminologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. "There's tons of estimates on human trafficking," he says. "They're all crap ... It's all guesswork, speculation ... The numbers are inherently unbelievable." 

But Albanese tells me he did not mean to imply that domestic sex trafficking is not a serious issue. "To go from saying that these are not actual counts of any sort to saying that this is not a problem is going way too far," he says. "It's clearly missing the point. It's like saying we really don't know how many people are truly at risk of breast cancer or prostate cancer, so therefore the problem isn't that big."

Yeah. I think it's really smart to point out the problems of fear-mongering in progressive (small "p") causes. I think its rather silly to imply that no real problem exists. I think it's even sillier when your own credibility is compromised.

With that said, Moore and Kutcher are not simply easy and juicy targets, they are also high profile targets. When celebrities become the face of a movement, they take it's credibility with them. Moore and Kutcher might be the only contact that many people have with trafficking. It's thus critically important that that contact not be rooted in myth.

Great power. Great responsibility.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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