Okay, I had to laugh when I first saw this anti-sex trafficking campaign from the Demi and Ashton Foundation. Some Hollywood heavyweights bandied together for a cause. Not unheard of. A good publicist makes sure his or her client has a sturdy cause to plaster a face to.
But this one? With these guys? Well, hello, hypocrisy! Why don't you sit a spell?
I'd bet, let's see, MY LIFE, that all three of these men have used the services of sex workers in the past (month, maybe). Have they all been of age? I'm sure they weren't fretting over it at the time, what with the champagne, cocaine and stuff.
"You want entertainment, get yourself a couple of hookers and an eight ball." - Sean Penn
But then there's this critical aspect that's more cringe-worthy: confusing sex trafficking with sex work. This campaign mindlessly muddies the two, but that's nothing unusual. Many anti-prostitution campaigns will do just that.
A few years ago, Craigslist was "forced" by 17 attorney generals to remove their adult services section of their website due to fears that it harbored sex trafficking activity.
"They're buying and selling children out there. Better arrest the hookers on Craigslist or they'll buy and sell more children!" roared the battle cry.
Of course, they arrested women. Working women. Lots of them. Whether you agree with the moral choice of a sex worker is not the issue. They arrested the "lowest hanging fruit" according to sex work activist and author Amanda Brooks and not sex traffickers:
"If you want to fight sex trafficking, go find sex traffickers and put them away. Be my guest. I don't know a single sex worker who will stop you from doing that. Arresting consenting adult sex workers isn't going to stop a sex trafficker. It has nothing to do with actually saving those who need help."
There are plenty of consenting sex workers who have been radically affected by these dubious crusades. And the religious right love this kind of double speak:
Sex work = sex-trafficking
Anti-trafficking = anti-prostitution
Pro-life = anti-life
Is sex trafficking a problem? Hell, yes. Human trafficking is a tremendous problem. (I guess Ashton is not as concerned about the children used for labor, which constitutes a substantial 20% of all trafficked individuals worldwide.) It is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world.
So how does the Demi and Ashton Foundation offer help?
Kutcher claims that "once someone goes on record saying they are or
aren't going to do something, they tend to be a bit more accountable."
If he's means worldwide trafficking rings, this will not be brought up at their next board meeting, I promise.
If he's speaking directly to pedophiles, guess what? They're not listening
to advice from a glossy playboy celebrity about their severe sexual predilections.
And while I love me my Justin Timberlake, do we truly think his pretty face would have an iota of effect on human trafficking, where often massive rings extend worldwide? A cute t-shirt is not reaching them. As a matter of fact, that cute t-shirt insults and undercuts the extent and extremity of the problem. (And let's hope that underage forced labor isn't making said cute t-shirt.)
What this "campaign lite" does instead? Shames prostitutes. Shames Johns. Shames the oldest profession that ain't going nowhere, whether you like it or not. And conveniently, does not shame (nay exalts) the guys who have used their services. (Please trust me, they have. And they weren't checking ID.)
Interestingly, I've seen several feminists and feminist groups proudly post this ad on Facebook, which seems so obviously contradictory in its messaging. Filmmaker Iari Lee and A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World (whom I truly respect) parrot this rhetoric without seeing the possible hypocrisy or outright damage. It's jump on a bandwagon for the bandwagon's sake. (Heck, they're cute guys!)
I've often heard male friends say, "I'd never pay for sex. I don't need to." Well, kudos to you. But some choose to. And in countries all over the world, it's a fine and legal working arrangement. So I can't help but note the underlying message:
"Real men (like us) don't have to pay for sex. We get it for free. Because we're Sean Penn, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Timberlake."
But that doesn't fit on a coffee mug as easily. I have a new slogan:
"Real women don't take social instruction, which ultimately shames and harms women, from Hollywood playboys who need a cause de jour."
Look at this darling video where Kutcher claims that "real men [like this Hollywood star] do laundry." Do you believe that too?:
Special thanks to Heather Bartlett and Lorraine Berry for their contributions.