LOS ANGELES—A controversy is brewing over a series of anti-child sex slavery public service announcements put together by Hollywood power couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, through their DNA Foundation, that feature celebrity friends such as Sean Penn, Justin Timberlake, Jamie Foxx and Bradley Cooper.
The 60-second PSAs, which are intended to throw a spotlight on the problem of child sex slavery, share a “real men don’t buy girls” theme in which the performers are shown doing unmanly things poorly, such as ironing a sandwich (Sean Penn), eating breakfast cereal out of the box with a huge spoon (Bradley Cooper) or throwing socks away instead of putting them in the laundry (Ashton Kutcher).
As described, the PSAs do sound weirdly divorced from the serious subject-matter, and watching them does not improve the perception. They are humorous and light in tone, with accompanying elevator music that only adds to wryly comic effect, making the connection to child sex slavery more work that the producer's probably intended.
Fox News spoke with a Los Angeles-based psychologist, who said, “The ads are not addressing the issue; they are veering off in another direction in a ‘gender joke’ attempt. With the enormous amount of heart and creativity available in both Moore and Kutcher, it would be preferable and a stronger message for the public to present male models of healthy sexuality with respect for women.”
But there is something far more problemtic with the campaign than just the music or comedy quotient of the ads, and it has to do with the focus of the PSAs, which is limited to the issue of child sexual abuse. The reason some people are complaining is that most of the professional activists who work in the sex trafficking and slavery field see the fight as far more than about children. For them, any form of sexual commerce is akin to sexual slavery, including pornography and all forms of prostitution, even when it is legal and regulated, as in some parts of Nevada and sections of Amsterdam.
For these people, Hollywood celebrities are the worst sort to be carrying their water.
“This is what happens when celebrities do an issue divorced from the movement," Norma Ramos, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women told FOX411.com. “Once you chose an issue and don’t do it in collaboration with people who have been doing this for a long time, this is what you end up with. There is a general dumbing down that is going on and this is an example of dumbing down a social justice movement with the narrowest message possible.”
By "narrowest message," Ramos means limiting it to child sexual exploitation, which appears to be precisely the area of most concern to Kutcher and Moore. Ramos’ point of view could not have been expressed more clearly than when she was asked about the Jamie Foxx PSA in which he haplessly uses a remote control to open a beer bottle while watching an episode of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice.
“Donald Trump is CEO of a beauty pageant which simply fosters reducing women to sex objects,” remarked Ramos. “Once you reduce a human being to a thing they become disposable and putting him in this category of people. I would have chosen the men a little more carefully.”
This is Andrea Dworkin territory, a place mortally hostile to the vast majority of red-blooded males who do not believe that all sexual intercourse is the equivalent of rape, or that appreciating a woman’s sexual attributes instantly reduces the woman to the status of an object, and the men to a felonious objectifier.
An additional problem here is that the divergent messaging will only cause more problems for celebrities who try to address child sexual abuse without casting a wider net that also captures every man who searches the web for a topless photo of Scarlett Johansson, who, let’s face it, has a body that truly could launch a thousand ships. (Just ask Sean!)
When the sex-negative activists use terms such as “trafficking” and “slavery,” they are not being specific with those terms or using them in a way that most people assume they are being used, and they are most certainly not distinguishing between those who actually choose to become adult performers, strippers or sex workers and those who are trafficked in the generally understood meaning of the term. For these activists, no one can possibly make the rational decision to pursue a career in adult entertainment unless they have been “trafficked” into it in one way or another.
Ramos’ group, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), is a perfect example of this mindset. For all the good that the group probably does around the world, their philosophy of sexual exploitation as defined on their website could not be clearer about the intolerance they hold for a woman’s right to really choose.
Sexual exploitation is a practice by which person(s) achieve sexual gratification or financial gain or advancement through the abuse of a person's sexuality by abrogating that person's human right to dignity, equality, autonomy, and physical and mental well-being.
Sexual exploitation includes sexual harassment, rape, incest, battering, pornography and prostitution.
All prostitution exploits women, regardless of women's consent.
Prostitution includes casual, brothel, escort agency or military prostitution, sex tourism, mail order bride selling and trafficking in women.
More confusing is their definition of the term “trafficking,” which requires “the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
Sticking with that definition, they are quite correct to conclude that the consent of such trafficked persons is irrelevant. but when they then project that definition onto all prostitutes, escorts and adult performers, they devalue the seriousness of the actual crime of the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children, women and men. (There is, by the way, nary a mention of boys or men in most of the screeds about trafficking and sexual slavery that one sees on these sites or reported by major media outlets. It would seem that the gender-based double-standard as alive and well in the sex slave activist movement, too.)
There is little easy about the issue of sexual abuse and trafficking. The internet has spawned ever greater opportunities for criminals to exploit people sexually. To say that no nexus exists anywhere in the world between such people and the legitimate adult industry would be foolish, but it is just as absurd when sex slavery activist label the entire adult entertainment industry a repository of trafficked and abused performers.
The great sexual divide just seems to be getting ever wider. For celebrities such as those chosen for these PSAs, not to mention Moore and Kutcher, some hard decisions will have to be made as the criticism mounts and the pressure increases for them to make a public stand against all forms of explicit sexual expression. Many will run for the hills, unwilling to be forced to take an ideologically extremist position that denies respect for an adult’s right to choose what s/he wants to do with his or her body. Some will drink the Kool-Aid. But hopefully, most will come to see that support for unfettered sexual expression is in fact compatible with the war against sexual abuse in all its forms.
Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore appear on CNN’s "Piers Morgan Tonight" Thursday to talk about the DNA Foundation.