msnbc.com
updated 6/29/2011 6:26:58 PM ET 2011-06-29T22:26:58

A New York newspaper has called into question the number of child prostitutes being reported nationwide, disputing figures touted by Hollywood celebrities, media and members of Congress.

The Village Voice spent two months delving into the origins of a statistic about underaged sex-trafficking, currently being used in Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's ad campaign "Real Men Don't Buy Girls." Kutcher and Moore's public service announcements push the notion that are "between 100,000 and 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States today."

That number has appeared in numerous newspaper and television reports and elsewhere.

Voice reporters spent two months examining police records for juvenile prostitution in the nation's 37 largest cities in its efforts to verify the figures.

According to their research:

  • Nationwide, only 8,263 arrests were made for child prostitution in the last decade, or about 827 arrests per year.
  • Cities, such as Las Vegas, arrested or recovered 100 children or so a year, while Salt Lake City could go a year without a bust.

"Compare 827 annually with the 100,000 to 300,000 per year touted in the propaganda," the newspaper reported.

The "100,000 to 300,000" number originated in a report from two University of Pennsylvania professors, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner. But the newspaper said that the professors were writing about children who are "at risk" for sex exploitation in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the newspaper cited.

"There are not 100,000 to 300,000 children in America turning to prostitution every year," The Village Voice concluded its article, "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight." "The statistic was hatched without regard to science. It is a bogeyman."

The Voice noted that the authors of the University of Pennsylvania study included in their at-risk figure all runaways, any female gang member, any transgender child, and children who live near the Mexican or Canadian borders.

Other experts noted that there are no accepted numbers on how many people are forced into prostitution in the U.S. each year.

"There's tons of estimates on human trafficking," Jay Albanese, a criminologist with the Virginia Commonwealth University told the Voice. "They're all crap ... It's all guesswork, speculation... The numbers are inherently unbelievable.

"I wonder if these people putting up these very high estimates are helping or hurting the cause."

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