Today Ana Morse, president of the ECPAT-USA board of directors, gave testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Women’s Issues concerning Backpage and the $26.7 million dollars in advertising revenue it generates annually for Village Voice Media from prostitution alone.
Recently, Nicolas Kristof has been writing op-eds about children sold for sex on-line through Backpage. His latest article can be found by clicking here, and the Huffington Post’s supporting article can be found by clicking here. These articles have not been written in a vacuum, they are emblematic of the media battle still being waged between people that are against child sex trafficking and the Village Voice. For those that haven’t been following, this current melee was set off by a series of op-eds Mr. Kristof had written giving detailed accounts of how young girls were being sold on Backpage. Mr. Kristof’s articles have lead to a call for the Village Voice to end its role in child sex trafficking through Backpage, signed by 19 US Senators on March 23rd, 2012. and a Nightline expose on the website
John Buffalo Mailer, son of Norman Mailer, one of the co-Founder of Village Voice, protested outside the Village offices. asking them to take down their adult classified ads to help stop the sex trafficking of children. But Nicolas Kristof wasn’t the first to get into a brawl with the Village Voice over the issue of Backpage. The Village Voice tried to take on Ashton Kutcher during his campaign “Real Men Don’t Buy Sex”. It seems fairly innocuous, even down-right helpful, that a celebrity would lend his star power to the fight against sex trafficking and spread awareness of prostituted children. Even if it were just the issue of men shouldn’t solicit prostitutes in general, be they adults or children, that’s a downright wholesome message that should be welcome in the public discourse. Let’s not forget that prostitution is illegal in virtually every part of the country, so an alternate title for his campaign could have been “Real Men Don’t Break the Law”.
The oddity is the vitriol the Village Voice reserves for people who point out that Backpage is used by traffickers to sell children for sex. Yes, it is an adult classified ad website that is intended only for mutually consenting adults, but it has clearly developed into something else and has created the unintended consequence of being a website for sex traffickers to sell children. While there are two sides of the argument to the former issue, about what mutually consenting adults can and should be able to do, there can only be one side to the latter issue, that Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is wrong, and that it is something we should all be able to agree with openly and publicly. Also, just to repeat, prostitution is still illegal for adults outside of a few of Nevada’s counties, and even there the sex takes place within a brothel and is not, to our knowledge, an on-line delivery service, so we at ECPAT-USA are having a difficult time understanding the Village Voice’s side of this media kerfuffle.
The reason why so many people are calling for Backpage to be shut down is because the Village Voice has not taken the time or effort to effectively police itself, and the real police don’t have the resources to do it for them. The Village Voice has attacked anyone who has criticized them and released article after article in an attempt to minimize and get its readership to ignore the serious problem of prostituted children. They claim to have dedicated staff screening the ads for minors and say they’re working hand in hand with law enforcement when infringements of its honor code are found, but some law enforcement agencies say they’ve received no help in prosecuting cases where Backpage was used to facilitate the commercial sexual exploitation of a child. As for their self-policing efforts, you have a handful of people physically checking the 16,000 – 19,000 personal ads added every month. While they do forward about 400 ads a month to law enforcement, hand checking internet pages is not an effective method this day in age. They have called for support of Senate Bill 596, which addresses the sorely needed funding for shelters, counseling, and rehabilitation for the victims of CSEC, but that’s the equivalent of supporting legislation to compensate drowning victims rather than legislation that supports more lifeguards. Yes, victims of a crime need support, but only when implemented in tandem with greater prevention and enforcement can it be truly effective, otherwise we’ll just continue to spend more and more money on treating more and more victims. We have to address the issue of CSEC head on by dealing with websites like Backpage that facilitate the trafficking of children, and we applaud people like Ashton Kutcher and Nicolas Kristof who are at least trying to do something about the problem.
Real Men Get Their Facts Straight: Ashton and Demi and Sex Trafficking, June 29, 2011, Village Voice
Ashton’s Twitter feed, published by Business Insider, June 30, 2011
Ashton Kutcher Attacks Village Voice in Late Night Twitter Tantrum, June 30, 2011, Village Voice
Ashton Kutcher and the Problem of Underage Prostitutes, July 1, 2011, Village Voice
How Pimps Use the Web to Sell Girls, January 26th, 2012, New York Times
Where Pimps Peddle Their Goods, March 18th, 2012, New York Times
What Nick Kristof Got Wrong: Village Voice Media Responds, March 21st, 2012, Village Voice
Responding to the Village Voice on Sex Trafficking, March 21st, 2012, New York Times
Norman Mailer’s Son Protests Outside the Village Voice, March 29th, 2012, New York Magazine
Financiers and Sex Trafficking, March 31st, 2012, New York Times
Change.org Petition to Tell Village Voice Media to Stop Child Sex Trafficking on Backpage.com
Girls Sold for Sex Online, Backpage.com Defends Decision to Keep Ads Up, April 24, 2012, ABC News
Click here to read Ana Morse’s Testimony