Kudos to NYT’s Nick Kristoff for his piece today “Where Pimps Peddle Their Goods“, exposing the terrible excuses Village Voice Media advances for its providing a home to the lion’s share of online prostitution advertising in the U.S. The media group makes $22 million a year from such advertising on it’s “Backpage” website – and a large proportion of those ads are from pimps, often trafficking underage women who live in fear. Isn’t that even worse than simply calling someone a slut?
Attorneys general from 48 states have written a joint letter to Village Voice Media, pleading with it to get out of the flesh trade. An online petition at Change.org has gathered 94,000 signatures asking Village Voice Media to stop taking prostitution advertising. Instead, the company has used The Village Voice to mock its critics. Alissa thought about using her real name for this article but decided not to for fear that Village Voice would retaliate.
Court records and public officials back Alissa’s account, and there is plenty of evidence that under-age girls are marketed on Backpage. Arrests in such cases have been reported in at least 22 states.
Just this month, prosecutors in New York City filed charges in a case involving a gang that allegedly locked a 15-year-old Long Island girl in an empty house, drugged her, tied her up, raped her, and advertised her on Backpage. After a week of being sold for sex, prosecutors in Queens said, the girl escaped.
Liz McDougall, general counsel of Village Voice Media, told me that it is ”œshortsighted, ill-informed and counterproductive” to focus on Backpage when many other Web sites are also involved, particularly because Backpage tries to screen out ads for minors and reports possible trafficking cases to the authorities. McDougall denied that Backpage dominates the field and said that the Long Island girl was marketed on 13 other Web sites as well. But if street pimps go to jail for profiteering on under-age girls, should their media partners like Village Voice Media really get a pass?
Paradoxically, Village Voice began as an alternative newspaper to speak truth to power. It publishes some superb journalism. So it’s sad to see it accept business from pimps in the greediest and most depraved kind of exploitation.
True, many prostitution ads on Backpage are placed by adult women acting on their own without coercion; they’re not my concern. Other ads are placed by pimps: the Brooklyn district attorney’s office says that the great majority of the sex trafficking cases it prosecutes involve girls marketed on Backpage.
That Village Voice Media is using an “others do it too” excuse, never an acceptable defense, shows just how far the company’s true ethics diverge from those it pretends to have in its flagship brand magazine.