Sex Trafficking Online & Village Voice

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 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.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

12 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Kristoff has an accountability problem of his own. He was a vocal advocate of military intervention in Libya but on that nation’s post-revolution chaos there’s been hardly a peep. Still, a good piece from him.

  • When the Voice first started, it was a worth reading for the quality of its writing and gutsy reporting – an alternative to MSM. Once it got financially successful, it became part of MSM, even before being acquired. Quality went to hell in a handcart as the best staff left or were fired.
    Money corrupts just as surely as power.

    It is worth remembering that the Founding Fathers were all traitors.

  • kidding about his accountability problem, I didn’t think he even could do a story like this. I hope it gets some traction. Gee may be the mayor of NY could send the cops here after their done arresting peaceful protestors at OWS, just a thought.

  • the market was driven ever blacker. The blacker the market the more criminal its participants. The symptom is being treated here (the removal of first Craigslist and next BackPage) rather than the disease (trafficking). As the market becomes blacker and less open to actual competition, the worse for those who find themselves depending upon the market for survival.

    One thing that can be said for a fairly recent Swedish experiment (I don’t know if it is current) which was to leave the market open to the sellers but close it to the buyers, is that it had the potential to help those in the market involuntarily.

    Danah Boyd has written intelligently on the subject of the Craigslist censorship (self?):

  • the Demand for prostitution is eradicated.

    PROVIDE SEX EDUCATION that celebrates sex.

    “OTP – Occupy The Patriarchy” ~ me

  • ST. LOUIS Aug 17, 2011 A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a teenage runaway against the newspaper and online classified ad website that she accused of running ads containing child porn and facilitating her entry into the world of prostitution.

    U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Mummert dismissed the lawsuit Monday, ruling that although the teen endured “horrific victimization” at the hands of her pimp, the companies were protected by the Communications Decency Act from liability for what others post there. Citing other court cases that examined similar issues, Mummert said that, “Plaintiff artfully and eloquently attempts to phrase her allegations to avoid the reach of (the communications decency act). Those allegations, however, do not distinguish the complained-of actions of Backpage from any other website that posted content that led to an innocent person’s injury. Congress has declared such websites to be immune from suits arising from such injuries. It is for Congress to change the policy that gave rise to such immunity.”

    Read more:

    The Money Party RSS

  • In the midst of a full frontal attack on female sexuality by the Republicans and a few Democrats, we have a judge catering to perverse patriarchal male sexuality by sanctioning the abuse, rape, and torture of a live underage human female.

    In a prepared statement released Wednesday, Robert Pedroli (the girl’s lawyer) said that he was disappointed with the decision. He also said that the Communications Decency Act had been transformed from legislation intended to protect children to one that protects large online corporations and that the act “now protects businesses that knowingly profit from criminal postings including profits for advertisements for sex with trafficked children.” More at the link

    “OTP – Occupy The Patriarchy” ~ me

  • Tomasky, Edroso make it worth the price of admission alone.

    They’ve also done some stellar work on NYPD brutality and also NYPD ignoring traffic fatalities involving pedestrians and particularly, cyclists.

  • There has always been a place in the Village Voice for adverts for various prostitution facilities. I suppose there’s always been teen prostitution advertised as well.

    After all, this is the paper that publishes Dan Savage. It would be a bit…hypocritical…not to enfold his column in some form of sexual procurement.

    Pushing the problem underground is not the answer, to be sure. All you’ll do is push the purveyors out of sight which means it will be harder to expose them.

    Believe it or not, there are people who utilize prostitutes for some pretty valid reasons, like indulging in forms of sex that society deems unacceptable. Ask an elderly gay man what he did in the 1940s to get his rocks off. If you want to eliminate prostitution, you’re going to have to come up with a better meme than “patriarchy,” I’m afraid. You’re going to have to change the minds of an entire culture when it comes to what we might consider abberations of sexuality.

    Once we’ve had that honest dialogue, what is sex and what is not, only then will we make headway against this problem. Anything less is window-dressing designed to make people feel less guilty about their own perversions.

  • That conservatives and quite a few progressives refer to healthy sexually active women who enjoy sex as sluts and skanks, etc. And we can blame the patriarchy for that.

    “OTP – Occupy The Patriarchy” ~ me

  • Fast food, like prostitution, is unhealthy for the consumer and the service provider alike, impoverishes the soul in pretending to serve the body’s needs, and demeans an essential part of living that should be uplifting.

    The difference is that prostitution has been with us longer than civilization itself, whereas fast food has been with us for what, two generations or so? I think it’s a very tall order just to make both of them as benign as possible. Erasing the desire for these things (from both sellers and buyers) doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

    You like to bring up our relatives the bonobos from time to time. If you’re familiar with what often transpires between a female bonobo and a male who has some goodies with him, you’ll know that prostitution is not unique to human civilization.

  • We don’t need Maslow to tell us that the need for food is stronger than the need for sex. And this applies to both males and females. So the male Bonobo got the food. Good for him and good for the female. They both got to enjoy sex.

    As for human males, if the hunt was not successful, the hunters could rely on food gathered near the base camp. Producing food has always been a combined effort of men and women.

    Besides, you never heard of reciprocity? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cooked a delicious meal that was followed by delicious sex. And the favor was often returned as is with many egalitarian sexual exchanges.

    How typical, though, of a patriarch, to cherry pick, and misinterpret the behavior of primates to provide support for the purchase of women for sex.

    Prostitution has not been with us longer than civilization itself. That’s another characteristic of patriarchs. They just make things up. FYI, prostitution and violence against women are only as old as the Patriarchy itself and function to control the sexuality of all non-prostitutes.

    Finally, another major symptom of patriarchs is that they don’t give a fuck about the sexual desires of women. The whole world revolves around them and their selfish sexual needs. Some even passionately argue against war while at the same time condone the raping of women citing biological imperative as a defense. How fucked up is that?

    “OTP – Occupy The Patriarchy” ~ me

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