This isn’t the first time Backpage.com has been in the headlines, but with today’s protest planned at the The Village Voice headquarters in NYC, hopefully it could be one of the last. The Village Voice is a weekly newspaper that features investigative and progressive news articles that cover New York, NY. It’s free to locals, but is also distributed across the country. The paper itself has long been heralded for its contributions to journalism and the arts since its founding in 1955 by American novelist Norman Mailer.
So what does all this have to do with Backpage.com, the site that is increasingly known for sex trafficking and solicitation of minors? Backpage.com is actually OWNED by The Village Voice, you see. And, in the past two years alone, there have been at least three known cases wherein individuals were arrested for pimping out CHILDREN using the adult section of Backpage.com: one in Georgia, one in Colorado, and one in South Dakota. Each of these cases involved several teenaged girls. Furthermore, a group of lawyers began tracking the site for sex trafficking, and claim to have identified over 50 instances of the crime in three years, all of which originated on Backpage.com.
It SEEMS to be a pretty black-and-white issue. But I suppose that’s only the case for those of us living with a soul. Village Voice Media, the owners of The Village Voice and Backpage.com, has faced plenty of evidence that illustrates how their company is assisting in both domestic and international sex slavery. But, for some incredibly asinine reason, the media company has actually DEFENDED its classifieds site, often siting the first amendment when faced with criticism. (Most recently, there was a very public feud between the paper and Ashton Kutcher, when an article was published attacking Kutcher’s foundation to end sex trafficking. The Village Voice piece claimed Kutcher was over-inflating the figures, and many criticized the paper’s self-serving bias in publishing the article.) A spokesperson for the paper, Liz McDougal, stated:
The realities and complexity of human trafficking and sexual exploitation are such that to announce that a single website — Backpage.com or other — is the primary source of the scourge and therefore holds the cure to this horrendous problem is not only unsupported but irresponsible.
I wonder about her feelings on nicotine and cancer, amirite?
But, never known to stand for such corporate tomfo0lery, the American public has rallied against the company and its publications. Today at 11AM EST, a petition with roughly 250,000 signatures was presented to Village Voice Media in New York City, and protesters have been rallying at the paper’s headquarters for some time. From the Change.org website, a petition calls for the paper to shut down Backpage.com’s adult section:
Village Voice Media has a moral responsibility to ensure that young girls and boys aren’t being abused in the commercial sex industry with help from their website.
Now, a rising movement of people of many faiths and backgrounds, motivated by their shared moral convictions, are taking action to end this practice.
Please join us in demanding that Village Voice Media – Backpage.com’s parent company – stop selling ads that others use to sell minors on Backpage.com by shutting down the Adult section of the website.
Present at the rally yesterday and today were over one hundred citizens, politicians, religious clergy, and even the son of Norman Mailer himself.
Protesters lined up sets of children’s sneakers to represent those violated by the crimes with which backpage.com seems to be complicit. Mailer read a statement from a survivor to the crowd:
I know first hand what happens to young girls who are sold for sex on Backpage.com because I was — for over two years. At 16, I met my first pimp. He told me that I was pretty and he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I was a kid, and I believed him. Soon, he was selling me for sex every day, and I was being raped 365 days a year.Then, he sold me to other pimps, tossed back and forth between them like I was their property. They abused me, beat me, and treated me worse than an animal. Unfortunately, my story is not unique. Thousands of girls like me exist; many have not been found. Backpage needs to step in and do more to end to the sex trafficking of minors occurring through the use of its site by shutting down the Adult section. The young girls who are advertised on the site could have a chance at a better life if their pimps could no longer sell them online 24 hours a day. I hope they’ll get that chance.
And in case this heart-wrenching statement doesn’t reach the black, moley hearts of VVM, he also spoke about the credibility and legacy of the paper. For a company that was once so hellbent on exposing injustices, The Village Voice now represents and defends the profit stream and corruption that comes with it. After Craigslist responded to similar mounting pressure, Backpage.com picked up nearly $50 million dollars in annual revenue. And they don’t seem to have any plans to be rid of it any time soon.
In the meantime, politicians are taking action instead. The state of Washington has become one of the first in the nation to require age identification for posting online ads in adult sections of Backpage.com, after police were able to link at least 22 cases of sex trafficking to the site since 2010.
The rest of us are left to sign petitions, protest, and boycott, mostly feeling powerless against such a large money-driven machine, but finding reasons to persevere nonetheless. But as one petition-signer wrote at change.org, “I have five daughters. Do I need any other reason?”