Village Voice

Religious Leaders Press Village Voice on Sex Ads

Stan Wiechers, Flickr
Stan Wiechers, Flickr

Religious leaders on Thursday (March 29) delivered more than 230,000 signatures to the office of Village Voice Media, demanding the company shut down the adult advertising section on its website, Backpage.com, where advertisements for sex with underage minors have appeared.

"As a mother and as a member of the clergy, I am outraged by Village Voice Media's continued refusal to shut down Backpage.com's adult section, even after being confronted with evidence that girls and teens have been advertised for sex on the site," said the Rev. Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Seminary and a leader of the petition.

Responsible Adults

THE INTERNET MAKES it easier to sell your old bicycle—but, as a growing interfaith coalition of clergy is emphasizing, it shouldn’t make it easier to sell children for sex.

Two years ago, under pressure from anti-trafficking activists and 17 state attorneys general, Craigslist shut down its “adult services” section. Now, researchers say, the leading online purveyor of “adult” classified ads—which, as numerous criminal cases have shown, include ads pimps use to traffic children they have entrapped—is Backpage, owned by Village Voice Media.

Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, told Sojourners about the clergy activism catalyzed in fall 2011 by Groundswell, Auburn’s social action initiative. The coalition’s first move was a private letter to Village Voice Media, asking it to take down Backpage’s adult section or to meet to discuss the issue. After getting neither of these things, the coalition went public in October with a letter, in a full-page ad in The New York Times, signed by 36 clergy, including Sojourners’ CEO Jim Wallis.

Because the trafficking issue “transcends a lot of the usual polarizations,” Henderson says, the coalition is wide, including “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, humanists, Buddhists.” One signatory of the public letter, Duke University Muslim chaplain Abdullah T. Antepli, told Sojourners that the “Quran repeatedly tells us the best way to glorify God is to serve your fellow human brother and sister. I can’t imagine any better way [to do that than to] advocate for people who are victims of the evil business called human trafficking.”

Henderson says the coalition has grown to nearly 500 clergy. An associated petition from Change.org has garnered more than 80,000 signatures. The coalition, according to Henderson, has also started “an education outreach to third parties, including advertisers.”

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BackPage and "Baby Face": Stop Human Trafficking

In his column for the New York Times, Nicolas Kristof tells the story of a 13-year-old girl in Brooklyn he calls “Baby Face." She had been sent into an apartment building by a pimp to meet a customer.

But, after being sold for sex five to nine times a day and beaten with a belt when she failed to bring in enough money, she told prosecutors later she was in too much pain to be raped by a john again.

Instead, she pounded on a stranger’s door and begged to use a phone. She called her mother and then 911.

Kristof writes:

The episode also shines a spotlight on how the girl was marketed — in ads on Backpage.com, a major national Web site where people place ads to sell all kinds of things, including sex. It is a godsend to pimps, allowing customers to order a girl online as if she were a pizza.

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