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NGO Letter to Village Voice Media re Backpage.com

NGO Letter to Village Voice Media re Backpage.com

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1December2,2011JimLarkin,CEOandChairMembersoftheBoardofDirectorsVillageVoiceMediaDearMr.LarkinandVillageVoiceMediaBoardofDirectors:Weareexpertsintheanti-humantraffickingfieldwhoforyearshavebeenonthefrontlinesworkingdirectlywithvictims,providingclinicalandsocialservices,studyingandresearchingtrafficking,anddevelopingandadvocatingforpreventionpolicies.Westandtogetheraskingyoutoprotectwomenandgirlsfromothers’commercialsexualexploitationandsextraffickingofthembyimmediatelyandpermanentlyshuttingdowntheentireAdultsectionofyoursubsidiary’swebsite,Backpage.com.WestandwithGroundswell,AuburnTheologicalSeminary,andthe36moralandreligiousleadersofmanycreedsandbackgroundswhohaveaskedyoutocommittorunningyourbusinesswithoutcompromisingthelivesofournation’syounggirlsandboys,
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andadultwomen.Westandwiththe21states’AttorneysGeneral,
2
includingthen-AttorneyGeneralRichardBlumenthalwhoinSeptember2010urgedyoutoimmediatelycloseyourAdultsection,notingthat“Adultservicessectionsarelittlemorethanonlinebrothels,enablinghumantraffickingandsexualexploitationofwomenandchildren.”
3
Westandwiththe51AttorneysGeneralfromthroughouttheUnitedStateswhoinAugust2011wroteinalettertoBackpage.com–“Weareincreasinglyconcernedabouthumantrafficking,especiallythetraffickingofminors.Backpage.comisahubforsuchactivity.”–andhavedemandedthatyoueliminateallofyourAdultads.
4
Wealsostandwiththoselawenforcementofficialswhodisagreewithyourapproachofpreventingothers’useofyourwebsitetotrafficwomenandminors,makingsuchstatementsas:“Rescuingchildrenfrombeingsexuallyexploitedisatoppriorityforourpolicedepartment,butwecannever
 
1
“AnOpenLettertoVillageVoiceMedia."Advertisement.
TheNewYorkTimes
.25Oct.2011.Print.<http://www.groundswell-movement.org/nyt-ad/>.
2
States’AttorneysGeneral.“Re:Backpage.com.”LettertoSamuelFifer.21Sept.2010.ConnecticutOfficeoftheAttorneyGeneral.<http://www.ct.gov/ag/lib/ag/other/backpageletter.pdf>
3
“AttorneyGeneralLeads21StatesInCallingOnBackpageToCloseAdultServicesSection.”PressRelease.21Sept.2010.ConnecticutOfficeoftheAttorneyGeneral.<http://www.ct.gov/ag/cwp/view.asp?Q=466074&A=3869>.
4
NationalAssociationofAttorneysGeneral(NAAG).“Re:Backpage.com’songoingfailuretoeffectivelylimitprostitutionandsexualtraffickingactivityonitswebsite.”LettertoSamuelFifer.31Aug.2011.<http://www.naag.org/assets/files/pdf/signons/Backpage%20WG%20Letter%20Aug%202011Final.pdf>.
 
 
2getaheadofthiscrimewhileacompanylikeBackpage.comprofitsfromthesexualexploitationofchildrenandusestheirnewsroomstominimizetheextentoftheissue.”
5
Backpage.comofficialshavereadilyacknowledgedthatsexadsofminorsplacedbyadultscanappearonyourwebsite.AccordingtotheAttorneysGeneral’sletter,“InameetingwiththeWashingtonStateAttorneyGeneral’sOffice,Backpage.comvicepresidentCarlFerreracknowledgedthatthecompanyidentifiesmorethan400‘adultservices’postseverymonththatmayinvolveminors.”
6
Furthermore,duringthefirsteightmonthsof2011,Backpage.comreportedtotheNationalCenterforMissingandExploitedChildren(NCMEC)1,595casesofsuspecteduseofjuvenilesinsexads,asNCMEChaspubliclystated.Additionally,theAttorneysGeneralindependentlyhavetracked“morethan50instances,in22statesoverthreeyearsofchargesfiledagainstthosetraffickingorattemptingtotrafficminorsonBackpage.com.”
7
TheNationalHumanTraffickingResourceCenteralsohasreceived147calls(bothtipandcrisiscalls)aboutBackpage.cominthreeyearsandreportsof92potentialtraffickingcasesonBackpage.com,23ofwhichreferencedminors.
8
Furthermore,justlastweek,theBrooklynDistrictAttorneyindictedtwoindividualsonchargesofbeatingandforcingintoprostitutiona13-year-oldgirlandofadvertisingherserviceswithphotographsonBackpage.com.
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AndinSeptember,Memphis’
TheCommercialAppeal 
reportedthatafederalgrandjuryindictedtwoindividualsforprostitutingtwoteenagegirls–ages15and16–whoweresolicitedthroughadvertisementsonBackpage.com.
10
Backpage.comlistscountlessadvertisementsofadult“services”ineveryoneofitsmarkets.Theseadsdemonstratethatotherscouldbeusingthewebsitetotrafficadultwomen,inadditiontogirls.TheNationalHumanTraffickingResourceCenterhasreceivedreportsofapproximately1,433possiblecasesofsextraffickinginvolvingadultfemales,about54ofwhichpotentiallyinvolvethesextraffickingofwomenbyothersonBackpage.com.
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WhenVillageVoiceMediaandBackpage.comofficialswerepresentedwiththisdata,theydecidedtointroduceseveralsafetyandsecurityenhancements“tobetterprotectourcommunity.
12
Thesenew
 
5
Gutierrez,Scott.“McGinn:Policerescue3childrenadvertisedinbackpage.comsexads.”Weblogentry.Strangebedfellows.
SeattlePost-Intelligencer 
.28Sept.2011.<http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2011/09/28/mcginn-police-rescue-3-children-advertised-in-backpage-com-sex-ads/>
6
NAAG.LettertoSamuelFifer.
7
Ibid.
8
NationalHumanTraffickingResourceCenter.PolarisProject.Casedataprovidedcoverstheperiodfrom8/23/2008to9/15/2011.Pleasenotethatthesestatisticsmaybesubjecttochange.
9
“KingsCountyDistrictAttorneyCharlesJ.Hynesannouncesfourindictmentsintwosextraffickingcasesinvolving12-and-13-yearoldvictims.”PressRelease.21Nov.2011.KingsCountyDistrictAttorney’sOffice.<http://www.brooklynda.org/press_releases/2011/PressReleases11-11.htm>
10
Warren,Beth.“Pairchargedwithprostitutingtwoteenagegirls.”
TheCommercialAppeal.
1Nov.2011.<http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2011/nov/01/pair-charged-with-prostituting-teenage-girls/>
11
NationalHumanTraffickingResourceCenter.PolarisProject.Casedataprovidedcoverstheperiodfrom12/7/2007to10/15/2011.Pleasenotethatthesestatisticsmaybesubjecttochange.
12
“SafetyandSecurityEnhancements.”Weblogentry.TheBackpage.comBlog.
11July2011.<http://blog.backpage.com/>
 
 
3policiesincluded,butwerenotlimitedto,nonudity,keywordsearchestoidentifymisuse,increasedstafftomonitorillegalads,andreportingofadsfeaturingpossibleminorstoNCMEC.
13
Nonetheless,theAttorneysGeneralhavestatedpubliclythattheydonotbelievethestepsBackpage.comhastakenareagenuineefforttoimprovesafetyandsecurity.Theywrote,“WebelieveBackpage.comsetsaminimalbarforcontentreviewinanefforttotemperpubliccondemnation,whileensuringthatthespigotprovidedbyprostitutionadvertisingremainsintact.”
14
Whileweapplaudyourimplementationofsafeguardsandyourcooperationwithlawenforcementofficials,weagreewiththeAttorneysGeneralthatyoureffortsfallfarshortofwhatisneededtoeliminatetheuseofyourwebsitebyotherstoexploitwomenandminors.ThebottomlineisthatBackpage.comsimplyhasnowayofguaranteeingthatitcanstopthisexploitationifitcontinuestoacceptandplaceAdultads.Backpage.comhasstatedthatyouhaveinvestedheavilyinimplementingsafetymeasuresonyourwebsite,howeverthereality,asdemonstratedbytherecentindictmentsinBrooklynandMemphis,isthatadultsarestillabletotrafficwomenandgirlsonthewebsite.Backpage.comhasalsostatedthatthelevelofresourcesyouhavededicatedtoimplementingsafetymeasures“comparesfavorablywithanyotherweborsocialmediasite,”
15
we,however,feelthisisthewrongmetricforevaluatingwhethertheproblemoftraffickingisbeingfullyaddressed.WerecognizethatBackpage.commaylosetheconsiderablerevenueitgeneratesbytheAdultads.However,arecentarticlesuggeststhatBackpage.comwouldstillbeasuccessfulbusinessifitdidnotoperatetheAdultsectionofitswebsite.
16
Wealsobelievethatastrongcasecannotbemadeforabusinesstocontinuethatcannotcompletelypreventothers’prostitutionandvictimizationofwomenandminors–despitesignificanteffortsotherwise.
TheAttorneysGeneralandclericalleadersinthiscountrywereadamantintheirletters.Weareadamanttoo.Webelievethatthesexualexploitationofwomenandminorsisaformofviolenceagainstthemandaviolationoftheirbasichumanrights.WecallonyoutoimmediatelyandpermanentlyshutdowntheAdultsectionofyourwebsitetoensurethatwomenandgirlscannolongerbeabused,bought,andsoldbyothersusingadvertisementstheyplacedonBackpage.com.
 
13
Ibid.
14
NAAG.LettertoSamuelFifer.
15
Fifer,Samuel.“Re:ResponseofBackpage.comtoNAAGletterofAugust31,2011.”LettertoHeddaLitwin.23Sept.2011.<http://www.atg.wa.gov/uploadedFiles/Another/News/BACKPAGE_com%20RESPONSE%20TO%20NAAG.PDF>
16
Rainey,James.“VillageVoiceMediadefendsitsBackpage.comadpolicy.”
TheLosAngelesTimes
,28Nov.2011.<http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/28/entertainment/la-et-village-voice-media-20111129/2>

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