Wednesday, November 30, 2011

US Convicts Brazilian Woman Of Visa Fraud Of 1,000 Illegal Workers

A federal jury found a Brazilian woman residing in Orlando guilty of alien smuggling and conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and worker visa fraud on Monday, following an investigation that began with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Rafaela Dutra Toro, 30, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. … Toro worked for VR Services, a large temporary labor staffing company based in Orlando, which supplied temporary labor to numerous businesses in the hotel and hospitality industries throughout Florida and the United States. The scheme allowed Toro and her co-conspirators to set up a permanent foreign labor pool that hired illegal alien workers across the United States in jobs that would normally have been filled by United States citizens. As part of the conspiracy, Toro and her co-conspirators submitted false documentation to the government and manipulated the H-2B foreign worker visa process. They also submitted fake hotel contract agreements to conceal their activities and falsely reported that U.S. workers had been hired when they had not.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brownsville Stash House Conviction: Smuggling, not Trafficking.

Matamoros Man Sentenced In Immigrant Smuggling Ring [Texas]: A 21-year-old Matamoros man accused of smuggling multiple undocumented immigrants to a Brownsville stash house, and in one instance raping a female immigrant, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Rogelio Serrano-Lara pleaded guilty on June 9 to transporting an alien within the United States, according to a press release from the United States Attorney's office for the Southern District of Texas.… The woman testified that she was raped after Serrano-Lara threatened to rape her 13-year-old daughter. According to the criminal complaint against Serrano-Lara, the human smuggling ring ran from Brownsville to Mission. Serrano-Lara was arrested on May 10, while days earlier a federal agent found a total of 12 undocumented immigrants in Brownsville.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Catharine MacKinnon on Sex Trafficking

Chicago just hosted an infuriatingly insightful show and tell on sex trafficking, with a West Side pimp providing the sordid show and a prominent legal scholar providing the tell.

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It happened last week as Catharine MacKinnon packed a University of Chicago Law School auditorium for a lecture on “Trafficking, Prostitution and Inequality” just as a federal courtroom revealed the thankfully short run of United States of America v. Datqunn Sawyer, a k a “Daddy,” “P,” “P Child,” “Pharo,” “Pimpin’ P” and “Rabbit.”

When I mentioned this later, Ms. MacKinnon wasn’t aware of the coincidence. It didn’t matter. Worldwide, she’s encountered many people like Mr. Sawyer — who was convicted Monday of running a prostitution ring — and their mostly female victims.

“The underlying allegations fit perfectly into the world I study and engage,” she told me. “Going after this pimp is exactly what should be done, and the facts are standard,” she added, alluding to Mr. Sawyer’s violent ways.

Ms. MacKinnon is a charismatic, even intrepid, scholar and feminist activist who helped pioneer the legal claim for sexual harassment. She serves as special gender adviser to the International Criminal Court, she helped win a case establishing the rape of Bosnian women by Serbs as an act of genocide, and she is one of the most-cited legal scholars in the English language, said Michael Schill, the law school dean.

“She is one of the most dynamic, creative and influential legal thinkers of the past 30 years, having had extraordinary influence raising consciousness about international human rights violations in the realms of rape, prostitution and other forms of sexual abuse,” said Geoffrey Stone, a prominent University of Chicago law professor.

Richard Epstein, a colleague of Professor Stone with a libertarian and contrarian bent, is more qualified: “She is an angry feminist with a strong sense of right and wrong. In some work this manifests itself in libertarian directions by seeking out the perpetrators of mass violence against women. In other cases she is a strong egalitarian in favor of equal wage policies and the like. Always passionate, sometimes informed.”

The lecture was sponsored by the university’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. Ms. MacKinnon, who once taught at the university, had rock star trappings and she did not disappoint. Now at the University of Michigan, she mixed compelling analyses with dark-suited elegance and the air of a tall and graying Katharine Hepburn.

She eviscerated distinctions we tend to make — between adult and child prostitution and forced versus voluntary labor, for example. She pilloried some academics’ notion of prostitutes as “sex workers” who act voluntarily and gain a certain liberation, even sexual equality, by being compensated.

Legalization only accelerates illegal prostitution, she said, and most prostitutes never exit poverty. Such exploitation was clear in the Sawyer trial, where David Peilet, a defense lawyer with a hopeless task, did not contest the core allegations.

Testimony showed that nine females who worked for Mr. Sawyer were often homeless and destitute; one was a chronic runaway with bipolar disorder. He impregnated three of the mostly underage girls. They often worked along Cicero Avenue, beside railroad tracks, in cars and alleys, and occasionally in hotels, including a W.

He beat them with a studded belt, his fists, a hammer and the heel of a shoe. In her lecture, Ms. MacKinnon spoke of a diabolically effective strategy by which pimps enforce dependence by “distancing the body and psyche” through brute force and drug addiction.

Mr. Sawyer took in from $100 to $1,000 from each one daily and kept them impoverished, as detailed by Michelle Nasser and Marc Krickbaum, the prosecutors. If they did well, he might let them sleep in a bed with him. Otherwise, it was on a couch or the floor of a small apartment.

Like many Americans, I associate sex trafficking with faraway lands.

“Trafficking happens here and men are spending tiny sums of money, relative to their incomes, to get sexual profits and pleasure out of people who would not be there were it not for child sexual abuse, domestic violence and destitution,” said Kaethe Morris Hoffer, legal director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

When I spoke with the prosecutors after the quick verdict, I wondered about Mr. Sawyer’s victims.

The government is trying to help them. Yet, as Ms. Nasser said with fittingly tragic understatement, “It messes them up for a long time.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Child Sex Trafficking On Rise In Parts of Oregon

Child Sex Trafficking On Rise In Clark County [Oregon]: Jennifer knows the everyday details of being a teenager in rural Clark County…. She also knows the grisly life of selling herself on Southeast 82nd Avenue in Portland — for a pimp she thought was her first love. … For the first two months, he was sweet and charming. One day, though, things changed. "I've done all these nice things for you. Now it's time to pay me back," he told her. She first told him no, but he threatened to kill her and her family if she didn't comply. … She represents one of dozens of victims of child sex trafficking in Clark County, a crime believed to be rampant in Portland but one that's only gained attention here in the past few years. Over the past three years, police in Clark County have seen child sex trafficking emerge as one of the major crimes to watch. … Fueled by online ads, johns and girls will routinely travel between Vancouver and Portland for "dates," making the crime a regional issue. In Clark County, police estimate about 50 children are being sold for sex, compared with 150 to 200 in Portland.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mass. Motion In the Right Direction

After signing Massachusetts' anti-human trafficking bill into law yesterday in his office at the State House, Governor Deval Patrick said, "it has been a long time trying to pass a more modern, more focused, more effective law to deal with a devastating issue that effects all corners of the Commonwealth."

Indeed, for six years, legislators like Senator Mark Montigny and non-profits like the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) have worked to help stop the spread of international sex trafficking with a strong bill in Massachusetts. When the process began, Massachusetts was among the first states in the nation to address the growing crisis. But now, Massachusetts is the 47th state to finally adopt an anti-human trafficking bill into law.

Even so, as Senator Montigny, the Governor, and others noted, the law now propels Massachusetts to the forefront of both prosecution and victim protection. "This law sets a new standard in the nation," Senator Montigny said. "Trafficking is enslaving another human being, and this bill puts those people in jail, but it also remembers the victims."

Attorney General Martha Coakley also offered words of praise for the bill's comprehensive approach, and for the coalition that helped see all its provisions onto the governor's desk. "A true partnership of government and the not-for-profit sector made this bill possible," she noted.

"The victim protections, including the establishment of a Victims Trust Fund to help with the long process of rehabilitation, make the bill a far more effective tool for dealing with this international problem, which often ensnares young immigrants in a dreadful spiral of abuse," said Eva Millona, Executive Director at MIRA. "We are very pleased that the bill addresses both sides of this vital issue, and that the issue has had the support of Attorney General Coakley, Governor Patrick, Senator Montigny, and leadership on both sides of the aisle. It was a long trip, but now we can finally begin the real work of providing relief to victims and punishment to abusers, and begin to end this international nightmare."

Monday, November 21, 2011

After my own heart...

Still new to twitter, I'm delighted to see that this group is following our blog. ACT, Against Child Trafficking, is tweeting about their work to end child trafficking on twitter. Check them out!!/AChildTraffick

Friday, November 18, 2011

UK Situation, Unbelieveable

Hundreds Of Children Smuggled Into UK For Blood Rituals: Children being abducted and used for human blood rituals is a part of life for some in the United Kingdom, according to a BBC News report. According to Chris Rogers of the BBC, the trafficking of children from Africa to be used in human blood rituals is a common occurrence in the UK, where reportedly at least 400 African children over a period of just four years have been caught up in this ghoulish cultural practice. The means by which these children are brought into the UK is unknown to British authorities, but the reason why they are being smuggled is clear and disturbing. … Anti-trafficking authorities point to the practice of "juju," according to the BBC report. The West African religion uses a form of witchcraft through the use of objects imbued with supernatural powers, and it is believed that is the source for the need of children. Rogers reports that a trafficker can belong to any class or social group of people and that it is not the exclusive terrain of witch doctors.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kristof, Thank You

When 6-year-olds are sold to be tortured and raped, it’s time for a 21st-century abolitionist movement to end human trafficking.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Greeks, Not Their Week

Austrian Court Finds 22 Greeks Guilty of Human Trafficking: An Austrian court has found 22 Greeks guilty of human trafficking for transporting 30 Afghan migrants into Austria on a tourist bus. Prosecutors in the Eisenstadt court said Tuesday the Greeks had been paid $140 each to travel as fake tourists on the bus into Austria, from Thessaloniki to Vienna. The prosecutors said the passengers were aware of the Afghans hidden among them on the bus and being smuggled into the country. The Greeks were found guilty and received partially suspended sentences ranging from nine to 24 months in jail. The 30 Afghans, including children, were concealed in a cramped space beneath the floorboards of the bus. They were provided with some food and water but were rarely let out for fresh air during the 24-hour journey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Portland Pimp

Portland Pimp Gets 20 Years For Pushing 13-Year-Old Girl Into Prostitution [Oregon]: A federal judge sentenced a Portland pimp to 20 years in prison today for his role in pushing a 13-year-old Salem runaway into prostitution. Jefferson B. Davis, 23, pleaded guilty in July to sex trafficking of a minor in part to avoid a life term in prison for his crimes. Davis met his young victim, now 15, when she ran away from her Salem home in October 2009 and made her way to Portland with a friend. There, Davis put the girls up in a motel and bought them clothes, condoms and high-heel shoes. He nicknamed his victim "Diamond" and advertised her as an escort in "Exotic" magazine, according to court records. Davis pushed his victim into prostitution in Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada. U.S. District Judge Ancer L. Haggerty set a date of Jan. 9 to hear arguments about how much of the girl's mental health treatment and other needs Davis will be required to pay, according to federal prosecutor Kemp Strickland.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Somaly Mam

Kristof is almost always worth blogging about...


Fighting Back, One Brothel Raid at a Time

Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times

During a raid on a brothel in Anlong Veng, Cambodia, a Vietnamese social worker (facing camera) reassures several girls who have just been rescued. The girl in the center was a Vietnamese seventh grader who had been trafficked into Cambodia a few months earlier. The social worker herself was rescued from a brothel years ago.


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Somaly Mam with a girl rescued from a brothel at a shelter she runs for them in rural Cambodia. Some of the girls are barely old enough for elementary school.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

AGAINST my better judgment, I found myself the other day charging into a well-armed brothel in a police raid. But I was comforted to be with one of my heroes, Somaly Mam.

Somaly dedicates her life to battling forced prostitution, for she herself was sold as a child to a Cambodian brothel. After enduring torture and rapes, Somaly escaped and reinvented herself as an anti-trafficking activist.

It’s partly because of grass-roots activists like Somaly, both in the United States and abroad, that human trafficking is increasingly recognized as a central human rights challenge. A U.N. agency estimates that more than 12 million people are engaged in forced labor, including sexual servitude. Another U.N. report has estimated that in Asia alone, “one million children are involved in the sex trade under conditions that are indistinguishable from slavery.”

In the abstract, the 21st-century abolitionist movement sounds uplifting and even glamorous. But riding beside Somaly in her car toward a brothel bristling with AK-47 assault rifles, it was scary.

This town of Anlong Veng is in northern Cambodia near the Thai border, with a large military presence; it feels like something out of the Wild West. Somaly, whose efforts are financed mostly through American supporters of herSomaly Mam Foundation, had sneaked into this brothel and surreptitiously photographed very young girls. With the photographs, she convinced Cambodia’s anti-trafficking police to mount the raid.

It didn’t help my nerves that Somaly, whom I’ve known for years, is fearless. Brothel-owners have fought back ferociously against Somaly: They’ve sent death threats, held a gun to her head and shot up her car.

“We all know that our lives are in danger,” she says, a little too cavalierly. “I’ve never been so happy in my life. They can kill me now.”

When Somaly refused to back off, she said the traffickers kidnapped her 14-year-old daughter and gang-raped the girl with a video camera rolling. The daughter was recovered in a brothel, and Somaly blames herself. It’s a credit to the courage of mother and daughter that they remain steadfast, upbeat and close, and determined to make a difference. These days, Somaly is very careful with that daughter and her other children.

The three unmarked police cars ahead of us pulled up in front of the brothel, and the police and prosecutor ran in. Somaly and I followed and watched as police with assault rifles confiscated cellphones from the brothel manager, a middle-aged woman, and her male partner, so that they couldn’t call for reinforcements.

We quickly found five girls and one young woman, three Cambodians and three Vietnamese. The youngest turned out to be a seventh grader trafficked from Vietnam three months earlier, making her about 12 years old.

The anti-trafficking police found 10 rooms equipped with beds and full of discarded condoms in the trash; the rooms all locked with padlocks from the outside, presumably to incarcerate girls inside. Several other young girls Somaly had photographed in her earlier visit couldn’t be found, despite a frantic search of all the locked rooms. “They’re probably kept at another house in town, but we don’t know where it is,” Somaly said.

Soon the mood turned ugly. The brothel-owning family had strong military connections, and the man was wearing the uniform of a senior military officer. Someone inside the brothel must have called in reinforcements, and seven armed soldiers soon arrived to order the police and prosecutor to release the military officer. The prosecutor responded with courage and integrity. He declared that the military officer would have to be taken to the police station. “If you want to stop me, you can shoot me if you dare,” he told the soldiers.

The soldiers backed down, but, in the end, the army officer was not charged. The woman, who had more day-to-day involvement in managing the girls, is expected to be prosecuted, and the brothel presumably will now be out of operation. The girls were placed in a shelter run by Somaly, and they are receiving plenty of love from other girls previously extricated from sexual slavery.

That’s how the battle against human trafficking is being fought around the world. Ultimately, the way to end this scourge is to make it less profitable and more risky for the traffickers. Above all, that means targeting not the girls but putting traffickers and pimps in jail, whether in Cambodia or in New York.

Slowly, that is happening. I can see the progress here in Cambodia, where 10-year-old girls were openly for sale when I began reporting on forced prostitution. Now they’re still sold, but fewer of them, and more discreetly — and traffickers are going to jail. There may well be prostitution a century from now, but we don’t have to accept 12-year-olds being raped until they get AIDS.

In the 19th century, the world conquered traditional slavery. And in this century, with leaders like Somaly, we can emancipate the victims of human trafficking.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The "Juans"? The Spanish Perspective on Those Who Solicit Sex.

Although since 2003 the Spanish Penal Code has dictated prison sentences of several years for pandering sex services, to date there is only one person in jail for this crime, according to sociologist Silvia Pérez Freire, an associate professor at Vigo University who has written on prostitution in Galicia.

      La noticia en otros webs

      The macro-clubs have around 100 women and can receive up to 500 or 600 clients a night

      Spain, she says, is "abolitionist on paper," but it goes no further as "there is a generalized complicity between the public authorities [politicians, judges, and law enforcement agencies] and the pimps."

      For the last eight years, Pérez Freire has been researching an industry that has been allowed to thrive as a result of the gray area surrounding prostitution in Spain, where it is neither legal nor illegal, merely unregulated.

      "The pimp is someone with power and social influence, he normally owns other companies that he uses to launder money," she says, adding that most clubs have "collaborators" in the police force.

      "Almost all clubs have strong communication channels with the law enforcement agencies," she said during a recent talk in Santiago de Compostela.

      A survey of prostitution clients carried out by the Center for Sociological Studies in 2009 - the most ambitious in Spain to date - showed that 32.1 percent of men have hired prostitutes, and 15 percent of them do so regularly.

      Successive surveys by the Department of Feminist Studies at Vigo University have yielded different results depending on the number of respondents. In interviews with 214 men working in various industrial sectors in Vigo and Santiago, 45.3 percent said they paid for sex for physiological, social, leisure or emotional reasons, in that order.

      Of these, 51 percent were between 30 and 41 years old, and 79.4 percent had a steady girlfriend or a wife. In fact, most of the brothel clients said that they selected the woman who looked the least like their regular partners, and that what they valued the most about brothels was the possibility of going to bed with exotic women, in addition to being able to choose the moment of sex. The inter-racial atmosphere and the man's dominant role fueled their sexual fantasies.

      Exoticism is guaranteed in this "microcosm of fictitious flirtation," says Pérez Freire, who has visited most brothels in the Galician region. There, she explains, women work on a rotational basis, spending a few days at one club, then moving on to another. This means that between 8,000 and 10,000 women work as prostitutes in Galicia each year. In that time, any one woman can work "in up to three or four countries."

      The prostitutes working in Galicia do business in private apartments, on the streets or in the 232 clubs in the region - four of which are considered 'sex supermarkets' because of the size of their 'staff' and their turnover. They are "macro-clubs with around 100 women," which can receive up to 500 or 600 clients on a weekend night, according to Pérez Freire.

      The Department of Feminist Studies at Vigo University is currently conducting three lines of research on prostitution. After publishing other books on the subject, Silvia Pérez and colleague Águeda Gómez continue to explore other sectors of society, from the auto industry to universities, unions and law firms, to draw a portrait of the average prostitution client in Galicia.

      There is, in fact, not one average profile, but at least four broad personality types, who share certain traits: they believe that the prostitute is there because she wants to be; they think she is lucky to be earning money in exchange for sex; they believe that men are programmed to have sex frequently and that this animal instinct cannot be placated (they feel the only programming that women have, on the other hand, is to have a child every nine months); brothels allow clients to have sex whenever they like, and with the female body type of their choice, without any commitment on their part; finally, they feel that males, unlike females, "know how to distinguish between sex and love." These comments came up time and again in interviews conducted by the researchers from Vigo University.

      In this context, prostitution is a convenient kind of sex in all respects, and "one of the things that interviewees valued the most" was not having to win the woman over before sex, nor having to talk with her afterwards. In addition, the men valued the fact that that nobody questioned their performance afterwards. An additional perk to brothels is the fact that there is an unwritten rule that nobody ever talks about what goes on within their walls. "This makes them very attractive for politicians and influential people," says Pérez Freire.

      The four main types of clients identified by researchers are: the homo sexualis, whose self-esteem depends on how often he has sex and with how many women; the samaritan, who seeks a relationship of sex and friendship with a woman weaker than himself and sometimes establishes sentimental relationships with them; the homo economicus, which includes the younger clients, who like to collect women and emotions; and finally, the homo politicus, who has a certain awareness that what he is doing is wrong, but who does it anyway.

      Thursday, November 10, 2011

      Group Warns Prostitution Boom Will Follow APEC in Hawaii

      A group that saves prostitutes from sex trafficking fears women working the street could double during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. It said evidence is already out there. "Especially in Waikiki, what we've been seeing is a lot of new trafficked girls coming in that we have not previously identified before. And a lot of new pimp traffickers are in town," said Kathryn Xian of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery. But a leader of the hotel industry thinks a heavy law enforcement presence will help, especially since the Secret Service will be housed in Waikiki. "My view is still, it's just not a wise time," said Keith Vieira of Starwood Hotels and Resorts. "Why prostitutes and people that lead them would want to do that? It just doesn't make sense for one week of business." Unfortunately, the image from recent APEC meetings in Thailand and Australia fuel the notion sex traders will come out in force.

      Wednesday, November 9, 2011

      Fed Charge Couple With Pimping Out Teens In San Jose, South Francisco Hotels

      A Sacramento couple faces federal charges of using money, drugs and violence to keep control of four prostituted teens who they forced to work out of hotels in South San Francisco and San Jose. Mike and Helen Singh began by offering the girls a 50 percent share of the $100 per hour men paid for sex with them as well as food, shelter and a supply of drugs including methamphetamine, according to a federal court affidavit filed by the FBI. But the girls received none of the cash, were forced to stay and some were beaten. One of the girls was a 16-year-old runaway with a criminal record. Another had her mother's permission to be with the Singhs, though the parent told police she had no idea her daughter was a prostitute. A third teen, who was 18, allegedly had her jaw broken by Mike Singh for not managing the other girls well. According to court records, Mike Singh is charged with sex trafficking of children by force, and his wife Helen is accused of conspiring to help him.

      Tuesday, November 8, 2011

      Child Sex Case Charged In Federal Court

      A Milwaukee pimp convicted of killing a man he suspected of trying to recruit his prostitutes was charged in federal court Wednesday with sex trafficking children across state lines. Sean Patrick, 37, has agreed to plead guilty to four counts including conspiracy and sex trafficking of three children, in two instances using force. Patrick is the latest in a string of federal sex trafficking cases brought by the U.S. attorney's office in Milwaukee. Milwaukee County prosecutors have filed their own series of cases against pimps, elevating the profile of a crime that sometimes is treated as a minor offense. Milwaukee police investigated the federal sex trafficking case against Patrick. … Patrick received 20 years in prison in the murder of Joeren Mason, the maximum penalty under a plea deal with the state prosecutor. … Patrick faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison on the sex trafficking charges.

      Monday, November 7, 2011

      Tonight's the Night!

      The FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights

      Is proud to present a special screening of

      And book signing of Prof. Wendi Adelson’s new book “This is Our Story” starting at 7:00p.m.

      Where: Student Life Cinema, 942 Learning Way (FSU main campus)

      When: Monday, November 7th

      Book signing starting at 7:00 p.m.

      * Refreshments will be served at 7:00p.m.

      Film will start at 7:30 p.m.

      Admission is free and open to the public.

      MS-13 Leader Arrested For Sex Trafficking Runaway Teen Girls

      MS-13 Leader Arrested For Sex Trafficking Runaway Teen Girls [Virginia]: Rances Ulices Amaya, a/k/a "Blue" or "Murder," 23, of Springfield, Va., was arrested yesterday accused of running an underground prostitution business involving underage female runaways. … Amaya was charged by a criminal complaint with sex trafficking of a minor, and he faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison if convicted. … Amaya is a leader of the Guanacos Lokotes Salvatrucha (GLS) clique of MS-13. In the spring of 2010, Amaya allegedly assisted another MS-13 member in running a juvenile prostitution business by recruiting clients and providing security at the appointments, which included carrying a machete. Amaya is accused of threatening the juveniles and physically assaulting them if they did not want to have sex with the clients.

      Friday, November 4, 2011

      Devastating Blow:-)

      Floods Hit Human Trafficking Industry [Thailand, Burma]: Thailand's Bt20-billion human trafficking industry is experiencing a major drop in production due to the flood crisis, human traffickers reported this week. "This crisis has hit our business hard, at both the supply and distribution end," said Thanh Huendoc, who manages a large Burmese-Thai trafficking syndicate. … "We've had to create new delivery routes, which increases overhead costs," Thanh explained. "We may have to raise prices on our trafficked humans, which would reduce our competitiveness." … "I've got to get 100 passport-less Cambodian women to Romania by the end of November," said Wichit Poonchonsiri, a human trafficking agent based in Aranyaprathet. "But with floodwaters making it impossible to reach Lad Krabang port, I may miss my deadline. My clients might just go with Latvian girls being sold from Albania.

      Thursday, November 3, 2011

      A Follow Up On Backpage

      What if the price of having a vital, well-financed string of newspapers included rare, but inevitable, sexual predation of minors?

      Readers’ Comments

      Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

      Not a tough call, right? But maybe more complicated than you think for the businesses involved.

      Before you head out for the lanterns and pitchforks, it’s worth remembering that a free press is not free. One of the offshoots of free speech is that it will be used to pernicious ends. In this instance, Village Voice Media has a classified network that includes a section labeled “adult” with categories like “escort” and “strippers & strip clubs.” The vast majority of ads involves one consenting adult seeking another, but there have been instances in which the section was used to offer minors for sexual ends.

      Village Voice Media is controlled by Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, whose weeklies include The Village Voice, Westword and Phoenix New Times. It has an anything-goes approach to advertising, but in a digital age, that policy has new implications.

      In September 2010, Craigslist, which hosted a great deal of sexually related advertising, bowed to pressure and banned that advertising in the United States. A number of crimes, including several murders, had been linked to ads on the site, and many critics, including a number of state attorneys general, suggested that Craigslist was enabling the trafficking of minors.

      A significant portion of the estimated $44 million in sex-related advertising on Craigslist found a home on Like a lot of newspapers, Village Voice Media’s chain of 13 weeklies has struggled through the terrible economic cycle and big changes in advertising spending, so the revenue from, much of it unrelated to sex, has played a critical role in its survival.

      But in August the country’s 51 attorneys general sent a letter demanding that the site close its “adult” section, and now a coalition of religious leaders has joined that effort. Last Tuesday, Groundswell, an interfaith social justice group sponsored by Auburn Seminary in New York, published a full-page ad in The New York Times that was signed by clergy members of all stripes and cited the arrests of adults who had sold minors for sex using The ad stated, “It is a basic fact of the moral universe that girls and boys should not be sold for sex.”

      “While we empathize with your business challenges and the increasingly difficult marketplace in which Village Voice Media competes,” the letter went on, “we trust that you are committed to running your business without compromising the lives of our nation’s boys and girls.”

      The Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, the president of Auburn Theological Seminary, said that while the issue was complicated, the bottom line was not.

      “On, you can buy a toaster, a car or a girl for sex,” she said. “We agree with the attorney generals on the legal issues, but we are raising this as a moral issue. Even if one minor is sold for sex, it is one too many.”

      Mr. Larkin and Mr. Lacey are accustomed to having people come after them. They were harassed and arrested in the middle of the night in response to the coverage by one of their newspapers of Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz. Mr. Lacey, who has made a career out of tweaking the powers that be, sees this battle as no different.

      “I am beginning to like our odds,” he said. “We have all these practicing politicians and concerned clergy after us. We must be doing something right.”

      In a phone call, he and Mr. Larkin pointed out that Web sites are not legally responsible for posted content and added that the company had spent millions on both human and technological efforts to screen ads that feature minors. They said they had worked with law enforcement officials and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in an effort to make’s “adult” section included only adults.

      Both men see the debate as a free speech issue.

      “We have always had a very libertarian approach to advertising,” said Mr. Larkin, adding that classifieds represented 30 to 35 percent of their business. “We don’t ban cigarettes, we take adult advertising. We take ads that sell guns.”

      From their perspective, the claims of their opponents are wildly exaggerated and all the money being spent trying to wipe out advertising would be better spent on the root causes of the problem, including drug addiction, poverty and family abuse.

      “There is a lot of mythmaking around the issue and I think it’s a way of avoiding the real problem,” Mr. Lacey said.

      Rob McKenna, the attorney general of Washington State and the head of the association of attorneys general that went after both Craigslist and now, says the issue goes beyond minors.

      “I think we have to be careful to protect the First Amendment rights of publishers, but free speech does not extend to the knowing facilitation of criminal activity,” he said. “This is not just about children being prostituted, this is about human beings being trafficked into the sex trades, as adults and as children.”

      It’s no news to anyone that sex is an integral component of the Internet and much of the mainstream media. Early on, AOL included lots of raunchy backrooms. The brand-name cable channels make a great deal of money on sexually explicit content, and if someone is looking to buy sex, there are any number of Web sites that cater to all manner of interests.

      It’s worth remembering that while pressure from the attorneys general and Congress led to a change at Craigslist, the whack-a-mole on the Web continues. If retreats — not likely given the predispositions of its owners — some other alternative will immediately take its place.

      It reminds me a great deal of the early 1990s, when I was the editor of The Twin Cities Reader, an alternative weekly in Minneapolis. At the time, we were under fire for publishing ads for strip clubs, escort services and massage parlors. The staff and the publisher at the time, R. T. Rybak, were keenly attuned to the community and always looking for points of difference from City Pages, our weekly competitor. With support from the staff, Mr. Rybak announced that we would no longer take ads that “objectified” women, a bold move. It was thought that beyond the good will we earned in the community, other, nonracy advertisers might find our paper to be a more suitable platform.

      Readers’ Comments

      Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

      Our critics, including many women’s groups, were thrilled at their victory and congratulated us on our sensitivity. The policy went into effect, wiping out, as I recall, about 15 percent of the bottom line. City Pages left its ad policy unchanged. Some of what we lost went to them and little in the way of new ads materialized to fill the hole.

      City Pages eventually became the dominant paper — in part because it was very good and run by smart people — and when, yes, Village Voice Media decided to enter the market, it bought both papers and closed The Twin Cities Reader. I was gone by then, but I thought the decision to be selective about ads contributed to its demise.

      I called Mr. Rybak, who is now the mayor of Minneapolis, to ask if he regretted the decision.

      “It was absolutely the right move,” he said. “When you engage in a certain kind of journalism that is designed to be an alternative to the mainstream, you have a special obligation to have your editorial, your values and your advertising align.”

      “If we had more time, I think it may have worked out,” he said. “But I often think about what would have happened if we had those two pages of ads in the back. Would the paper still be around? It wasn’t the only reason it went out of business, but it played a role.”

      Although Mr. Larkin and Mr. Lacey hardly agree, they are taking their own version of a principled stand. And just because it aligns with their business interests doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.