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Kirk, Blumenthal, Rubio, Cornyn Call on Advertisers and Investors to End Online Child Sex Trafficking at Backpage

Wednesday, Apr 18, 2012
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"I urge Village Voice Media to immediately shut down the adult services section on Backpage.com"

 

Lawmakers continue campaign for elimination of the “adult entertainment” section on Backpage.com, the leading U.S. website for prostitution

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D- Conn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) wrote to 40 organizations on April 12 to inform them that the parent company of the Village Voice publications they advertise on owns Backpage.com, an online classified advertising website linked to dozens of child sex trafficking cases. The senators further requested that the companies, charitable organizations, and public, educational and cultural institutions work together and use their economic influence, as revenue generators for Village Voice Media, to end online child sex trafficking facilitated by Backpage. The Senators also made a similar request to two companies that reportedly invest in Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC.

 

In the letters, the Senators wrote, “Village Voice Media reaps millions in profits each month from Backpage’s prostitution advertising and has thus far ignored all pleas from the community to protect our children. We ask that you work with other organizations that advertise in Village Voice to make the economic case to Village Voice Media to do the right thing and shut down the ‘adult entertainment’ section.” 

 

“I urge Village Voice Media to immediately shut down the adult services section on Backpage.com, and end its enabling of prostitution and human trafficking, just as Craigslist did at my urging,” said Senator Blumenthal. “For too long, countless girls have been victims of prostitution, human trafficking, and horrendous violence through Backpage.com ads. Unconscionably, Backpage continues to allow adult services advertising on their website, knowing that these advertisements are an avenue for horrific violence against women and children.” 

 

Backpage is the leading U.S. website for prostitution advertising. Recent reports from the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) found more than 50 instances nationwide of charges filed against people trafficking minors on Backpage. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 40 percent of incidents investigated by federally-funded task forces on human trafficking between 2008 and 2012 involved sexual exploitation of a child. Similar classified advertising websites, such as Craigslist.com, have taken down their adult services ads after being petitioned to eliminate the section. Backpage continues to ignore the evidence, putting profit above children's safety. 

 

Already the letter is having an impact. Representatives from two recipients, MillerCoors and Crown Imports LLC, responded that the companies will quickly act to end their advertising activities on Village Voice publications. 

 

The lawmakers’ call to action marks yet another event in the nationwide effort to eliminate online child sex trafficking on Backpage. On March 29, 2012, Change.org delivered to Village Voice Media a petition, signed by more than 240,000 individuals, urging the company to remove the “adult entertainment” section of Backpage. By September 2011, 51 Attorneys General, had written to Village Voice Media concerning the company’s facilitation of prostitution. On March 17, Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, penned an op-ed calling on Village Voice Media to eliminate Backpage’s “adult entertainment” section. On March 23, 19 U.S. Senators called on Village Voice Media to eliminate its “adult entertainment” section. Most recently, on March 31, Goldman Sachs sold its management stake of Village Voice Media citing its main concern that it was “uncomfortable with the direction of the company.”  

 

The full text of the letter is below.

 

We are writing to strongly encourage you, as well as other leaders of major employers, charitable organizations, and public, educational and cultural institutions that advertise on Village Voice publications, to use your economic influence to end the online child sex trafficking facilitated by a Village Voice Media subsidiary, Backpage.com.

 

Experts estimate that up to 300,000 children are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States, and that girls and boys are forced into prostitution at the average ages of 12 to 14 and 11 to 13, respectively. A chilling report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 40 percent of incidents investigated by federally funded task forces on human trafficking between 2008 and 2010 involved the sexual exploitation of a child. Unfortunately, these numbers only continue to rise. 

 

According to the classified advertising consultant Advanced Media Interactive (AIM) Group, Backpage.com is the leading U.S. website for prostitution advertising. In fact, an astounding 80 percent of online prostitution advertising revenue for the month of February 2012 was attributed to Backpage.com. 

 

An alarming number of media reports are being written about pimps and traffickers using Backpage.com to advertise sexual services by minors. The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) found more than 50 instances nationwide of charges filed against people trafficking or attempting to traffic minors on Backpage.com. Recent child prostitution cases involving Backpage.com include:

  • Myrelle and Tyrelle Lockett, pled guilty to trafficking of persons for forced labor or services in February 2011 for prostituting multiple Chicago area girls, including at least one who was underage. The girls were advertised on Backpage.com with rates as high as $300 per hour.
  • Demetrius Darnell Homer, convicted of sex trafficking of a minor and sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2011 for violently forcing a 14-year-old Atlanta girl into prostitution and posting her services on Backpage.com. Homer kept the girl in line through beatings, threatening her with a knife, and on one occasion, shocking her with a taser in front of another underage girl he had placed in prostitution. Homer even forced the girl to engage in prostitution while she was pregnant with his child.  
  • Akmal S. Karon, a Minnesota man, charged with eight counts of child prostitution for pimping two underage girls and keeping them in line using rape and extreme violence. One girl, who first began working as a prostitute for Karon at 15, told police that Karon raped her, punched her in the face, repeatedly kicked her, burned her hand with a cigar, and once hit her in the head with a Snapple bottle when she did not earn enough money. Karon picked up the other girl outside her home just a few days before her 14th birthday. He raped and beat her the following day at a motel, and then held her captive for over a week, forcing her to work for him as a prostitute. Karon advertised both girls on Backpage.com.
  • Ronnie Leon Tramble, sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of sex trafficking through force, fraud and coercion for using threats and violence to force multiple young women and girls, at least one of whom was just 14, to work as prostitutes. One of the girls reported being beaten by Tramble approximately three times a week.

Attached are examples, provided by law enforcement authorities, of the despicable ads Tramble posted of his underage victims on Backpage.com. We are confident your organization does not condone this kind of victimization and would not want its advertising dollars going to support it.

Village Voice Media asserts that employees are working closely to monitor the website, claiming to remove 400 ads that market the sexual exploitation of minors every month through a manual review process. But according to field experts and law enforcement authorities, these actions pale in comparison to the illegal activity facilitated via the website. NAAG maintains that the number of postings for prostitution services has not appeared to decrease since the issue was first raised with Village Voice Media and Missouri investigators found that Backpage.com’s review procedures are ineffective in policing illegal activity. The only way to ensure our children’s safety on the advertising network is to shut down the “adult entertainment” section of the website.

 

Village Voice Media reaps millions in profits each month from Backpage.com’s prostitution advertising and has thus far ignored all pleas from the community to protect our children. We ask that you work with other organizations that advertise in Village Voice to make the economic case to Village Voice Media to do the right thing and shut down the “adult entertainment” section. 

 

On March 23, 2012, 19 United States Senators added their voices to the 51 Attorneys General, dozens of human rights and sexual assault organizations, faith leaders, The Seattle Times, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and more than 240,000 individuals who signed a Change.org petition on this issue, urging Village Voice Media in the strongest terms possible to follow Craigslist and remove the “adult entertainment” section from Backpage.com. We hope you will do the same. 

 

We appreciate your consideration and look forward to working with you to curb online child sexual exploitation.

 

Recipients of the letter included:

Mr. David Peacock, President, Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc.

Mr. Dov Charney, Chairman and CEO, American Apparel, Inc.

Mr. Robert Darbelnet, President and CEO, American Automobile Association

Mr. Bob Lander, President and CEO, Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau

Mr. Robert Furniss-Roe, President, Bacardi USA, Inc.

Mr. William J. Lynch, Jr., CEO, Barnes and Noble, Inc.

Mr. Willy Burkhardt, President, Blue Man Productions, Inc.

Mr. James T. Reynolds, President, Cancer Fund of America, Inc.

Mr. Sanford I. Weill, Chairman, Carnegie Hall Corporation

Ms. Linda Dozoretz, Executive Director, Children’s Wish Foundation International

Mr. Bob Pittman, CEO, Clear Channel Communications, Inc.

Mr. Frank Day, Chairman, CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries, Inc. 

Mr. Bill Hackett, President, Crown Imports LLC 

Mr. Brian Vogt, CEO, Denver Botanic Gardens, Inc.

Mr. Larry Schwartz, President, North America, Diageo PLC

Mr. George Bodenheimer, Executive Chairman, ESPN, Inc.

Mr. Jim Gibbons, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries International, Inc.

Mr. Thomas Pritzker, Executive Chairman, Hyatt Hotels Corporation

Mr. Kenneth Hicks, Chairman, President and CEO, Foot Locker, Inc.

Mr. Ted Mundorff, CEO, Landmark Theatres 

Mr. Jon Feltheimer, Co-Chairman and CEO, Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation

Mr. Michael Rapino, President and CEO, Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. 

Mr. Todd Wagner, Co-Founder and CEO, 2929 Entertainment

Mr. John Willard Marriott, Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International, Inc.

John H. Noseworthy, M.D., President and CEO, Mayo Clinic 

Mr. James J. Murren, Chairman and CEO, MGM Resorts International

Mr. Philip W. O’Neil, President, Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co. 

Mr. Peter Coors, Chairman, MillerCoors LLC

Ms. Kim Jordan, CEO, New Belgium Brewing Company, Inc.

Mr. Richard Federico, Chairman and Co-CEO, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc.

Mr. Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO, Relativity Media LLC

Commissioner William A. Roberts, National Commander, The Salvation Army

Mr. Charles Wright, Chairman, Seattle Art Museum

Mr. Michael Lynton, Co-Chairman and CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.

Mr. Philipp Humm, President and CEO, T-Mobile USA, Inc.

Mr. Yoshimi Inaba, Chairman, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Toyota Motor Corporation

Chancellor Gene D. Block, University of California, Los Angeles

Mr. Brian Gallagher, President and CEO, United Way Worldwide

Chancellor Robert Coombe, University of Denver

Mr. Barry M. Meyer, Chairman and CEO, Warner Brothers Entertainment 

 

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