Monday, August 20, 2012

Girls Are Not Commodities

Some of you may not know that I do some consulting for the Avon Program for Women and Justice at O'Connor House.  The O'Connor House is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded under the leadership of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor upon her retirement from the Supreme Court Bench.  Justice O'Connor, our nation's first female appointee to the Bench, has focused part of the work of her foundation on projects to help victims of violence, including domestic violence and sex trafficking.  The Program for Women and Justice was created at O'Connor House and funded by the Avon Foundation to turn Justice O'Connor's commitment to women and justice into an action agenda for victims of domestic violence and trafficking.

Today I received a letter from Jill Faber, chair of the Avon Program's anti-sex trafficking project. The letter (below) is powerful and should be shared.  I hope you will repost it to your facebook walls, tweet it, link it to your own blogs, email this post to friends.  The  video just above the letter is recommended watching in Jill's letter.

"Last Friday a national conference call was facilitated by Brad Myles, CEO of Polaris, and Andrea Powell, CEO of Fair Girls (drop-in center in DC for sexually exploited children, most of whom have been advertised on backpage), to discuss what is going on around the U.S. Backpage is the major advertiser of sex services online. It is estimated that 80% of women and children that are advertised online are on backpage. 

 Until two years ago Craigslist had a profitable adult section but due to public pressure and advertisers withdrawing their business, Craigslist shut down its adult section. Much of that business moved to backpage which earns $25 million annually on its adult section. It is estimated that as much as 10% of all ads are marketing children. 

We are now calling on backpage to shut down its adult section. Backpage is a huge factor in the sexual exploitation of children in metro Phoenix: On May 19, 2012, in the Arizona Republic, ASU Professor Dominique Roe-Sepowitz said "Almost all of the hundreds of victims of child sex trafficking I have worked with in the past two years have been put on, some by their pimps, some by their mothers, some by their best friends. This is an ugly issue, one that we must not turn away from to allow for free enterprise." 

 Across the country there is a large coalition of elected officials, 19 U.S. Senators, 600 faith leaders and 53 leading anti-trafficking experts, as well as all 50 state attorneys general who have joined with 300,000 citizens who have signed petitions on, and to demand that Village Voice Media (owned by Phoenix New Times owners) shut down the adult section on backpage. 


"Almost all of the hundreds of victims of child sex trafficking I have worked with in the past two years have been put on, some by their pimps, some by their mothers, some by their best friends."

 What we can do in Arizona is: 

 1. If you have not signed a petition (like almost 300,000 other Americans) do so now at There are additional petitions at and 

2. Let the advertisers who have suspended advertising in New Times know that you appreciate their willingness to stand up for the exploited youth who are being advertised on backpage. That list includes American Airlines, AT&T, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, Buddy Stubbs Harley Davidson, Crown Imports, H&M, Harkins Theaters, IHOP, IKEA, LG, Macy's, Miller/Coors, REI, Starbucks, and T-Mobile. We should support companies that are committed to values like the protection of child victims from traffickers and from those who would buy children for sex.

3. Companies that have been contacted but have told us they refuse to suspend advertising include American Apparel and Lululemon. If you shop at these stores, let them know how you feel about this reaction to our campaign and consider buying clothes elsewhere. 

4. The focus now is on regional companies and we are obtaining the list of companies that have been contacted by email but have not responded in metro Phoenix. We will forward that list to you this week so you can help us by writing and emailing those companies and encouraging them to join the highly ethical companies listed in (2) above who have taken a stand on child sex trafficking. We should not support companies that are contributing to the bottom line of Village Voice Media (the parent company that was absorbed by Phoenix-based New Times), a company that includes child sex trafficking in their business model. 

 5. Read the article in the September issue of Marie Claire, page 228: "Girls 4 Sale" which explains the impact backpage is having on our cities. Discuss this article with your friends. 

 6. Watch the public service announcement on (When you go to the site, wait for the "girls are not commodities" photo to come up on the homepage and click on it to see the 30 second public service announcement on backpage----it's powerful.) Forward it to your lists. 

7. Know that efforts are underway to change the Communications Decency Act by national groups and to bring criminal charges against backpage by other groups. Large city police departments have ongoing investigations of backpage. The Department of Justice has been approached by Senators and Congressmen. Some groups are strategizing on state action by their Attorney General or legislative action. Backpage hides behind the First Amendment (freedom of speech) as well as the Communications Decency Act. The National Association of Attorneys General has some high profile members who are looking at taking on a case right now. 

 8. Auburn Seminary in New York is working with religious leaders on an educational campaign to strengthen local leaders across the U.S. who want to join this campaign. 

9. Respond when you are called to protest against New Times----The Frederick Douglas Family Foundation, Southern Arizona Against Slavery, Arizona Foundation for Women and Shared Hope hosted a protest in front of the headquarters of New Times in June. Join us when you hear about the next protest. 

Below is a timeline of activity on backpage for the last 12 months. 


 August 2011 - 51 of the nation’s attorneys general write a letter to Village Voice Media demanding it shut down the adult section of Backpage, which it identified as a “hub” for human trafficking, especially the trafficking of minors. 

October 2011 - Groundswell, the social action initiative of Auburn Seminary, publishes an open letter to Village Voice Media via a full-page ad in The New York Times. The letter was signed by over 30 prominent, multi-faith clergy and presented a moral appeal to Village Voice Media to close Backpage’s adult section. To date, over 600 clergy have joined the campaign. In tandem with the NYT ad, Groundswell launched a petition on calling on the public to the campaign. Over 250,000 individuals have signed the petition. 

 December 2011 - 53 leading anti-trafficking organizations send public letter to VVM calling on the company to take action. Groundswell holds a private meeting with Village Voice Media executives again making its appeal. January 2012 John Buffalo Mailer, the son of the co-founder of The Village Voice, Village Voice Media’s flagship publication, joins the campaign. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof writes the first of several columns on Backpage. Echoes the campaign’s call for Backpage to take action. CNN’s Anderson Cooper does the first of nearly half a dozen stories on Backpage. 

March 2012 - A bi-partisan group of 19 U.S. Senators writes a letter to Village Voice Media requesting the adult ads on be removed. Groundswell holds a rally in front of the office of The Village Voice in New York City to deliver the 250,000 signatures it collected on its petition on Rally received a significant amount of press and was attended by NYC Council Members, anti-trafficking and children’s organizations, leading clergy, and members of the public. The Washington state governor signed into law a bill targeted at Backpage and aimed at cracking down on the adult ad business. Village Voice Media sued the state, and the case is currently in litigation. 

 April 2012 - Groundswell and announce effort to educate Village Voice Media’s top 50 advertisers on the controversy around Backpage and call on the companies to suspend their ads with VVM’s publications until the adult section of is shut down. To date, over 45 advertisers have pulled their ads, including major national brands such as Best Buy, American Airlines, IHOP, H&M, Starbucks, and Miller Coors. The advertiser campaign has been ongoing and continues today. The previous week, four U.S. Senators announced a separate effort to convince advertisers in Village Voice Media’s 13 weekly publications to discontinue their ads until Backpage’s adult section is shut down. A group of leading musicians, including R.E.M., members of the band Pearl Jam, The Civil Wars, Roseanne Cash Talib Kweli, and Alicia Keyes, announce their support for the campaign against Backpage. At least two firms with investments in Village Voice Media sell their stake in VVM, after growing “uncomfortable with the direction of the company” [Reuters, 4/1/12; Reuters, 4/4/12]. U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf of VA writes the first of several letters to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the administration to launch criminal charges against Backpage. ABC’s Nightline airs a major piece on Backpage. 

May 2012 - Meeting takes place with top White House officials regarding the campaign. The meetings are ongoing, with the most recent one having taken place in July. New York City Council passes resolution calling on VVM to drop adult ads. 

July 2012 -  A PSA is released portraying true story of 13-year old survivor of sex trafficking advertised on The PSA appears online, in print in The National Journal, and on air in the DC market – during ABC’s This Week and for several days on MSNBC. The ad also aired in local markets by way of earned media. Launched in tandem with the PSA was a petition on, sponsored by the 13-year old actress in the ad, asking the public to join the campaign against Backpage. To date, there are over 40k signatures. Op-ed appears in Huffington Post, penned by Wendi Adelson, attorney, author and clinical professor at Florida State University College of Law, arguing VVM is facilitating a criminal enterprise, which is not protected by free speech/the first amendment – the principles behind which VVM is hiding. Adelson also states that Backpage is guilty of reckless disregard and encourages the DOJ to file criminal charges against the company. Press release sent out featuring statements by two prominent internet freedom leaders (Tim Karr of Free Press and Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute) criticizing Village Voice Media for its abuse of free speech and free internet principles to maintain an unethical business operation in August 2012 Minneapolis City Council passes resolution against Backpage. 

KEY MEDIA STORIES: ABC News - Nightline "Girls Sold for Sex Online, Backpage Defends Decision to Keep Ads Up" The New York Times - Nicholas Kristof "Where Pimps Peddle Their Goods" CNN - Anderson Cooper “Should Close the Adult Section?” We will send you the list of metro Phoenix companies that have not responded to our emails this week and hope you will help us by writing and calling the CEO's to ask them to stand with us on this issue. Jill Faber Coalition to Protect Arizona Children

No comments:

Post a Comment