Dec. 29, 2014
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Senators Take On Village Voice Media Over Child Prostitution

A bipartisan group of Senators kicked up their pressure on Village Voice Media to stop running ads on an adult services website that has been under fire in recent months for accepting ads that allegedly promote sex trafficking.

The lawmakers announced a Sense of the Senate resolution today that calls on the media company, which owns more than a dozen weekly publications including the Village Voice, “to act as a responsible global citizen” and stop running ads on Backpage.com for adult services. The website has been criticized for running advertisements for escorts and prostitutes, including some minors. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has been among the more notable critics of the website, which is similar to Craigslist and offers classified ads for everything from furniture to childcare services.

“Unconscionably, Backpage is enabling prostitution and human trafficking through the adult section of the website, supporting an avenue for abuse and violence against women and children,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “Backpage must shut down the adult section immediately ending its involvement in such repugnant and destructive practices.”

Blumenthal is the lead sponsor of the resolution that demands Backpage.com “terminate the website’s facilitation of online sex trafficking.” Co-sponsors of the resolution include Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.); Republican Sens. John Cornyn (Texas), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.).

Cornyn called the adult section of the website “nothing more than a front for pimps and child sex traffickers.

“This is absolutely sickening and should be stopped with all the tools available to us,” he said.

The resolution comes just weeks after Kirk, Blumenthal, Rubio and Cornyn sent a letter to 40 companies calling on them to apply pressure to Village Voice Media and refuse to advertise with the company. A group of Senators also wrote to the media company in March calling on it to eliminate the adult services section on Backpage.com altogether. Similarly, more than 45 attorneys general wrote to the media company last year demanding the adult section of the classifieds website be shut down. In that letter, the attorneys general said they had more than 50 tracked cases where minors were being trafficked into sex slavery through Backpage.com ads and cited research from AIM Group, a media consulting company, that the adult advertisements brought $22.7 million in revenue.

Under pressure from states attorneys general — including Blumenthal before he joined the Senate — Craiglist dropped its adult services ads in the fall of 2010. Since then, Backpage.com has become a go-to site for adult services ads, according to published reports.

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