TAKE ACTION: Educate Village Voice Media's Top 50 Advertisers about Sex Ads of Minors on Backpage

As concerned community members and clergy, Groundswell has launched a public education program to invite Village Voice Media advertisers to become involved in the effort to work with us to encourage the company to shut down the adult section of its Backpage.com Web site until it can be certain that no children or teens will be exploited through the Web site. Groundswell's effort follows other similar efforts by U.S. Senators Kirk, Rubio, Cornyn, and Blumenthal.

Companies On Board | Companies Not Yet On Board | Full List of Contacted Companies |  Email Sent to Companies | Press Release | More About Groundswell EffortU.S. Senators' Effort

COMPANIES NOT YET ON BOARD 

The following companies have been asked to encourage Village Voice Media to shut down the adult section of its Backpage Web site until it can be certain that no children or teens will be exploited through the section.

Please visit their Facebook and Twitter pages to voice your concern about their continued support of a company that has come under intense scrutiny for operating a section of its website where others have marketed children and teens for commercial sex.

Sample Facebook post:

Hey -- [Company name] is advertising in Village Voice Media publications, while the adult section of a Village Voice Media owned Web site called Backpage.com has been used to sell underage children and teens for sex through ads placed by others. Please work with us to encourage Village Voice Media to shut down the adult section of Backpage.com until they can be certain that no children or teens will be exploited through the section. Get more info here: http://bit.ly/HU80XW

Sample Twitter Post: 

As advertiser, will [twitter handle] help close Backpage adult section where kids were sold 4 sex via others' ads? http://bit.ly/HU80XW #dontsellgirls

American Apparel - Facebook | Twitter - @americanapparel 
Warner Brothers - Facebook | Twitter - @wbpictures
Cirque du Soleil - Facebook | Twitter - @cirque 
Disney - Facebook | Twitter - @disney  

Click here for the full list of advertisers.

COMPANIES WHO HAVE JOINED THE EFFORT

We are grateful to the following companies who have joined the effort to convince Village Voice Media to shut down the adult section of their Web site Backpage.com. 

ASPCA
American Airlines
Arizona Diamondbacks
AT&T
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
Buddy Stubbs Harley Davidson
Carnegie Hall
Children's Wish Foundation International
Colorado Mammoth Lacrosse
Crown Imports LLC
Guggeinheim Museum
H&M
Harkins Theatre
High Times
IHOP
IKEA
LG
Lincoln Center
Live Nation
Macy's
Miami Dolphins
MillerCoors
Monroe County (Florida) Tourist Development Council
NY Public Radio
NYC Film Forum
Park Avenue Church
Pfizer Pharmaceuticals
REI
Relativity Media
San Francisco MOMA
Seattle Art Museum
Starbucks
T-Mobile
Tribeca Performing Arts Center
US Bank

 

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, April 19, 2012
Contact: Brett Abrams, (516) 841-1105, [email protected] 

Clergy Coalition Launches Campaign to Educate Village Voice Media’s Top 50 Advertisers about Sex Ads of Minors on Backpage.com

Following Similar Effort by Four U.S. Senators, Auburn Seminary President Invites National Brands Advertising in Village Voice Media Publications to Help Combat Child Sex Trafficking

New York, NY — A coalition of clergy launched a campaign this week to educate the top 50 advertisers in Village Voice Media (VVM) publications about the sex trafficking controversy surrounding VVM’s classifieds Web site Backpage.com. This advertiser education campaign is being organized by Groundswell, the social action initiative of Auburn Seminary and convener of a coalition of over 600 clergy calling for Backpage.com’s Adult section to be closed. Yesterday, a group of U.S. Senators announced asimilar effort in which they contacted advertisers of Village Voice Media, citing the same concerns as the clergy.

In an electronic communication to the companies on April 18, Auburn Seminary President Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson asked these advertisers to examine their relationships with VVM publications while Backpage.com provides an Adult section of its Web site where underage children and teens have been sold for sex through ads placed by others.  She wrote: “I urge you to consider your ongoing relationship with publications owned by Village Voice Media and to work with us to encourage the company to shut down the adult section of its Web site until it can be certain that nochildren or teens will be exploited through the section.”

On April 12, U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and John Cornyn (R-TX) contacted numerous organizations advertising in Village Voice Media publications to inform them that VVM’s Backpage.com has been linked to dozens of child sex trafficking cases. The Senators stated, “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.” 

Village Voice Media’s top 50 advertisers to whom Groundswell reached out span a wide range of industries, and include retail; restaurant/food/drink; sports; cinema; entertainment/art; telecom; travel; banking; and social media/TV/radio. Combined, the companies have advertised in all 13 of Village Voice Media’s weekly publications, which are located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, NewYork, Texas, and Washington.

“Businesses advertising in Village Voice Media publications must be informed of the controversy surrounding the sex ads of minors on Backpage.com. Once these companies become aware of all the facts, we are confident they will join us in encouraging Village Voice Media to take the morally right step and shut down the Adult section of Backpage.com,” Rev. Dr. Henderson said.

After learning of the controversy over Backpage.com’s sex ads, seven advertisers and other affiliated businesses have expressed their displeasure to Village Voice Media, decided to stop advertising in Village Voice Media publications, or stated that they do not have future plans to advertise in Village Voice Media publications. These advertisers are AT&T, Live Nation, MillerCoors, Crown Imports LLC, TRIBECA Performing Arts Center, NYC Film Forum, and High Times.

Backpage.com came under intense scrutiny following an August 2011 letter to the company by the National Association of Attorneys General, which stated that it has “tracked more than 50 instances, in 22 states over three years, of charges filed against those trafficking or attempting to traffic minors on Backpage.com” and that “many more instances likely exist.” This coalition of 51 of the nation’s attorneys general called on VVM to shut down the Adult section of its Web site.

Groundswell made its first public appeal to VVM to take action and close Backpage.com’s Adult section in October 2011, when it published an open letter to VVM in a full-page ad in The New York Times. It also launched at that time a petition on Change.org, which to date has gathered over 225,000 signatures. Last month, Groundswell organized a rally outside the office of Village Voice Media flagship publication The Village Voice in New York City todeliver the petition signatures.

Today, 19 U.S. Senators, over 600 faith leaders, 53 leading anti-trafficking experts and organizations, state and city lawmakers around the country, and more than 225,000 individuals have added their voices to the attorneys general’s and appealed to VVM to shut down the Adult section of Backpage.com, which services nearly 400 markets. 

In the last several weeks, as the sex trafficking controversy surrounding Backpage.com has heated up and gained more public attention, at least two firms with investments in the privately-held Village Voice Media -- Goldman Sachs and Trimaran Capital – reportedly have agreed to sell their shares back to the company. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the Obama administration to pursue possible criminal prosecution of Backpage.com.  

NOTE:
Village Voice Media does not agree with Groundswell’s view that Backpage.com’s adult section should be shut down. Here’s a statement they provided to Nicholas Kristof in January 2012 explaining their position: http://media.villagevoicemedia.com/Backpage-statement-to-nicholas-kristof.7585803.0.pdf   

LINKS
Information on Groundswell’s campaign on Backpage.com: 
http://www.groundswell-mvmt.org/take-action-to-protect-our-children/

U.S. Senate letter to Village Voice Media’s advertisers:
http://www.kirk.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=476

Live signature totals from Groundswell’s petition on Change.org: 
http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-village-voice-media-to-stop-child-sex-trafficking-on-backpagecom

For more information on Change.org, please visit:
http://www.change.org/about
Change.org is the world’s fastest-growing platform for social change — growing by two million new members a month, and empowering millions of people to start, join, and win campaigns for social change in their community, city and country.

EMAIL TEXT SENT BY REV. DR. KATHARINE HENDERSON, AUBURN PRESIDENT AND CONVENER OF CLERGY COALITION

As a participant in an effort to call attention to the critical issue of child trafficking, I am concerned that [COMPANY] advertises in publications owned by Village Voice Media – including [LIST PUBLICATIONS] – while the Adult section of Village Voice Media’s classifieds Web site (Backpage.com) has been used by others to advertise the sale of children and teens for sex. 

Village Voice Media’s adult advertising has received national media attention, including several recent columns written by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times. One of Kristof’s columns vividly profiles a young woman who was sold for sex by pimps advertising her online (The New York Times, 3/18/12).  Although Village Voice Media disputes that Backpage.com was used in this particular instance (Village Voice News, March 21, 2012) you should know that the National Association of Attorneys General has stated that it has “tracked more than 50 instances, in 22 states over three years, of charges filed against those trafficking or attempting to traffic minors on Backpage.com” and that “many more instances likely exist” (National Association of Attorneys General).

For the sake of the children who have been sold for sex by individuals advertising them on Backpage.com, I urge you to consider your ongoing relationship with publications owned by Village Voice Media and to work with us to encourage the company to shut down the adult section of its Web site until it can be certain that no children or teens will be exploited through the section. 

You should be aware that Village Voice Media does not agree with our view that it should shut down the section, maintaining that it has implemented a number of safeguards that seek to prevent children and teens from being advertised on the site and that the company actively cooperates with law enforcement to help investigate any illegal activity.  For example, in various postings on its Backpage.com blog, Village Voice Media explains its position and various actions it is taking (e.g., July 11, 2011 and September 29, 2010).   

Despite these efforts, recent instances of advertisements with tragic consequences demonstrate that these measures don’t ensure that there will not be more human tragedies like the one described in The New York Times.  In a response to Kristof, even Village Voice Media itself has admitted that, regardless of their implemented measures, there will continue to be “a small percentage that involve human trafficking and that are difficult to detect and eliminate.” 

As President of Auburn Theological Seminary, I represent a coalition of nearly 600 faith leaders from different religious traditions who have joined 51 of the nation’s attorneys general (NAAG letter), 53 leading anti-trafficking experts and organizations (NGO letter), 19 U.S. Senators (senators’ letter) state and city lawmakers around the country, and over 225,000 citizens calling on Village Voice Media (Change.org) to shut down the Adult section of Backpage.com, where advertisements placed by others have resulted in the sex trafficking of girls. 

The demands for Village Voice Media to shut down the Backpage.com adult section are growing quickly.  The New York City Council is considering a resolution echoing our concerns about Backpage.com (New York City Council). The Washington state governor signed into law a bill aimed at cracking down on the adult ad business and Backpage.com (The New York Times, 4/1/12). Connecticut is considering similar legislation (The New York Times, 4/1/12). And Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) recently sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the Obama administration to pursue possible criminal prosecution of Backpage.com. 

Following public criticism of Backpage.com, at least two firms with investments in Village Voice Media have reportedly agreed to sell their shares back to the company (Reuters, 4/1/12Reuters, 4/5/12).  Nicholas Kristof wrote recently that Goldman Sachs, which held a 16% stake in Village Voice Media, was “mortified” when he “began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads.  It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon [March 30] it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management.”  A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that a second firm, Trimaran Capital Partners, would sell its holdings in Village Voice Media back to the company (Reuters, 4/5/12).

I hope you that will examine your ongoing relationship with Village Voice Media and its various publications, while Backpage.com provides an Adult section of its Web site where underage girls have been sold for sex via ads placed by others in the past.  This is an important opportunity for your company to do the right thing.

For a fuller description of our position on this critical safety, security, and health matter affecting children and teens right here in the U.S, please visit our Web site:
http://www.groundswell-mvmt.org/join-the-groundswell/take-action-to-protect-our-children/ 

Given the urgency of this issue and the very real possibility that more girls could be exploited by others through advertisements in the Adult section of Village Voice Media’s Backpage.com in the coming weeks, I ask that your company consider these issues as soon as possible. 

I look forward to your prompt reply and to joining together to do the right thing, right now, to protect our kids.

Please do not hesitate to be in touch with any questions or thoughts about our efforts.

Sincerely,

The Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson

FULL LIST OF CONTACTED COMPANIES / ADVERTISERS

H.D. Buttercup
Guitar Center
Dave and Busters
IKEA
Ticketfly
Macy’s
Barnes & Noble
Lululemon
BestBuy
Minnesota Wild
US Bank
Anheuser-Busch
Charter Communications
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Minnesota Orchestra
Cirque du Soleil
Walt Disney Pictures
Zagat
YWCA of Minneapolis
Foursquare
YWCA Twin Cities
Waner Brothers
Buffalo Wild Wings
Veo optics
Atlantic Broadband
Blick Art Materials
Total Bank
T-Mobile
AT&T
St. Louis Rams
Seattle Art Museum
 
REI
MetroPCS
Icelandair
Arizona Diamondbacks
MTV2
ASPCA
Miller Light
Monsanto
Android
Miami Dolphins
Mesa Arts Center
LG
KCRW
JR Electronics
Houston Symphony
Harrah’s Resorts
Hard Rock Café
H&M
Champs Sports
American Apparel
Colorado Mammoth Lacrosse
IHOP
Starbucks

 


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