The Backpage classified section of The Village Voice has long been used to advertise illegal services, whether it be pot sales or prostitution. I am of at least two minds concerning sex work by willing adults, but think it should certainly be decriminalized, possibly even made legal. If a pimp is abusive, he/she should be arrested and charged with assault, and if we started treating prostitutes like human beings, perhaps that would happen more often regardless of the law.
However, on one thing I am perfectly clear: The trafficking of minors is not only illegal, it is contemptible, an abomination, beyond reprehensible. And I honestly don’t care what the age of consent is in any given state, and am not interested in the splitting of hairs concerning the vocabulary surrounding such trafficking. “Teenage prostitution,” unless conducted by an 18 or 19 year old of his or her own free will, doesn’t exist — there is only teen rape, and those who profit from it. And some time ago, the world was made aware that Backpage is not only a source for bongs, coke, and BDSM professionals — it’s also a good source for the bodies of children.
This horrifying fact came up with particular fury surrounding last year’s Super Bowl, as part of the larger ugly fact that whatever city hosts the Super Bowl tends to also unwittingly host a Super Bowl of sex trafficking on the weekend of the game.
Village Voice Media has made a lot of noise about the fact that it’s concerned about the trafficking of minors through its site, but when called on in public (and – horrors! through a PR firm! Because no one ever uses PR firms unless their motives are nefarious!) by 51 US Attorneys General and 36 members of the clergy to act with greater urgency and close down the Adult Services classifieds that serve as the cover for the sale of children’s bodies — it lashed back:
Neither government officials nor God’s advocates can dictate such arbitrary control of business or speech…. Backpage has spent millions of dollars and dedicated countless resources to protecting children from those who would misuse an adult site…. It is true that, in carrying out their crimes, criminals continue to utilize services such as cell phones by Verizon and AT&T, and overnight delivery services such as FedEx and numerous internet sites. But that does not shift the blame from criminal predators to legal business operators. If someone is caught shipping contraband through the Post Office, we do not shut down the U.S. mail. Complicated issues require sophisticated solutions, not PR flurries…. Adult advertising, as found on Craigslist, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Yellowpage.com and numerous other web sites is complicated by those who seek to exploit this technology. And the issues surrounding the exploitation of children are equally complex, often involving homelessness, drugs, and abuse at home.
Or, in other words: Not our fault, we’re doing the best we can, not our fault, stop being so sanctimonious, not our fault, and oh by the way? Not our fault. Because, obvs, FedEx is just as culpable for transporting, say, heroin, when it had no way of knowing what was in the box, as we are, when the text of an ad — that some human being had to approve — reads that the “girls” on offer are “tender.” It’s totes the same thing! Plus which, those kids are totally fucked up anyway! Not our fault!
That was on October 25. Cut to today’s news:
Two teenage girls thought they were headed to a water park, but instead they were ensnared in a multistate, sex-trafficking ring that included a stop in Memphis.
Kala Bray and Vincent “Pistol Pete” Jones have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Memphis on charges of prostituting the girls, ages 15 and 16, through ads placed on the popular website Backpage.com.
One Memphian paid about $900 for a sex act at a motel with Bray and the two minors, according to the indictment.
The defendants then took the girls to Texas and set up shop at a Houston hotel, the federal charges allege. The minors were given drugs before they had sex with clients, who were responding to the Backpage ads, the indictment alleges.
One of the teens managed to escape and called for help.
In an unrelated case, federal prosecutors in Memphis have charged alleged gang members with using Backpage to pimp a 15-year-old girl.
FBI agents allege in an affidavit that the girl’s cousin, defendant Chauntta Lewis of Moscow, Tenn., and Lewis’ boyfriend, Arieke Lester, of Somerville, attended the teen’s birthday party and convinced her to participate in their prostitution ring. Lester, an alleged Vice Lord gang member, also asked about the teen’s 14-year-old friend, but the teen refused to include her, the affidavit alleges.
Lewis is accused of checking her cousin out of her Oakland school early in April and bringing her to Memphis. Here, they are charged with teaming with alleged gang member Maurice Mabon in Hickory Hill to pimp out the teen using Backpage.
The teen told federal investigators that she had been nervous so Lewis, her older cousin, gave her a prescription drug and beer.
Fuck the Village Voice, and the newsprint they rode in on. I wish I worked there so that I could quit, I wish I subscribed so that I could cancel. I wish I could gather all the adults making all the decisions in their offices, and bring them to the shelters where the survivors of sexual trafficking live, and make them listen to their stories.
I wish I could go around the world and gather all the children, and make them safe.