Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has joined state legislators, local law enforcement and advocates against sex trafficking in pointing out the unsavory ties between adult ads and underage prostitution. Keep the pressure on, Mr. Mayor.
SEATTLE Mayor Mike McGinn is right to suspend city advertising in The Seattle Weekly until its owner, Village Voice Media, can better police its adult-service ad sites for underage prostitution.
The mayor’s stance showcases two points worth stressing. The first is that Village Voice must not be allowed to downplay the seriousness of child prostitution by fixating on the exact number of children involved. A recent story from the publication, run in the Weekly, did just that.
The second is that the Weekly is being singled out, but for good cause. Seattle police say Village Voice’s backpage.com — which features links to adult escort services, including personal ads in the Seattle area — expands underage prostitution and sexual exploitation.
Four local cases of child prostitution have been linked to ads on the website. Seattle police were able to track the 17-year-old victim of Anthony “Mack” Terry, one of the first in King County to face enhanced penalties for pimping out a minor, through multiple ads on backpage.com. And a lawsuit brought by a 15-year-old victim last year alleges ads on backpage.com contributed to her exploitation.
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Village Voice claims to have more than 100 employees screening ads. The employees pass along hundreds of tips to law enforcement and respond to dozens of subpoenas.
So if it’s not a big problem, why does Village Voice need a small army to manage it?
Part of our skepticism is fueled by concerns that when the Village Voice was folded into the larger Phoenix-based New Times Media in 2005, the result would be a monolithic media chain with a distant attitude and a fixation on profit. The choice for them here is getting rid of smut or retaining a tidy profit center.
The mayor is meeting with company executives Friday. He’s looking for an agreement on verifying the age of the girls and women in the escort services and adult ads.
But pimps will get around the rule by submitting body shots without faces. Others will give girls fake ID.
Take a page from craigslist, which dropped its sex-ads site after a consistent drumbeat from law enforcement and policymakers. Village Voice must learn that the only way to clean up its act is to get rid of the dirty stuff.