Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on Friday turned up the heat again on The Seattle Weekly, this time asking the paper's representatives to stop all of its escort ads.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn turned up the heat again Friday on The Seattle Weekly, this time asking the newspaper’s representatives to stop all of its escort ads.
“We specifically asked them to pull down all ads until they have safeguards against underage trafficking,” McGinn told reporters after meeting with representatives of The Weekly and its owner, Village Voice Media Holdings. “That should include models presenting a photo ID in person and signing a model release before putting up an ad.”
Within the past day, the mayor said, the company’s website displayed three ads featuring known child prostitutes in the Seattle area.
McGinn said Weekly representatives did not immediately agree to his request but said they would take it “seriously” and respond within a week or two.
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During the meeting, company representatives showed city officials what steps they have taken in response to allegations their ads are linked to child prostitution.
They include some monitoring, responding to subpoenas and cooperating with law-enforcement agencies, McGinn said.
But the mayor said he was not convinced. He said the company doesn’t do enough to screen ads that run on Backpage.com, which links adult “escort” ads to The Weekly and Seattle area.
All people who want to advertise should be met in person and show proof they are at least 18, he said.
“These are the types of steps that other online services have taken, and it works, at least in King County,” McGinn said.
He said the city will continue to shine a spotlight on Village Voice Media.
Village Voice officials did not meet with the media and were not immediately available for comment.
Over the past 12 months, according to McGinn, more than 180 children were exploited for commercial sex in Seattle. Since the beginning of 2010, 22 children were advertised on Backpage.com, according to a city news release.
McGinn made it clear he was targeting only The Weekly and not the city’s other free weekly, The Stranger, or any other websites with adult listings, such as Craigslist. The city has found no evidence linking those sites to underage sex workers, he said.
The mayor was flanked by City Councilmember Tim Burgess and Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel.
Those three and other city staff met with Don Moon, board member of Village Voice Media; Kenny Stocker, publisher of The Seattle Weekly; and Carl Ferrer, vice president of sales and marketing at Backpage.com.
Last week, the mayor suspended all city advertising with The Weekly. The Seattle Center has a $158,000 contract with the paper and is halfway through it.
Seattle Center pays for some ads with cash and others by allowing The Weekly to post banners at Center events.
McGinn admitted the advertising pullout was financially insignificant for The Weekly.
“That’s not why we did it,” he said. “I’m sure they make a lot more money from their advertising in Backpage.com.”
McGinn has accused the company, which owns 13 weeklies across the country, of “downplaying” the seriousness of child prostitution.
Village Voice produced an investigative report this month questioning the claims of actor-activists Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, who said up to 300,000 American children may have been victims of child prostitution. The report said only about 827 cases were reported each year.
“We have never downplayed the seriousness of child prostitution,” company official Andy Van De Voorde told The Seattle Times last week.
McGinn said he would consider contacting other mayors about the problem.
“If we could get support from other mayors on this, that would be great.”
Jeff Hodson: 206-464-2109 or firstname.lastname@example.org