The New York Times has another opinion piece targeting Goldman Sachs (one begins to wonder if there are no other bad guys on the face of the planet to focus on) but this time tying the investment bankers to a “recent case in New York City, prosecutors say that a 15-year-old girl was drugged, tied up, raped and sold to johns.”
Here is the connection. In 2000, the private equity group at Goldman bought a 16% stake in Village Voice, the famous alternative newspaper group. In 2006 Village Voice bought an online classified company, similar to Craig’s List, called Backpage.com. Backpage advertises for cars to jobs to childcare. But it also does a brisk business in adult classifieds. When Craig’s List stopped allowing adult classifieds, Backpage picked up where they left off. Backpage has 70 percent of the market for prostitution ads, according to AIM Group that is a watchdog group that estimates revenue attributable to this kind of advertising.
Certainly the sex trade includes plenty of consenting adults but sex trafficking of minors also occurs electronically, as classifieds have become the most used way for pimps to attract johns without having to put themselves at risk (see my prior piece, “Teen Prostitution”).
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF in the NYT oped, “Financiers and Sex Trafficking” ties this all together from Goldman to the Village Voice to Backpage to the 15 year-old girl that was sold using, “Backpage and other sites.”
Let’s get a few things straight here.
Sex trafficking is slavery as defined by the 13th Amendment. That’s why Homeland Security has become involved in investigating the problem throughout the U.S. (see: “Sex Slavery in America”).
Nothing I am about to say condones sex trafficking or those that participate in activities by which underage girls and boys are treated with horrific abuse.
But committing those acts and owning a minority stake in a well known group of newspapers—a company you do not control in any way—that decides to buy an online company that in turn has classified ads that hosts adult ads some of which might be used inappropriately are two very different things.
Should Goldman and other financial owners put pressure on the Village Voice to, as Craig’s List did, get rid of the adult section of Back Pages or at least police it in such a way to make sure there is no sex trafficking? Absolutely. That makes good sense.
Will that likely make much of an impact, by itself, on sex trafficking in America? Not really. There are tons of smaller sites that will always allow advertising of this kind. Most of the prostitutes I have interviewed to try to understand how the sex trade actually works have said that local alternative newspapers are the most common place to place an ad. None of those are going away anytime soon.
Is the motivation of Kristof’s piece more about sex trafficking or more about trying to throw one more punch in the face of Goldman Sachs? I can’t really say but I did notice that the mid-level executive Greg Smith who made such a splash with his open letter of resignation in the NYT (for the record I worked at Goldman too and this was my view of that, “The Real Goldman”) got a $1.5 million book deal.
Maybe Kristof was jealous. What do you think?