Lili Bee went to a protest against sex trafficking and this is what she saw.
Despite a steady rain last night, a sizable and vocal crowd turned out to demonstrate against sex trafficking in front of the Village Voice Headquarters here in downtown New York City.
Songstress Alicia Keys rallied her fans to join the protest, tweeting, “What if these were your daughters? SO crazy!…”
A big shout out to Ms. Keys for that.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) in partnership with Prostitution Research and Education (PRE) held the protest in front of the Village Voice building at the offices of Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC, owner of Backpage.com.
The protest, co-sponsored by Equality Now, Soroptimist International of the Americas, Apne Aap, Alicia Keys, Gloria Steinem, Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, Breaking Free, Ambassador Mark Lagon, Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, Temple Committee Against Human Trafficking, A Call to Men, and more than 75 leading human rights organizations and prominent individuals, brought attention to Backpage’s facilitation of and profiting from sex trafficking.
“Backpage is now the leading online facilitator of sex trafficking,” says Norma Ramos, Executive Director of CATW. Since August, 51 Attorneys General have called upon Backpage to cease its facilitation of sex trafficking. They have cited more than 50 cases across 22 U.S. states in the past three years that involve Backpage’s facilitation of sex trafficking.
“Backpage generates an estimated $2 million per month largely by functioning as a virtual red light district for pimps/traffickers and johns in the U.S. and at least 10 other countries. Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC displays a reckless disregard for human rights and could instead act to create a sex trafficking free Internet by no longer hosting prostitution ads through Backpage.”
It was ironic for me to be at the Voice headquarters last night, since I grew up reading the Voice during the decades it was the go-to paper for left-leaning, anti-corporate news and commentaries. You know, like OWS before there was an organized movement. Seems much has changed at The Voice.
Today, whenever people try to draw me into debates about how there’s no evidence proving sexual trafficking actually exists, and that it’s just moral panic hiding behind a false news front, I just walk away and write articles instead.
I’ve come to believe that either the naysayers utilize these sexual services themselves and feel defensive about it, or else they themselves work in that industry (or have friends who do) and want to persuade the public that the prostitution business is actually populated by workers who choose to be there.
Yes, some do, but it’s a small percentage, and why does that give us license to turn away from the large majority who have not chosen to be there? Because our choice to use or profit from these services supersedes the rights of the people forced to prostitute themselves? What does our complicity in this (and silence is complicity) say about the kind of society we want to call ourselves part of?
Anyone claiming that trafficking statistics are fabricated must not live in a city with a huge immigrant population, many of whom are here illegally. I’d go one further: New York City doesn’t have an immigrant population––it is an immigrant population, a colossal one at that.
That there are a few articles on a few websites attempting to show false claims about actual sex trafficking numbers, I don’t doubt. What is preposterous, though, is that the same people plastering those few links all over, also refute all evidence to the contrary, even when the reporting agencies enjoy rather sterling reputations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, The New York Times, and many others with solid fact-checking departments.
But today, more and more entire pages of the Village Voice are wallpapered with hundreds of tiny, thumb-nail sized ads featuring ‘sexy’ images. I sat down in a bookstore the other day and tried to count them but lost count after a few hundred. I was dizzy.
And I was only on page seven; it seems that every few months, there are more pages added. With the exception of a few Eastern-European girls being featured, all the rest are Asian and very young. A couple sitting next to my table was watching me and when they realized I’d stopped counting the ads, said, “And whoever said prostitution wasn’t legal here? It’s pretty sad….”
If you know officials at the top of law enforcement agencies here (and I do know a few) there is no debate amongst them about who these girls in the ads are and where they come from. The word “choice” doesn’t even enter into it our conversations.
So when I got news there was finally going to be a demonstration against the Voice, I was psyched to attend. But what inspired me most about the protest, besides the sheer number of people who braved the often-strong rains with umbrellas, candles and placards, was how many men participated- somewhere between one half to one third of the protesters were men.
And I’m not talking only about the “usual” young men one sees at various protests: young guys with goatees, grungy dreads, carrying a djambe drum or a tambourine, but also the many businessmen of every ethnicity and age group clearly coming straight from work.
I singled out one particularly well-heeled looking man in his early sixties, who would seem to be more at home on Park Avenue with a cognac and his New York Times in front of a fireplace than protesting downtown in the Village on a rainy night. I told him how it’s common to see so many more women at this kind of protest, and that I was encouraged to see so many men taking a stand against trafficking.
He thought for a moment and then said, “I’m out here for our daughters, too” before he rejoined the march. Wow, I thought. That’s how the world heals, one good man at a time. And women, too, of course.