Alternative media in Houston takes on Village Voice Media over sex trafficking

HoustonPress

Free Press Houston Accuses Houston Press of Helping Sex Trafficking:

Houston, Texas has long been a trouble spot when it comes to human trafficking. Not helping that situation is Village Voice Media since they have their filthy tentacles in that market as well with The Houston Press. One media publisher however is taking the fight to VVM, The Houston Press and Backpage.

Omar Afra is the publisher of the alternative monthly Free Press Houston and he has come right out and accused The Houston Press of making the sex trafficking situation in Houston even worse.

“In Houston, you have the special instance where a lot of these sexually-oriented businesses are tied to the epidemic of human trafficking,” Afra said.

“The Houston Press, among others, features advertising for massage parlors and other sexually-oriented businesses that are built on the backs of women who are trafficked from Southeast Asia, Latin America and what not,” Afra said.

Like the other VVM publications The Houston Press takes a lot of advertising money from escort services and massage parlors which are nothing more than fronts for prostitution and human trafficking.

Of course this led to a response from VVM. Once again through their lead legal weasel Steve Suskin, aka Slimy McMouthpiece. Here is the statement in its entirety…

FULL STATEMENT FROM THE HOUSTON PRESS:

We respectfully disagree with the notion that taking down Internet pages will help to prevent these crimes. Backpage operates a legal business and complies with state and federal laws.

Those who call on Backpage to shutter its website and point to Craigslist, which took down its Adult Services section in 2010, ignore the voluminous adult content that still exists on Craigslist today. Even a cursory look at a recent edition of Craigslist, would show adult services ads have migrated to other sections of its pages and the trafficking problem persists on Craigslist. A search for recent media reports of trafficking crimes linked to Craigslist amply demonstrates that censorship simply will not work.

Taking down Backpage’s Adult Section, or the entire site for that matter, would have zero impact on the Internet trafficking problem. The ads would be posted elsewhere, most likely a site that allows anonymous posts and doesn’t cooperate with law enforcement.
Backpage Adult Services section is well monitored 24/7, nudity is prohibited in our ads, and ads are rejected and reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children if they are suggestive of an under aged person. Backpage posts are not free, nor do we allow posters to be completely anonymous like other sites. We charge $1.00 to post in personals because it holds users accountable and provides useful information for law enforcement.

“Backpage has been aggressively reviewing their ads and trying to remove those ads that are unlawful and suggest they involve the sale of kids for sex,” Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), told the Dayton Daily News on September 27, 2011.

Backpage has developed strong cooperative relationships with frontline state and federal police agencies.
“We can’t thank you and your staff enough for being so responsive and supportive of [our] and other law enforcement efforts concerning these cases. Your company’s level of cooperation is not the norm and makes a huge difference in our ability to target and ultimately arrest the offender,” reads one note from a law enforcement agency on August 29, 2011.

“Certainly, your staff did a great job! We appreciate Backpage’s vigilance to help protect kids. On our team over the weekend were the Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and several law enforcement agencies, and all commented on how effective

Backpage was on getting the ads removed quickly and blocking future ads from the same posters,” reads another note from a law enforcement agency, on September 23, 2011

Because of Backpage’s reports to law enforcement agency, efforts to traffic minors for sex on our site are detected, perpetrators are arrested, and minors are rescued. Our recent detection of a suspicious ad in the Seattle area resulted in the arrest of a suspect and the rescue of a 16-year-old victim within hours of its being reported. Virtually all arrests and indictments
of criminals who have misused our website were based, at least in part, on records Backpage provided to law enforcement in response to subpoenas.

Backpage has been outspoken in its support for efforts to stop such heinous crimes on the Internet by predators who misuse sites such as Facebook, My Space, Craigslist, Backpage and other classified and social networking sites.
We continue to invest millions of dollars in human, technological, and other resources to detect and report suspected child predators and to help law enforcement apprehend and prosecute them.

The Backpage classified service hosts 30 million posts and 100 million images annually in all categories and we do our best to provide a safe, legal environment for our customers to post classified ads. Yet, Backpage represents a tiny fraction of the classified ads posted on thousands of web sites every day.

But no amount of vigilance on our part – or cooperation with law enforcement – is perfect. This is something every responsible parent whose child confronts the temptations of the street and drugs understands. With tens of millions of classified ads under review in hundreds of cities, there is going to be a small percentage that involve human trafficking and that are impossible to detect and eliminate. But improving technologies for monitoring and moderating classified sites, not taking them down, is the effective solution.
Much more effective and viable solutions were called for last year in a groundbreaking report by the USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism.

Titled “Human Trafficking Online: The Role of Social Networking Sites and Online Classifieds,” the study concluded that new technology, such as social networking and classified ad sites, are not the root cause of online human trafficking. The USC report recommended leveraging these technologies to interdict the activities of criminals. That’s exactly what Backpage does.

We urge you to contact the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Mark Latonero at the Annenberg School, for more information. See attached.

The bottom line for us is that we address the problem of Internet trafficking with strategies that work to interdict the crimes, not useless strategies that, while they might make good news copy and political rhetoric, don’t rescue anyone.
Censorship will not create public safety nor rid the world of exploitation.

Steve Suskin
Legal Counsel
Village Voice Media

If you couldn’t stomach the whole statement, which I barely could, it’s just more of the same. VVM states that by taking money for ads that are obviously for prostitution and trafficking they’re doing the world a service. And again they give the argument that most 8-year-olds use by saying that since their friends are doing it, craigslist and other sites, that it’s ok for them to do it to.

They also break their own arm patting themselves on the back saying how cooperative they are with law enforcement and they do a great job of keeping kids from being trafficked on their site and in their publications which is entirely untrue. Hardly a day goes by in this website where I’m not talking about an underage girl who was turned out on backpage to be raped for money by the johns.

I’m beginning to think that the employees of VVM would turn out their own daughters for a buck if they thought they could get away with it.

Now if only mainstream media sources would be as bold as Free Press Houston in going after their ‘journalistic’ brethren.