Why Shutting Down Sex Ads Fails Trafficking Victims

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is leading a campaign to shut down the adult section of the online ad network run by the Village Voice.

His charge, which is supported by many women’s organizations and religious groups, is that the Voice is providing a forum for sex trafficking and he has singled out juvenile victims.

Backpage.com, the Voice’s advertizing section, is known to have carried 50 such ads in the past three years.

Fighting back against the effort to shutter the adult section, critics say that it will do more harm than good as it will just drive child sex pimps elsewhere, as happened when Craigslist shut its adult section. They also point out that, with the Voice’s cooperation, the section provides the best tool for law enforcement to tackle the trade.

Sex worker activists also say that shuttering the section will make their work more dangerous.

They say that measures which could be taken to protect victims, as well as willing sex workers, are being ignored.

Writes Melissa Gira Grant in Alternet:

People involved in the sex trade, whether by choice, coercion or circumstance, all still face criminal records after a prostitution conviction – even people who have been trafficked. These convictions can prevent a former sex worker or trafficking survivor from obtaining future employment, housing or retaining custody of their children.

In some states, a prostitution conviction means that the women has to register alongside pedophiles as a sex offender, which can be stamped in block letters on their driver licenses.

New York and Illinois are the only states which allow trafficking survivors to vacate prostitution-related sentences, removing these convictions from their criminal records.

A 2009 study of Chicago girls in the sex trade, conducted by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, found that when girls sought out the support they needed – from drug treatment and foster care programs to hospitals and the police – they were denied help because of their involvement in the sex trade. Girls’ reports of abuse by police in the study outnumbered the stories of other forms of institutional violence that girls encountered.

A San Francisco and Washington study found prostitutes forced into sex by police. The Washington study also reported that police confiscated safer sex supplies, and strip-searched and assaulted people suspected of prostitution.

Says Gira Grant:

Censoring ads for prostitution does not end violence against people who sell or trade sex.

Activism against sex trafficking has also had terrible impacts on the fight against HIV/Aids.

A key victory for anti-sex trafficking organizations was the insertion of the anti-prostitution loyalty oath (APLO) into the US Leadership Act for HIV/Aids, TB, and malaria. This provision requires that organizations agree to oppose prostitution and sex trafficking. The APLO has the effect of disempowering sex worker organizations who refuse to sign on, shutting health services for sex workers, and alienating sex workers from public health programs.

Those involved with providing health services to sex workers have been accused of collusion in trafficking.

Critics both in the US and the UK have also questioned the numbers quoted by sex trafficking campaigners.

In the UK in 2009, an expose of the oft-quoted numbers of trafficked women by the Guardian newspaper found that they included willing workers or other miscellaneous women and figures published widely in the media and quoted by politicians had no evidential basis and were hugely exaggerated from even the highest academic guesses. It also reported that police figures of ‘rescues’ in the UK, themselves low numbers, were later strongly revised down as it became clear that most of those ‘rescued’ were willing sex workers and not coerced.

Research quoted by the Guardian by Dr. Nick Mai of London Metropolitan University concludes that, contrary to public perception, the majority of migrant sex workers have chosen prostitution as a source of “dignified living conditions and to increase their opportunities for a better future while dramatically improving the living conditions of their families in the country of origin.” After detailed interviews with 100 migrant sex workers in the UK, Mai found:

“For the majority, working in the sex industry was a way to avoid the exploitative working conditions they had met in their previous non-sexual jobs.”

Kristof is calling for a boycott of the Village Voice, there have been physical protests outside its offices and another petition website is hosting a large petition calling for the Voice’s adult ads sections closure.

Craigslist’s shutting down of its adult ads because of a campaign by Connecticut’s Attorney-General did not lead to any subsequent attention to the treatment of sex workers, trafficking, willing and not willing, by law enforcement and other agencies. Neither does it appear that those getting out the pitchforks and torches and marching on the Voice have much interest in what sex workers and their advocates say are their real issues either.

Related stories:

Sex Workers Deserve Dignity and Care

Kenyan Men Trafficked as Sex Slaves to Gulf States

China: Outrage as ‘Underage Prostitution’ Law Protects Child Rapists

Image screengrab from The Simpsons


Jill W.
Jill W.4 years ago

A key point is that on the sidelines the adult prostitutes themselves are not being listened to. They oppose laws against prostitution. But no one wants to listen to the prostitutes themselves. Only to the self appointed experts that make up numbers and stories many of which have never met a real forced sex slave or if they did it was only a few. The media and government never ask the prostitutes themselves what would help them in terms of laws.
Many women in the sex business are independent workers. They don’t have a pimp.
They work for themselves, advertise themselves, and keep all the money for themselves. No one forces them, because there isn’t anyone to force them. They go out and find their own customers, set their own prices, and arrange everything by themselves. Sometimes they may employ others to help them, but these are not pimps. If for example, she hires an internet web design company to make a website for her, does that make the web design company a pimp? If she pays a phone company for a phone to do business, does this make the phone company a pimp? If she puts an ad in the paper, does this make the editor a pimp? If she puts the money she makes into a bank account does this make the bank a pimp?
A lot of anti prostitution groups would say yes. Everyone and everybody is a pimp.
These groups make up lies, and false statistics that no one bothers to check. A big reason they do this is because it provides high paying jobs for them. They get big donati

Jill W.
Jill W.4 years ago

Sex trafficking is illegal and the penalties are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well. They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police. This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare. These criminals would be breaking dozens of major laws not just one. Kidnapping itself is a serious crime. There are many laws against sex trafficking, sex slavery, kidnapping, sex abuse, rape, sexual harassment etc. If someone is behind it, they will be breaking many serious laws, be in big trouble, and will go to jail for many

Jill W.
Jill W.4 years ago

The media will say that millions of people are sex slaves without doing any real research on the topic. Only taking the word of special interest anti-prostitution groups which need to generate money in the form of huge government grants from taxpayers, and charities. These "non profit" group's employees make huge salaries, therefore they need to lobby the government, and inflate and invent victims in order to get more money into their organizations. If you look into how many real kidnapped forced against their will sex slaves there are, and not just take the anti-prostitution groups word for it. You will be very surprised.

Where are all the forced sex slaves? I would like to meet the millions of slaves and see for myself if they were kidnapped and forced against their will.

These groups lobby the government in a big way, getting Politicians to truly believe their lies.

This is an attempt to over inflate an issue in order to get more government money to these organizations. As a tax payer, voter, and resident I don’t want the government to mislead me.

I would like to see a news organization do a full report on the lies, myths and exaggerated numbers being told about sex trafficking slaves. The articles about the super bowl sex slaves prostitutes, has been proved wrong many times, but news organizations still report about it, as if it were fact.

A key point is that on the sidelines the prostitutes themselves are not being listened to. They oppose laws aga

KS Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Sam Richardson

What a great article. It's sad that this guy, who obviously has no idea, would want to punish the women in such horrible situations.

It's really hard to read that sex trafficking victims have been denied help that they sought - how cruel to turn someone away, after they have suffered so much, when they can finally ask for help.

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

More blame the victim issues here. I dislike ads for sex period- adults or not. Somehow demeans everyone involved.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams5 years ago


Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 years ago


Heather Marvin
Heather Marvin5 years ago

Those wanting to get out of the sex trade should be given as much help as possible and even to start a new life. Many have been trapped into this trade but don't know how to get out of it nor how to make a new living. If they get out they shouldn't have sex trader etc stamped on their license. They should be allowed to have a complete fresh start.

Morgan Forrester
Past Member 5 years ago

I can see the view point on the above,however,not an easy call.....damned if you do,damned if you don't.....as not all are caught.