A group protesting against what they call the ” Backpage.com’s Facilitation of Sex Trafficking” has gathered in numbers of about 50 outside our office. The group is made of a handful of organizations including The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Prostitution Research and Education, and others.
Intern Rebecca Nathanson, who’s downstairs, reports that the group has started a picket line, has drums, and are chanting. There are, according to Nathanson, at least two people protesting the protesters.
Robert Sietsema reports that it’s mainly “women in their 20s and men in their 50s.” They’re all carrying new pink umbrellas that say Apt. 5 (purchased from a nearby Duane Reade). “They massed to the north of the Village Voice offices and then started marching in a circle chanting ‘Village Voice, you have a choice, don’t sell girls who have no voice,'” he says.
Per a memo from Village Voice Media to staffers,
We expect the entire staff to respect the rights of everyone assembled.
At the same time we want our people to understand that not only do we disagree with the protestors, we believe their understanding of the issues to be built upon misinformation.
You should also understand that Village Voice Media is the industry leader in policing our site to keep underage kids out of adult classifieds.
In their announcement of the protest, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women stated that there have been 50 cases of trafficking identified by law enforcement in the last three years. What CATW neglected to mention is that in the period of time Backpage.com ran nearly 100 million classified ads, of which approximately 14 million were adult.
We can only hope that CATW will respect the First Amendment rights of the millions who use Backpage.com
In the interim, we ask that you, and all readers of Village Voice Media, support Senate Bill 596.
As an organization, the Voice has been pretty vocal about the issue. We’ve published three cover stories and several blog posts about it. You can find them below.
We’ll continue to update as things progress.
4:40 p.m.: Sietsema reports that speakers are beginning. Nathanson was handed a brochure from the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project stating that sex work does not equal trafficking and that “Shutting down Backpage.com is harmful towards sex workers.”
4:47: Sietsema says a speaker is “comparing exploitation of women to lynching.” He says a procession of 20 or so people dressed in head to toe white with their eyes covered with bandages have been carrying candles and marching to a drum. There have been four speakers so far, including Sunsara Taylor from Revolution. “If the pornography and the violence against women is the analogy to lynching, then Backpage is the auction block,” Taylor reportedly said.
5:01: Poet Jonathan Walton is reading: “So I step up a magazine stand and the bodies of women are for sale. And I think to myself, what’s worse: Burkas or bulimia?”
5:11: Victoria Bekiempis reports that Aaron Cohen of “Slave Hunters,” who spoke earlier, said, “It’s just the tip of the iceberg, we are talking about a monster that is wrapping its tentacles around women and children. The Holocaust was the big event of one generation. This is the Holocaust of another generation. It’s raining now. These are tears from God.”
5:40: Bekiempis says there are 50 people outside, according to cops, of whom there are three total, one in plainclothes. The protesters continue to chant, including “No more selling here. Village Voice, change your career.”
Bekiempis says the protesters are peaceful, with no complaints from cops. It’s continuing to rain slightly. They’re scheduled to stay until 7.
6:12: The group has died down to less than 30.
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