Flesh. We are not against it at The Village Voice. Actually, we think it’s one of the best parts of being alive. But you’ll find less of it in this issue. That’s no accident.
As the new editor in chief of the paper, I was hoping to make this holiday note to you all about frankincense and gelt and the sweet baby Jesus. Instead, it’s about prostitution, human trafficking, and advertising. Not so festive. But long overdue.
As some of you may know, the Voice has gone through a significant transition in the past few months. In September, after a long and public drama over the paper’s ownership of the infamous Backpage.com—a clearinghouse for “adult advertising” that the Times‘ Nick Kristof and others called a front for human traffickers—the Village Voice Media leadership elected to break up the company. The founders of the chain, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, agreed to sell all 13 newspapers to a group of their executives and outside investors, who formed a new company, Voice Media Group. Larkin and Lacey ended their affiliation with the papers, taking the Backpage business with them. We wish them good luck with that.
For the editorial staff at the Voice, the departure of Backpage was a beautiful thing. While we are rabidly committed to the right of New Yorkers—or anyone—to advertise with us, we are just as committed to human rights and the rule of law. We believe that people have the right to control and use their bodies as they see fit; if what’s being advertised is not illegal, it is not our place to police it. But shortly after the breakup of the old company and the formation of the current one, one of our advertisers, Somad Enterprises, was busted by the NYPD. A “one-stop shopping vehicle for prostitution rings,” in the words of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (it even hired a search-engine-optimization specialist in the Philippines), Somad was also allegedly involved in human trafficking.
We don’t know if the trafficking charges against Somad are true, but if they are, then the safeguards we had established were not good enough. Because it is most certainly our place, and our duty, to refuse to be a party to what is altogether different from erotica or even consensual sex work. The Village Voice‘s editorial staff will take every step we can to ensure that no one uses our pages to profit from the physical or economic coercion, sexual or otherwise, of any human being. Similarly, and at no small cost to the bottom line of our young enterprise, our publishers are implementing stricter standards across the entire Voice Media Group chain, to make sure that our advertising is as ethical as possible.
Specifically, in our “adult” ad pages:
All direct advertisers must provide a government-issued ID proving that they are over the age of 18.
All agency advertisers must contract that every client in their ads is over the age of 18 and that all photos are of actual clients.
All advertisers must submit to us that they do not conduct illegal activity.
Any customer known to operate or engage in illegal activities will be blacklisted for life from doing business with us.
Headshots only in the adult ads
No suggestive language in the adult ads
Many of us here at the Voice wish these ads would just go away. And, in fact, they continue to migrate online, so that might happen soon enough. There is not much doubt that the new rules are going to make us less appealing to this kind of customer. That is a price we are willing to pay.