Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pimps and the Platforms that Support Them

You may have heard bits and pieces of the debate between abolitionists like Ashton Kutcher and the folks at Backpage.com. Nicholas Kristof recently brought this debate to life in his op-ed piece detailing the story of a girl named “Baby Face,” a 13-year-old from Brooklyn trafficked on Backpage.com. In today’s technologically-saturated society, pimps and traffickers increasingly turn to the internet as a way to make money. In 2010 Craigslist decided to shut down their adult services section after public outcry over the incidents of trafficking on the website. However, Backpage has refused to take similar steps to curb sexual trafficking on their site. Mr. Kristof draws attention to the letter Backpage received last year from 48 attorneys general, petitioning for the shutdown of its adult services section. Sadly, Village Voice Media, the owners of Backpage.com, remain inactive.

Mr. Kristof suggests that Village Voice’s hesitancy stems from the financial interests the company has in the advertisements in this section. The letter from the attorneys general states “Backpage earns more than $22 million annually from prostitution advertising.” Nicholas Kristof provides an important reminder for those of us in the fight against the human slave trade: sex trafficking is not actually about sex, or power, or even men versus women. It is about money. If the sale of human beings were not profitable, slavery would cease to exist.

We commissioned our own op-ed piece on the Village Voice debate by inviting guest blogger, Rajdeep Paulus, to reflect on this issue.

“Whose Voice Really Matters?” by Rajdeep Paulus

When a medical study comes out to announce the benefits of red wine, liquor store sales naturally soar. When similar studies surface about how caffeine is good for you, Starbucks lines run outside their doors. And don’t even get me started about the anti-oxidants in dark chocolate.

Anytime a group conducts a survey or poll, the results no matter how they were achieved, sway the masses. Especially in a world when wrong and right has a decreased influence on how the average person makes their decisions. Justify is the new trend, and unfortunately, justice is more like her long lost twin who gets lost in the numbers.

When I taught eight grade several years back, I asked my students if they would cheat on a test to boost their grades if they knew they could get away with it. Next, would they use illegal drugs if they knew they wouldn’t get caught. Finally, I asked them if they would engage in premarital sex if they could guarantee the avoidance of a pregnancy. The responses were not as I had hoped. Every teen did not care so much or worry about the morality of the issue. Whether the decision broke any sort of law didn’t weigh in as important as the consequences. In each case, several students felt that in the end, the consequence determined their choice.

When a group like Village Voice decides to run a series of articles questioning the validity of the anti-trafficking statistics based on a study here and there that refutes the numbers, they show little concern for the fact that publishing this series downplays the truth of the atrocious realities of child trafficking and sexual slavery. It’s not a matter of right and wrong for Village Voice. It’s a simple choice of what makes the most money.

So in the end, like I’d ask the teens in my classroom, how do you want to be remembered? As one who did whatever lined the wallet with the oldest presidents or as one who stood up for the voiceless and chose right over wrong, even when it costs a shiny penny. Because the last I heard, you can’t take your silver dollars with you past the pearly gates.

Do you have thoughts on the Village Voice debate? We invite your comments on our blog!

- Amanda Chapman

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