The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) in partnership with Prostitution Research and Education (PRE) and InterVarsity's New York City Urban Project held a highly successful protest on Wednesday, June 20 – the hottest day of year! Held at the New York City office of Backpage (owned by Village Voice Media, LLC), the protest brought attention to the website’s facilitation of and profiting from sex trafficking. This action was ultimately co-sponsored by 117 leading national and international anti-trafficking organizations and prominent individuals including Demand Abolition, The Women's Media Center, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, Gloria Steinem, Alicia Keys, Ambassador Mark Lagon, Aaron Cohen, Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, Temple Committee Against Human Trafficking, Aboriginal Women's Action Network, Soroptimist International of the Americas, Geebo.com, and A Call to Men, among others.
In the extreme heat, 300 spirited protestors participated in the demonstration. Our posters featured a wide range of messages such as “Backpage Is A Candy Shop for Predators,” “Real Men Don’t Buy Sex,” and “Practice Corporate Responsibility.” Protesters signed an enormous postcard addressed to the CEO of Village Voice Media that read, “Dear Mr. Larkin: How does it feel to get rich from online pimping?”
We opened the protest with speeches from leading anti-trafficking activist survivors Stella Marr, Joy Friedman, and Danielle Douglas. Other speakers included: CATW Board Member Dorchen Leidholdt, NYC Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYC Council Member Brad Lander, Author and Activist Aaron Cohen, Nomi Network President Diana Mao, and InterVarsity's New York City Urban Project Director Jonathan Walton, who was a key organizer of this protest.
Consistent with our November protest, we provided 80 picketers with bright pink umbrellas, which created a stream of color and made our protest highly visible from blocks away. The umbrellas together with chants and posters enticed pedestrians to stop and ask questions, and some even opted to join in.
Continuing CATW’s history of combining art and activism, the protest included several creative elements. Our chanting picket line was set to the rhythm of three energetic drummers. Singer-songwriter Naja Rosa moved the crowd with her beautiful song “Mountain of Love.” The talented young women of Project Girl Performance Collective performed scenes from Trafficked, a powerful play about the struggles of young prostituted women. Project Girl then energized the crowd with a step dance dedicated to girl power!
The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation held a parallel demonstration in Pheonix, Arizona, where Backpage’s corporate headquarters are located. The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter held an additional action in Vancouver, Canada. We are grateful for their solidarity in making the protest a multi-state and international event.
Alicia Keys posted on Facebook and tweeted to her over 8 million twitter followers about our protest, helping us to raise the profile of CATW’s Global Campaign for a Sex Trafficking Free Internet. The protest received media coverage in various publications, including the New York Press (see http://nypress.com/does-backpage-com-help-or-hinder-sex-trafficking-protesters-outside-the-village-voice-disagree/) and NBC, which will feature footage in its special programming on human trafficking.
Pressure is unmistakably building against Backpage’s sex industry based activities, which appear to be expanding internationally.
Members of SWOP, a pro-sex industry organization, attempted to co-opt our action with their own demonstration in favor of Backpage’s prostitution advertising. Survivors Christine Stark, Stella Marr, Cherie Jimenez, Rebecca Mott, FreeIrishWoman, and Joy Friedman provided a powerfully written letter proclaiming their solidarity with the protest against Backpage and SWOP’s conflict of interest in protesting our action. Three hundred copies of this statement were distributed to protesters along with facts about Backpage’s facilitation of sex trafficking.
Following the protest, we held a celebratory gathering with several of the organizers, speakers, and protestors. We self-evaluated and discussed the next steps to continue to exert pressure on Village Voice Media.
Through this latest action, we brought our message to Village Voice’s doorstep, holding the company publically accountable for its online facilitation of sex trafficking. Supported by 117 leading anti-trafficking organizations and prominent individuals, we once again stood together against this multimillion dollar facilitator of sex trafficking. We will continue to press Backpage.com to remove ads that facilitate sex trafficking until we succeed. Thank you for standing with us.