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Dallas – Smut Central

Dallas, TX|Village Voice Pimps|Add Comment
By: Tod Robberson, Dallas Morning News
Tod Robberson Pulitzer Prize Winner

Dallas turns out to be HQ for Backpage.com

I noted last week on the blog that the New York city council passed a resolution blasting Village Voice Media for it’s association and deep financial relationship with Backpage.com, which has been linked to gobs of smutty online ads that include sites that offer the prostitution services of teen sex slaves. The Dallas Observer is owned by Village Voice Media and posts tens of thousands of ads every day using Backpage.com. If you check them out, you’ll find no shortage of “massage” ads that leave little to the imagination of what they’re really selling.

I wondered aloud whether the Dallas City Council had any intention of taking a bold stand similar to that of the New York city council, or would it simply be business as usual here. An interested reader, William Hayes of VillageVoicePimps.com, emailed me to note that my business-as-usual remark was ironic because Backpage.com is actually based in Dallas. Backpage’s own website lists Dallas and Phoenix as its two headquarter cities. I called the corporate number and, in fact, it has a Dallas area code. The person who answered my call announced, “Backpage.com” as her greeting. I asked if her offices were in the Observer building, and she responded with “uh, yes.”

Gulp. So all that fuss in New York, and all of those columns by Nicholas Kristof complaining of those smutty ads on Backpage.com, and it turns out that Dallas is ground zero. We’re Smut Central.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude. The Dallas Observer is a great newspaper, and I love their blog. Heck, we like what they do so much, we hired away their online guru. The Observer has an edginess that definitely appeals to a different market from our newspaper. There’s room in this town for both. And God knows we need the journalism jobs both provide. The Observer’s edginess has lots to do with its much-looser code on language, it’s much bolder approach to sexual topics and, of course, it’s much, much, much looser standards on permissible advertising. That’s how the Observer, a free newspaper, pays its bills. We don’t allow massage parlor ads in this newspaper.

I don’t know, maybe some women like giving “stress-relieving” massages like the ones advertised by Backpage.com. Maybe some women like stripping in front of men. Maybe some women like being prostitutes. My guess is that most of them don’t like it and would much prefer some other line of work. When they were little girls, I don’t think that’s the life they dreamed of for themselves. And when they got into that line of work, I imagine it was a pretty icky experience for the first dozen or two-dozen times they did it. For lots of them, it’s probably still icky, and they would love to find an escape route to get as far away from it as possible.

For teen sex slaves, it’s a different issue altogether. Under the law, they are victims. The people victimizing them — including their pimps and the people advertising their illegal services — must be caught and prosecuted. Some teen sex slaves were lured into the business and cannot escape. Some were runaways. Some were victims of abuse at home. In fact, the Observer currently has a story profiling the life of a runaway who easily could have fallen into exactly this type of victimization. The teens are essentially being held against their will, which makes them tantamount to kidnapping victims. There are lots of stories about how Backpage.com adds to their victimization by giving over ad space to the pimps selling the services of these children.

I would urge our colleagues at The Observer and their sister publications to take a serious look at who funds their paychecks. Take a serious look at the innocent lives destroyed by these “massage” parlors and other prostitution sites. Is that really why you got into journalism? Have you ever sat down to calculate what portion of your paycheck comes from these ads?

I would urge the Dallas City Council also to take a serious look at what’s going on right under our noses here in Dallas. If Backpage.com’s services are offensive enough for the New York city council to take action against it, then certainly the Dallas City Council should cast a skeptical eye at it, considering that Dallas is Backpage’s headquarters.

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