Evanston store uses models to address Sex Traffficking of Village Voice's Backpage
Three battered-looking women sporting price tags sat in the window of Williams Next Door, 710 Church St., on Sunday in a campaign to end sex trafficking.
Volunteers from the campaign “Women To Go” asked passerbys to sign a petition directed at Village Voice Media’s Backpage.com. The petition, which is also online, asks Village Voice Media to suspend the “adult” section, one of the largest spots in the United States for the sex trafficking of females.
Project Coordinator Phyllis Nutkis said the addressed site is similar to Craigslist.
“It’s a classified advertising site, and it has an adult section,” Nutkis said. “But there’s a tremendous number of ads that look like they’re for individual women offering their services, but really most of those are placed by pimps.”
A previous petition against Craigslist resulted in the removal of its adult section and a 50% drop in online advertisements for trafficking, Nutkis said.
The event “Women to Go” was an expansion of a movement that social change organization, ATZUM-Justice Works, started in Israel.
Nutkis said ATZUM, run by her brother-in-law, is “tremendously effective” and has garnered “a tremendous amount of attention” for the issue.
The organization decided to export the project to other cities around the world, and Nutkis said because she lives in the Chicagoland area, she offered to be in charge.
Though she said obtaining signatures is crucial, Nutkis also emphasized the importance of raising public awareness for the issue.
“I think as more and more people become aware of this, that it’s more likely to put the pressure on not only websites like this but also to give more support to law enforcement efforts… to combat this sort of thing,” Nutkis said.
The models wore tattered clothes and created realistic-looking bruises to portray abused sex trafficking victims.
Model Sarah Rodein said she heard about the event from a friend, and decided to participate because it is a really important cause.
“It’s a little strange, with a price tag hanging on you and sitting in a store window as something for sale,” Rodein said. “I’ve seen videos of it done in other cities, but it’s a little different when you put it on yourself and sit there.”
Rodein said the window models caught the attentions of many people walking by. She said the display was meant to “shake you out a little” so people would listen and learn about the event.
“People don’t think about it in those terms as actually buying a person, but that’s exactly what sex trafficking is,” Rodein said.
Besides donating window space to the event, Williams Next Door also gave 10% of Sunday’s sales to the campaign.
Zoe Lembeck, an owner of the family-owned Williams Next Door, said her family was excited to get involved and learn about ways to fight human trafficking.
“We just wanted to be able to reach out to women all over, and this event was organized by women for women,” Lembeck said.
Michele Lazar, whose family owns Williams Next Door, explained the issue of sex trafficking to her granddaughter while looking at the models.
“I think it’s amazing,” Lazar said. “I didn’t know what to expect. It’s sad, you know, and it makes us realize we’re all together.”