Phoenix protest targets child slavery, sex trafficking ads

Phoenix, AZ|Sex-Trafficking Minors|Add Comment
By: Kimberly Cheng, ABC15.com
Village Voice Media Picketed

Roughly two dozen protesters chanted and held signs outside the Phoenix New Times building  Wednesday, with a message to "stop sex trafficking and child slavery" ads. 

The group opposed advertisements that are run on a website owned by New Times' parent company, Village Voice Media.

Several organizations took part in the Phoenix protest, including Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, Well-Founded Hope, and Shared Hope International.

The protest targeted Backpage.com which hosts classified ads. 

Robert Benz, founder of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, says the site promotes escort and massage businesses that are a facade for underage sex trafficking.  Benz pointed out that there are people in these ads who appear to be minors.

Shaunie Hoskins, Executive Director of Well-Founded Hope, protested with her teen daughter.

"They are making millions," she said. Hoskins held up a sign that read "$22 Million" and told us, "something needs to be done."

The group said the goal was to raise awareness and to pressure Village Voice Media to stop servicing these ads.

On Backpage.com, there is an adult section under the Phoenix tab. Categories in this section include "Escorts" and "Body Rubs". 

There is a disclaimer attached, which reads: "I agree to report any illegal services or activities which violate the Terms of Use. I also agree to report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking to the appropriate authorities."

Linda Smith, Founder of Shared Hope International and a former congresswoman from Washington state, says she has seen several cases of minors sold in sex transactions online.  Smith says cases originate from ads on Backpage.

"You don't see them on street corners and you don't see what happens when they go to these hotel rooms," Smith told us. 

Backpage argued, in a lawsuit filed earlier this month against a law introduced in Washington, that online service providers are not responsible for the content of ads placed by third parties. Backpage also cited freedom of speech rights and has compared censorship of third party ads to an online provider, like Facebook, being responsible for user-generated content.

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