"We agree with 51 Attorneys General. Girls and boys should not be sold for sex on Village Voice Media's Backpage.com," begins the open letter printed in today's New York Times—a letter written to the board of Directors at Village Voice Media on behalf of 36 prominent Christians, Catholics, Jews, evangelical Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Humanists and other moral and religious leaders, who all agree that protecting children from sex trafficking should be "a basic fact of the moral universe."
The clergy members—convened by Groundswell, the Auburn Theological Seminary’s social action initiative—also launched an online petition via Change.org to pressure VVM into shutting down its online escort ads. Their petition currently has over 11,000 signatories.
Their NYTimes letter continues:
As moral and religious leaders of many creeds and backgrounds, we are united in calling on your publication to shut down the Adult section of Backpage.com. We appreciate your efforts to put in place new measures attempting to screen for ads featuring minors. However, we do not believe that these measures are doing enough to adequately solve the problem, and we share the opinion of the nation’s 51 Attorneys General that the best way to eradicate your company’s connection with the sex trafficking of minors is to shut down the Adult section of your Web site, as Craigslist did.
This is the latest evolution of a fight that began four months ago in Seattle.
In July, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn publicly called on VVM to reform its escort ad policies to include in person age-verification (a tactic employed by The Stranger) after Seattle police officers linked 22 recent cases of underage sex trafficking linked to the VVM-owned Seattle Weekly's online personal ads platform on Backpage.com. When VVM refused, Washington AG Rob McKenna, along with 44 other AGs, took the request one step further—they sent a letter to VVM to "do the right thing," and shut down their escort ads altogether. Now, these clergy members are falling in step with the AGs' mode of thinking.
In an August 31 letter to Backpage.com, the National Association of Attorneys General stated that it has “tracked more than 50 instances, in 22 states over three years, of charges filed against those trafficking or attempting to traffic minors on Backpage.com.”