The son of the founder of a newspaper chain accused of facilitating child sex trafficking joined a campaign this week calling on the media company to shut down classified advertising for adult services.
John Buffalo Mailer said Village Voice Media has "lost its way" from the days when his father, Norman Mailer, co-founded the organization with Dan Wolfe and Ed Francher. Selling advertisements that have led to the abuse of children and teens is incongruent with the paper's initial mission, which is to "hold those who abuse power accountable for their actions."
"While I understand firsthand the financial difficulties facing all print publications today, the fact of the matter is that Village Voice is making money from selling advertisements that others have used to buy and sell minors for sex," he said in a statement. "For the sake of the Village Voice brand and for the sake of the legacy of a great publication, take down the adult section of Backpage.com, before the Village Voice must answer for yet another child who is abused and exploited because you did not do enough to prevent it."
Mailer joined 83,337 others who have signed a petition on Change.org demanding Village Voice Media remove the "adult" section of Backpage.com, where people sell everything from "body rubs" to "escorts." The petition is backed by the multifaith social action initiative Groundswell.
Over the course of the past three years, law enforcement officials have linked Backpage.com to more than 50 cases of child sex trafficking in 22 states. The Web site has also been connected to other criminal activity, including the murder of four Detroit women last month.
In August, America's 51 attorneys general sent a letter to Village Voice Media asking the company to act.
"While Backpage.com professes to have undertaken efforts to limit advertisements for prostitution on its website, particularly those soliciting sex with children, such efforts have proven ineffective," the letter read.
Like many American newspapers, Village Voice Media's chain of 13 weeklies has been struggling to find its footing in a changing media landscape, The New York Times reported. Revenue from Backpage.com, where people can also buy and sell anything from a toaster to a house, has been key to the organization's survival.
Michael Lacey, who runs Village Voice Media with Jim Larkin, told the New York Times the company has "a very libertarian approach to advertising."
"We don't ban cigarettes, we take adult advertising," he said. "We take ads that sell guns."
Websites like Backpage.com are not legally liable for posted content, he said.