CATW's Global Campaign for a Sex Trafficking Free Internet

CATW January 7, 2013

As part of CATW’s Global Campaign for a Sex Trafficking Free Internet, CATW held two successful protests at the New York City office of Backpage.com owned by Village Voice Media, LLC.

CATW in partnership with Prostitution Research and Education (PRE) held a very successful protest in front of the Village Voice building in New York City last Wednesday, November 16. The protest held at the New York City office of Backpage.com (owned by Village Voice Media) brought attention to Backpage’s facilitation of and profiting from sex trafficking. This protest was ultimately cosponsored by over 120 leading national and international anti-trafficking organizations and prominent individuals including Equality Now, Soroptimist International of the Americas, Apne Aap, Alicia Keys, Gloria Steinem, Aboriginal Women's Action Network, Breaking Free, Buglisi Dance Theatre, Ambassador Mark Lagon, Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, Temple Committee Against Human Trafficking, and A Call to Men, among others.
 
Continuing CATW’s history of combining art and activism, the protest included creative elements beginning with circle drumming from three drummers. Two singers, Aliza Hava and Abby Dobson performed at the protest. The protestors fell silent as 24 dancers from the Buglisi Dance Theatre, the official dance company of CATW, approached the protest site in unison. The dancers formed two lines dressed in all white, each holding a candle and brought moments of silence in recognition of victims of sex trafficking.
 
Undaunted by the rain, over 70 spirited protestors participated in the picket line.  Our posters contained messages that ranged from “Backpage.com is an online red light district for traffickers and pimps,” “I sold a girl and a bike on Backpage,” “Village Voice Media facilitates sex trafficking,” among others.  So as not to be hampered by the rain, we provided brightly colored umbrellas for the protesters which worked to create a stream of circulating color that made our protest highly visible from blocks away.  We also carried bells which we rang in unison with chants and the drumming.

Mid-protest we featured speeches by a number of leading anti-trafficking activists beginning with Cherie Jimenez from Kim’s Project, a survivor’s shelter.  Cherie spoke very personally about prostitution and sex trafficking, and thanked the protestors for their support in generating pressure on backpage to stop online trafficking.  Other speakers included: CATW Board Member Dorchen Leidholdt, Sonia Ossorio of NOW- NYC, Aaron Cohen author and activist, and Jonathan Walton of InterVarsity's New York City Urban Project performed his original poem “I’m Sorry Anna Nicole.”

The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, a co-sponsor of the protest, held an action in Pheonix (Backpage’s corporate headquarters). The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, a CATW partner, held an action in Vancouver.


Alicia Keys tweeted to her over 5 million twitter followers about our protest.  This generated press coverage about our action in online media and raised the profile of our Global Campaign for a Sex Trafficking Free Internet.  We did receive media coverage and Village Voice simultaneously blogged about the protest.  They were clearly uncomfortable with our presence.  Pressure is unmistakably building against their current business plan which increasingly includes sex industry based activities.

CATW held our second action in partnership with PRE and InterVarsity's New York City Urban Project held a highly successful protest on Wednesday, June 20 – the hottest day of year!  Held at the New York City office of Backpage (owned by Village Voice Media, LLC), the protest brought attention to the website’s facilitation of and profiting from sex trafficking. This action was ultimately co-sponsored by 117 leading national and international anti-trafficking organizations and prominent individuals including Demand Abolition, The Women's Media Center, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, Gloria Steinem, Alicia Keys, Ambassador Mark Lagon, Aaron Cohen, Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, Temple Committee Against Human Trafficking, Aboriginal Women's Action Network, Soroptimist International of the Americas, Geebo.com, and A Call to Men, among others.
 

In the extreme heat, 300 spirited protestors participated in the demonstration.  Our posters featured a wide range of messages such as “Backpage Is A Candy Shop for Predators,” “Real Men Don’t Buy Sex,” and “Practice Corporate Responsibility.”  Protesters signed an enormous postcard addressed to the CEO of Village Voice Media that read, “Dear Mr. Larkin:  How does it feel to get rich from online pimping?”


We opened the protest with speeches from leading anti-trafficking activist survivors Stella Marr, Joy Friedman, and Danielle Douglas.  Other speakers included: CATW Board Member Dorchen Leidholdt, NYC Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYC Council Member Brad Lander, Author and Activist Aaron Cohen, Nomi Network President Diana Mao, and InterVarsity's New York City Urban Project Director Jonathan Walton, who was a key organizer of this protest.  


Consistent with our November protest, we provided 80 picketers with bright pink umbrellas, which created a stream of color and made our protest highly visible from blocks away.  The umbrellas together with chants and posters enticed pedestrians to stop and ask questions, and some even opted to join in.  


Continuing CATW’s history of combining art and activism, the protest included several creative elements.  Our chanting picket line was set to the rhythm of three energetic drummers.  Singer-songwriter Naja Rosa moved the crowd with her beautiful song “Mountain of Love.”  The talented young women of Project Girl Performance Collective performed scenes from Trafficked, a powerful play about the struggles of young prostituted women.  Project Girl then energized the crowd with a step dance dedicated to girl power!  


The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation held a parallel demonstration in Pheonix, Arizona, where Backpage’s corporate headquarters are located.  The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter held an additional action in Vancouver, Canada.  We are grateful for their solidarity in making the protest a multi-state and international event.

Alicia Keys posted on Facebook and tweeted to her over 8 million twitter followers about our protest, helping us to raise the profile of CATW’s Global Campaign for a Sex Trafficking Free Internet.  The protest received media coverage in various publications, including the New York Press (see http://nypress.com/does-backpage-com-help-or-hinder-sex-trafficking-protesters-outside-the-village-voice-disagree/) and NBC, which will feature footage in its special programming on human trafficking.  


Pressure is unmistakably building against Backpage’s sex industry based activities, which appear to be expanding internationally.


CATW brought our message to Village Voice’s doorstep, holding the company publically accountable for its online facilitation of sex trafficking.  Supported by 117 leading anti-trafficking organizations and prominent individuals, we once again stood together against this multimillion dollar facilitator of sex trafficking.  We will continue to press Backpage.com to remove ads that facilitate sex trafficking until we succeed.  Thank you for standing with us.