Today 36 clergy affixed their names to a paid ad and open letter to Riverfront Times' parent company Village Voice Media and the classified ad site Backpage.com. The full-page ad was published in the New York Times.
The religious coalition demanded that we close down our legal, adult classifieds.
Neither government officials nor God's advocates can dictate such arbitrary control of business or speech.
In August this same religious coalition asked for a confidential meeting regarding Backpage.com. We readily agreed. As we prepared to share our information, we were informed that only four members of the coalition would attend.
Village Voice Media then offered to fly, at our expense, all members of the clerical delegation to New York for the conference.
Backpage.com has extensive working relationships with law enforcement, from the FBI to local police. This is part of a concerted effort to protect underage kids from predators. We looked forward to sharing this data.
In response to our willingness to confer, the clergy used a public relations firm in Washington to reprint in the New York Times a modified copy of the letter the clergy sent to Village Voice Media in August. The version that was printed today had been altered, and left out the coalition's request for a private dialogue aimed at solutions, as well as Backpage.com's acceptance of the request and offer to fund air travel for all interested clergy.
Backpage has spent millions of dollars and dedicated countless resources to protecting children from those who would misuse an adult site.
Much of this information is publicly available. For example, the Dayton Daily News reported last month that:
"To its credit, Backpage this year took major steps to police its ads to help curb sex trafficking," said [Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C.]. "Backpage has been aggressively reviewing their ads and trying to remove those ads that are unlawful and suggest they involve the sale of kids for sex," Allen said. "Backpage has reported to us 1,600 ads that they believe are suspicious." Allen said Backpage management appears to be genuinely committed to helping stop sex trafficking."
It is true that, in carrying out their crimes, criminals continue to utilize services such as cell phones by Verizon and AT&T, and overnight-delivery services such as FedEx and numerous Internet sites. But that does not shift the blame from criminal predators to legal business operators.
If someone is caught shipping contraband through the post office, we do not shut down the U.S. mail.
Complicated issues require sophisticated solutions, not PR flurries.
Adult advertising, as found on Craigslist, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Yellowpages.com and numerous other websites is complicated by those who seek to exploit this technology.
And the issues surrounding the exploitation of children are equally complex, often involving homelessness, drugs and abuse at home.
Backpage.com is a digital classified site with an adult component that is attempting to be part of the solution. And we remain open to the possibility of conversation with these religious leaders.
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