Clergy vs. Backpage has stepped clearly into the public eye with yesterday’s full page ad in the print version of The New York Times. The advertisement, paid for by a new coalition of 36 multifaith religious leaders, called on Backpage owner Village Voice Media to stop accepting adult services ads. The group of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Humanists and other denomination clergy published their concern that numerous cases of child sex-trafficking have been linked to Backpage.com by law enforcement in 14 states. The ad also published the original letter the religious leaders had sent to Village Voice back in August.
Backpage, however, complained post-ad that the letter was modified before publication, leaving out the fact that Backpage was not only willing to meet with the clergy but also offered to fund their trip. The snafu for the get together was that the coalition wanted to send four representatives only. Backpage wanted to meet with them all. The clergy were unwilling to accept money from Village Voice for their transportation, given the source of the funds – Backpage erotic listings.
“We certainly aren’t going to take money from Village Voice Media when they are marking that money from this Backpage site,” Reverend Katherine Henderson told The Daily Beast. “But our doors are still open.” Henderson is president of New York City’s Auburn Theological Seminary, the religious school whose letterhead was used for the original letter to Backpage.
It took just a few hours for Village Voice Media to respond to the Times ad, accusing the clergy of refusing to meet, and saying, “Neither government officials nor God’s advocates can dictate such arbitrary control of business or speech.” Additionally, Backpage made the point that “If someone is caught shipping contraband through the Post Office, we do not shut down the U.S. mail.”
The Daily Beast pointed out in its extensive coverage that the fight to end Backpage erotic services ads might be more difficult than the battle waged to end Craigslist adult ads.
“For Craigslist, this was an issue of conscience,” The Rebecca Project for Human Rights executive director Malika Saada Saar told The Daily Beast. “But for the Village Voice, the Backpage listings are almost their sole opportunity for economic viability. It is their business model. I think they will aggressively, belligerently, selfishly hold onto this.” (Here’s AIM Group coverage of Backpage erotic services revenue.)
Backpage closed its public response with an insistence that it is committed to the public good.
“Backpage.com is a digital classified site with an adult component that is attempting to be part of the solution,” read the Village Voice Media message. “ And we remain open to the possibility of conversation with these religious leaders.”
Here’s more from AIM Group on the battle.