Polaris Project: “The Washington Post: A Paper Pimp?”

The Polaris Project has kindly given us permission to reprint this April 3 article from their blog, The North Star. The Polaris Project combats slavery and human trafficking. Author Katherine Chon is the president of Polaris Project.

The Washington Post: A Paper Pimp? (Part One)

Last year, I spoke with Nomi Levenkron, an attorney with the Israel-based Hotline for Migrant Workers that produced a policy report
on “Paper Pimps.” The report, supported by the European Union,
presents research on the scope of sex trafficking in Israel and its
enabling support structure, namely the advertisers of commercial sex
operations, referred to as “paper pimps” for facilitating the
exploitation of victims of sex trafficking. It asserts the importance
of freedom of expression, but the need to balance it with values for
protecting other fundamental human rights.

During our conversation, I realized that I have come to know many
American “paper pimps” quite well in the last seven years of work in
the U.S. anti-trafficking movement. My first introduction was to one I
read every day: The Washington Post.

According to the men who post their literal sexual exploits online, The Washington Post
has been a primary source for them to visit Asian massage parlors,
commonly known as commercially-fronted brothels in the DC area. Most
recently, on March 16, one man wrote “Washington Post is posting ads
again” in response to another’s inquiry on where he can go to engage in
commercial sex during his upcoming trip to DC.

The advertisements may seem above suspicion to the average reader,
but they illustrate how the modern-day trade in humans is not as
underground of a criminal enterprise as many would suspect.

During my time at Polaris Project,
a non-governmental organization combating modern-day slavery, we have
worked with dozens of women from their 20’s to 50’s who have been
victims of human trafficking within brothels disguised as massage
parlors. Almost all of the Asian women we have worked with in the DC
area have been victimized in brothels that have been advertised in The Washington Post’s Sports section.

The women are often offered legitimate jobs, but then forced into
prostitution. Many are unable to leave the location and moved between
brothels by transporters within the trafficking network. There have
several who were threatened with gang violence, harm to family members
at home, and abduction of children if they tried to leave. Some women
were in debt bondage. Most had experienced some type of sexual violence
or coercion from customers frequenting the brothels. All desired to
escape their circumstances if they had adequate opportunities.

In February 2006, I visited two members of The Washington Post’s Advertisement
Department to inform them of what was happening within these massage
parlors. I asked them to reconsider advertising for these
commercially-fronted brothels that were involved in regional and
national sex trafficking networks.

Did these two men consider The Washington Post a “paper pimp?” Find out in Part 2 of this post next week.

See also:

Polaris Project: “The Washington Post: A Paper Pimp? (Part Two)”
In 2006, even the Ombudsman of The Washington Post, Deborah Howell, agreed that the paper should join The Los Angeles Times and its peers (The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Boston Globe), by not facilitating the sexual exploitation of women through these advertisements.

Investigates Human Trafficking and Prostitution in the US; Valley
Advocate Advertises “Foreign Fantasies” Where “Everything Goes”

While MSNBC is busy investigating the sex industry, the Valley Advocate
is busy making money from it. The Massage/Escort ads in the 1/10/08
edition below include an advertisement of “FOREIGN FANTASIES” where
“Everything Goes”…

Cincinnati: Coalition asks CityBeat to stop allowing promotion of prostitution through advertising

O Tempora, O Mores: “CityBeat’s Community Values” (6/22/08)
month ago there was a major prostitution raid in Cincinnati, southern
Indiana and northern Kentucky that shut down a number of Asian massage
parlors. These establishments were well advertised in CityBeat.

owners of the parlors/brothels were all of Asian descent. It was
determined by law enforcement the owners had brought young women into
the country for the sole purpose of prostitution. In an effort to give
the appearance of legality the owners stated they were merely receiving
100% of the money the ladies obtained for the legitimate massage and
any profiting by the women was up to those women. They further admitted
that was the only way the ladies were paid…

What really
bothers me is what touched off this debate. One of the indicted owners
of the Asian massage parlors admitted to the police that she had driven
40,000 miles this past year delivering girls to massage parlors
throughout the country…

These people are making a very large
amount of money by dealing in human trafficking aka slavery. If
CityBeat continues to run ads promoting this type of business, they are
turning a blind eye to a shameful problem.

Orlando Sentinel: “3 from Orlando Weekly’s staff charged with aiding prostitution” (10/20/07)
MBI Director Bill Lutz said the unusual arrests had nothing to do with the newspaper’s freedom of speech.

don’t see a First Amendment issue here,” Lutz said. “This is strictly
an advertising company making money off of prostitution.”

…MBI has made 80 prostitution arrests since 2003 connected to advertisers in the Weekly, the agency said…

“We’ve never called anyone dealing with these ads who was not providing prostitution services,” [Cmdr. Paul Zambouros] said.

Pasadena Weekly: “Lives for sale”
always a point of concern,” Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian told
the newspaper. “We follow up on them fairly regularly. I have always
been surprised that the [Pasadena] Weekly underwrites the exploitation
of women to some degree.”

…“Asian Lovers: Best Young Girls in
Town,” “Asian Girl: Pretty Apples,” “Grand Opening, Young Asian
Cuties,” read several ads that appeared recently in the Weekly…

Suriyopaf, an attorney with the Asian-American Defense League, said
that if an ad is suspicious, newspapers shouldn’t run it.

have a choice about whether to run certain ads,” said Suriyopaf. “If
they have any reason to believe that businesses are conducting illicit
activities, they have a social responsibility to report it to the
authorities or, at the very least, not run the business’

Another Victory for NOW-NYC: New York Magazine Drops Sex Ads
One would think that this would be exactly the kind of exploitation the
[Village] Voice would revel in exposing. But because the Voice is free, it
apparently needs the revenue brought in by, this week, 10 pages of
these ads.

And so its press release yammers on about how our
freedoms are “under attack by the Bush administration,” and makes NOW
sound like the Taliban, and finally trots out the same pathetic excuse
New York once made: “If there is evidence that any advertiser in our
pages engaged in…sex slavery…” Blah blah blah.

It’s hard to be part of the solution, when you’re part of the problem.

“Trade – A Film Brings Sex Trafficking Home”

The New Yorker: “The Countertraffickers”

Pornography Trains and Indoctrinates Prostitutes
a study of 475 people in prostitution (including women, men, and the
transgendered) from five countries (South Africa, Thailand, Turkey,
USA, and Zambia)…92% stated that they wanted to escape prostitution

Prostitution looks chic, but truth is ugly (Chicago Tribune, 4/27/08)
A comprehensive 2004 mortality study, funded by the National Institutes
of Health and conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows
that workplace homicide rates for women working in prostitution are 51
times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women (which is
working in a liquor store). The average age of death of the women
studied was 34.

Prostitution: Factsheet on Human Rights Violations (explicit language)

In one study, 75% of women in escort prostitution had attempted
suicide. Prostituted women comprised 15% of all completed suicides
reported by hospitals…