Polaris Project: “The Washington Post: A Paper Pimp? (Part Two)”

The Polaris Project has kindly given us permission to reprint this April 10 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 Two) [Click for Part One]

The Washington Post has been advertising massage parlor ads consistently for at least 15 years.  This advertisement for Hong Kong Spa appeared in the paper in 1994.  The Washington Post also published a news article that described Hong Kong Spa as a sex trafficking location.
The Washington Post has been advertising massage parlor ads
consistently for at least 15 years. This advertisement for Hong Kong
Spa appeared in the paper in 1994. The Washington Post also published a
news article that described Hong Kong Spa as a sex trafficking location.

In my previous post, I referred to a policy report on “Paper Pimps”,
describing advertisers for the commercial sex industry.  Paper pimps
are the enablers of the sexual slavery and exploitation that occurs
within the context of the broader industry. Brothels disguised as
massage parlors have been advertised in The Washington Post, which I learned through public postings online from the men who seek commercial sex, based on their reading of those advertisements in The Post.

During a meeting with representatives of The Washington Post’s
Advertising Department in 2005, they said that if they knew there was
illegal activity occurring in these “massage parlors,” they would take
the advertisements down. Did they know that journalists within The Washington Post have already reported on the illicit nature of these massage parlors advertised in their own paper?

Over the span of at least ten years, The Post reporters
have documented police investigations on massage parlors charged with
prostitution throughout the capital region, including Arlington County
(1995), Howard County (1996), Montgomery County (2001), Bethesda
(2003), the District of Columbia (2006), and many others in between. The advertisements of these locations usually come down temporarily
after reports of investigation, but often resurface weeks later
sometimes under a changed name at the same address.

Many of these advertised locations have also been investigated for human trafficking. In 1994, The Washington Post
reported that immigration officials, FBI, and DC police raided a
massage parlor in Dupont Circle and found two young teenage victims of
sex trafficking from Southeast Asia. More than ten years later in 2006, Allan Lengel of The Washington Post reported on the multi-state federal investigation of a sex trafficking ring run through numerous massage parlors along the East Coast, including the DC area. The DC massage parlor advertisements were taken out of the Sports section that day only to have some pop up again weeks later.

Our meeting with The Washington Post’s Advertising Department was unsuccessful.

I picked up today’s paper and saw that while there were only seven
advertisements for commercial sex-oriented massage parlors in the
Sports section, The Washington Post was still accepting such
ads. I attribute the decrease in overall ads (which was up to 35 at
one of its high points in 2002) mostly to the work of the DC Task Force on Human Trafficking and partly due to the general state of the economy.

I believe it is possible to maintain the constitutional right to
freedom of expression while also protecting the common good. 
Undoubtedly, the balance almost always comes with some type of cost. The Washington Post
was receiving over $2 million in ad revenue from illicit massage
parlors at a high point (based on estimates from November 1, 2002 to
November 10, 2003). Although The Post would not be foregoing
as much revenue today with the DC Task Force’s impact on local human
trafficking operations, it should still take a principled stand and not
accept the advertisements altogether. The Los Angeles Times took that step in 1998 when it stopped accepting “gentlemen’s club” advertisements. Jerry Bluestein,
Advertising Standards Coordinator, stated that advertisers “whose
principal business is to provide an overtly sexual service or
experience are unwelcome even in this poor economy.”

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.

Help end The Washington Post’s support for and advertising of brothels by letting them know that it is unacceptable and inexcusable. Click here to take action now and tell the Vice President of Advertising that they should stop advertising brothels immediately.

See also:

Polaris Project: “The Washington Post: A Paper Pimp?” (Part One)

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.

Escort Prostitution: A Response to Tom Vannah, Editor of the Valley

Mr. Vannah concedes that “there is some percentage of people who are
not willing participants in the sex industry”, but believes that if the
Advocate refuses to accept Massage/Escort ads, this will unacceptably
crimp “artistic freedom”. He mentions Mapplethorpe pictures as an
example. How dropping ads for commercial sex enterprises will
compel the Advocate to turn away Mapplethorpe pictures is not clear to

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