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Trevor Neilson Headshot

Child Sex, Money and Village Voice Media

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It's often said that the best defense is a good offense, and in the case of Village Voice Media their attack on Ashton Kutcher was a preemptive strike aimed at changing the topic.

A bit of background...

When the online classified ads provider Craiglist closed the adult services section of its website last fall, it left a lot of money on the table -- approximately $36 million. According to AIM, which tracks online revenue, Village Voice Media was the single biggest beneficiary of Craigslist closing this section of the website.

According to AIM:

  • Villiage Voice saw an immediate jump in sex ads of 15.3 percent.
  • Village Voice saw their revenue from these ads increase to $1,671,685 or over $20 million a year

Times are tough in the media business, and no doubt the corporate leaders at Village Voice decided that this was money that they needed.

So they went on the attack, and their papers around the country (like the Seattle Weekly in my hometown) followed suit.

Their attack went something like this...

  1. Child prostitution isn't as bad as Ashton Kutcher says it is.
  2. The research that people who oppose child prostitution are using is flawed.
  3. The Village Voice and its papers have always run prostitution ads

What the Village Voice probably didn't realize was that people like Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle Police Department had already been watching what Village Voice Media was doing through its paper in Seattle, the Seattle Weekly and websites like this.

McGinn sent the Village Voice a letter saying that its classified ads section was an "accelerant" of child prostitution in the city.

Then, the Seattle Police revealed that at least four children had been sold for sex through the Seattle Weekly in the past year.

At that point, the PR team at the Village Voice-owned Seattle Weekly, led by Caleb Hannan went in to overdrive, writing a series of wild columns attacking me, Ashton, Mayor McGinn and anyone else who threatened their corporate profits.

The theory must have been that if they attacked those who were critical of their sale of the sex ads, everyone would go away.

Instead, their advertisers began to go away.

First, American Airlines announced that it was withdrawing all ads from Village Voice Media Publications.

Then, the city of Seattle announced that is was withdrawing all ads from their Seattle paper, the Seattle Weekly.

Smaller advertisers like Sterling Savings Bank also decided they would no longer advertise with the Seattle Weekly, making the logical choice to not sell ads in a paper accused of helping those selling children for sex.

Now the major newspaper in Seattle, the Seattle Times has weighed in, pounding the Seattle Weekly saying "Four local cases of child prostitution have been linked to ads on the website. Seattle police were able to track the 17-year-old victim of Anthony "Mack" Terry, one of the first in King County to face enhanced penalties for pimping out a minor, through multiple ads on backpage.com. And a lawsuit brought by a 15-year-old victim last year alleges ads on backpage.com contributed to her exploitation."

And another columnist in Seattle went even further, saying the Seattle Weekly and Village Voice's "preoccupation of late with the precise number of victims of sex trafficking has less to do with accuracy and more to do with trying to distance itself from the seamy underworld of underage prostitution."

The Village Voice likely thought they could protect their profits by going on offense and changing the subject -- but their attack backfired, and for papers like the Seattle Weekly their attack could become a fatal, self-inflicted wound.

To be clear, the goal is not to harm the Village Voice -- a paper once associated with some of the bravest journalism in America. In fact, I have personally admired the Village Voice's past commitment to journalistic principles.

The goal is also not to stop adults from selling ads.

The goal is simply to stop children from being sold for sex.

Today I received a voicemail from Village Voice Media CEO Jim Larkin saying he wanted to talk. He has a track record that suggests he is a smart, serious person who certainly cares about issues like these. I will let you know what happens next.