Religious leaders: sex ads must go

I live in Carlisle and work at the YDR in Manchester Township. That means a 28-mile commute that generally takes 45 minutes.

By nature, I am a pragmatic person, a trait my girlfriend has grudgingly come to accept. As such, I use the travel time to devour news. On Sunday (yes, the religion reporter works Sundays), I was intrigued by an interview Bob Garfield of NPR’s “On The Media” conducted with the Rev. Katharine Henderson about the clergy-backed campaign to shut down www.backpage.com.

Owned by Village Voice Media, the website is under fire for accepting “adult” ads that are sometimes used for trafficking minors. Last week, a group of interdenominational clergy took out an ad in The New York Times asking Village Voice Media to shut down the adult section of the site.

Similar ads were previously scrubbed from Craigslist after a religious-backed campaign. Fast forward to today, and I come to work to find an email from Groundswell, the social action initiative of Auburn Theological Seminary. This group has a petition up on change.com with over 66,000 signatures asking Village Voice Media to remove the adult ads.

“I am an atheist, and I have a very well developed moral sense, and by almost anyone’s definition this is immoral,” said Jim Greenamyer of Arlington, Virginia, when asked why he was supporting an interfaith clergy coalition’s campaign on Change.org to stop sex trafficking on Backpage.com. “I am offended and dismayed that the Village Voice, a paper of which I previously had a high opinion, has declined to this extent.”

Village Voice Media did speak to the New York Times for its article, but has remained fairly silent since. The company did not speak to NPR. Nonetheless, Garfield presented an interesting counterargument: if VVM buckles and refuses adult ads, where will they go?

Let’s be pragmatic here, sex is a billion-dollar industry and those online ads are going to show up somewhere else. Playing devil’s advocate, Garfield wondered if that someplace else might not be as judicious and self-regulated as VVM claims to be.

Furthermore, can VVM be held any more culpable for the contents (and outcome) of an advertisement than a phone company is for a threatening phone call? Isn’t VVM just a conduit?

I found the discussion very interesting and the Rev. Henderson made strong points. The clergy must be concerned with fighting sex trafficking however it happens, she said, adding that abuses went down significantly when Craigslist’s adult ads were shut down.

What do you think?

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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