By Aaron Blevins, 10/04/2012
Backpage.com is no longer a part of LA Weekly, as the publication has been sold and the new owner, Voice Media Group, opted not to keep the controversial classifieds website.
Backpage.com has been under fire for its postings of ads with underage girls who were human trafficking victims in its adult section, which advertises body rubs and massages. Representatives of FAIR Girls, which provides resources to victims of human trafficking, claimed that some of the women, though advertised as being 19 years old, were actually minors.
“Like everyone using the Internet for marketing, so are the pimps,” Andrea Powell, executive director of FAIR Girls, said at the time. “It’s easier to sell a girl hundreds and hundreds of times than to sell a drug once.”
With the sale of LA Weekly, which also included 12 other publications in other cities, Backpage.com will become its own company with separate ownership, according to a press release. The website had been owned by Village Voice Media.
Voice Media Group will no longer have any connection with Backpage.com, Scott Tobias, Voice Media Group CEO, said. He said the company would be better served focusing exclusively on journalism and providing information.
“Backpage was a distraction, but what ultimately spurred this decision was a realization that these are two businesses — one in news and entertainment and one focused exclusively in classifieds,” Tobias said, adding that LA Weekly stopped publishing Backpage.com ads in July. “We are both better served focusing on our separate missions.”
A story exposing the Backpage.com media practices and its association with LA Weekly was published in the Park Labrea News and Beverly Press on July 19.
Voice Media Group’s decision to distance itself from Backpage.com contrasts sharply with Village Voice Media’s defense of the classifieds website. The company had cited First Amendment rights is keeping the site operational.
In an interview in August, Village Voice Media attorney Liz McDougall acknowledged that minors were trafficked on the website, but said shutting the site down would push the online human trafficking market overseas.
“If we shut down … it’s not going to solve the problem,” she said at the time. “For many of these kids, it’s the only hope they have of rescue.”
FAIR Girls representatives suggested otherwise, citing studies that suggest the company made $27 million annually from body-rub and escort advertisements. McDougall denied that claim, but would not disclose further financial information.
“It would take a monster to decide to take profits on the backs of children,” she said. “Village Voice Media is not a monster.”
According to LA Weekly, Village Voice Media executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin will retain ownership of Backpage.com. According to the publication, both expressed their desire to fight for the website, adding that they “depart to devote our undivided attention to the defense of Backpage.”
FAIR Girls representatives could not be reached for further comment.