Coming shortly after Craigslist’s decision to close its “Adult Services” section in the U.S., The Washington Post closed a chapter in its own history of advertising for brothels that have involved human trafficking and other violent crimes.
Although modern-day slavery in the U.S. takes many forms, my introduction to its existence was learning about sex trafficking in Asian-run massage parlors. I heard about the realities of what happens in these parlors directly from the women we’ve worked with. They described deception, manipulation, lies, an elaborate system of debts and fees, force and coercion into prostitution, control of their movement between brothels, not being allowed outside for weeks at a time, and an inability to refuse commercial sex demands from “johns” even if the women were sick or didn’t feel safe.
We started noticing that these were not isolated cases, but trends in national human trafficking operations reflected in the nation’s capital. The problem increased because mainstream newspapers like The Post were accepting ads for these sex businesses, thereby helping to attract more customers for the brothels.
Polaris Project first began to notice the volume of these sex ads in the Sports pages in the The Post dating back to our founding in 2002. It was a daily occurrence to pick up the Post in the morning and find over 30 massage parlor ads taking up a large section of the Sports pages.
In 2005, Polaris Project first met with the The Post and asked them to stop accepting paid advertisements from this criminal sex trafficking network. In 2006, their Ombudsman, the late Deborah Howell, criticized the The Post for the irony in reporting human trafficking cases in massage parlors that it was advertising within its sport section.
In August 2006, a major federal investigation called Operation Cold Comfort led to raids on five major Asian massage brothels in the DC area. While one section of The Post reported on the federal human trafficking raid, the Sports pages advertised for those sex trafficking locations the very same week.
In 2009, members of Congress made an appeal to The Post to join its peers like the The New York Times and Boston Globe in standard advertising policies. More than 3,400 readers on Change.org signed a petition The Post to stop accepting ads. Still, they continued.
This week, enough people have learned the truth, and The Post responded.
The Washington Post is to be applauded for taking this recent step. By declaring that it will no longer accept the advertisements, The Post is sending a clear message to the traffickers that the sex trafficking of women and children will not be tolerated.