NEW YORK – The son of Norman Mailer joined a protest Thursday against the Village Voice, the New York City weekly his late father co-founded that’s now accused of running ads peddling underage prostitutes.
John Buffalo Mailer, 33, an actor and writer, marched with about 100 protesters from a park to the Voice’s East Village offices on Cooper Square. They want the weekly’s parent company to shut down its Backpage.com adult classified section, which they say includes ads linked to child sex-trafficking.
“This was once a progressive paper, a people’s paper, and to see it lose its credibility is heartbreaking,” Mailer told the Associated Press. “He would not have approved of this at all.”
Calls by the AP to the Voice for comment were not immediately returned. Phoenix-based Village Voice Media, which operates the paper, also did not respond. The company has defended the site, saying its staff screens the adult ads.
“It’s all about the money,” said the Rev. Galen Guengerich, senior pastor of Manhattan’s All Souls Unitarian church and once a “big fan” of the Voice.
He said the adult ads boost the finances of a publication that’s been struggling to survive. He said, “It’s ironic that at its beginning, the Voice did exactly what we’re doing today” – opposing corruption and social wrongdoing.
Protesters set up a pile of children’s sneakers.
“These are for the girl who should have been walking in these shoes, but isn’t,” said Guengerich, holding up a pair. “We hear the silent cries of those who have been used and discarded.”
The coalition of protesters – religious leaders, activists and politicians – delivered a petition signed by almost a quarter of a million people demanding Village Voice Media stop running the ads.
Opposition to them started last year. In August, a group of attorneys general from across the country wrote a letter to Backpage.com saying its efforts to curtail the ads had failed.
“While Backpage.com professes to have undertaken efforts to limit advertisements for prostitution on its website, particularly those soliciting sex with children, such efforts have proven ineffective,” the prosecutors said.
They said that over three years, they had tracked more than 50 instances, in 22 states, of charges filed against those trafficking or attempting to traffic minors on the site.
Several New York City Council members have introduced a resolution asking Village Voice Media to close down the adult section being used as a “platform to traffic minors for sex.”
Thursday’s rally was organized by Groundswell, the social action initiative of the New York-based Auburn Theological Seminary, which trains Presbyterian clergy.