Sunday, April 12, 2009

Trafficking Victims for Sale in The Washington Post?

*Image from NY Times

Would you be shocked to learn that the Washington Post contributes to human trafficking in the DC area? As a DC resident and a Post reader I was sorely disappointed to realize that the venerable Washington Post, one of the nation’s most well-respected papers, still accepts ads for “massage parlors.” This is not a new issue; in August of 2006 the Washington Post’s then-Ombudsman Deborah Howell declared that it was “time to drop the massage parlor ads,” noting that “men don’t go there for backrubs.”

Katherine Chon, co-founder of the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking NGO based in Washington, DC, raised the issue of massage parlor ads in the Washington Post in a great blog on April 9th for’s End Human Trafficking blog. Chon points out that the Washington Post continues to accept advertisements from massage parlors even though they have reported on the human trafficking that takes place in these quasi-legal establishments.

According to Chon, …The Washington Post has been a primary source for them to visit massage parlors and spas in the DC area. Most recently, on March 16, one man wrote "Washington Post is posting ads again" in response to another john's question about where to find commercial sex in DC.

During my tenure at Polaris Project, a non-governmental organization combating modern-day slavery, we've worked with dozens of women who've been victims of human trafficking within brothels disguised as massage parlors. Almost all of the women from commercially-fronted brothels we've worked with in the DC area have been victimized in locations that have been advertised in The Washington Post's Sports section.

These women are often offered legitimate jobs, but then forced into prostitution. Many are unable to leave the brothel. Several are threatened with gang violence and others are threatened with harm to family members if they tried to leave. Some women are in debt bondage, and most have experienced some type of sexual violence or coercion from customers frequenting the brothels. All of them want to escape.

In early 2006, representatives of The Washington Post's Advertising Department said that if they knew there was illegal activity occurring in these "massage parlors," they would take the advertisements down. Did they not know that their own journalists had reported on human trafficking in several massage parlors advertised in their paper?

I picked up yesterday's paper and saw that while there were only six advertisements for commercial sex-oriented parlors and spas in the Sports section, The Washington Post was still accepting such ads. I attribute the decrease in overall ads (which was up to 35 at one of its high points in 2002) mostly to the work of the DC Task Force on Human Trafficking and the general state of the economy.

Mary Ann Werner, vice president and counsel for The Post in 2006, claimed that employees review ads for “matters of taste.” Despite this “stringent” policy, The Post has not taken steps to ban these ads since the issue was first raised in August of 2006. The Post does accept ads for escort services since they claim these can be “fronts for prostitution.” Why not apply this policy to ads for massage parlors which can be fronts not only for prostitution but also human trafficking?

Other comparable papers, such as the LA Times, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Chicago Tribune have long refused to run ads for massage parlors. I have not yet seen a response from The Post so it is unclear how this situation will be resolved. For now, I highly recommend signing The Polaris Project’s petition to tell the Washington Post to stop supporting brothels. As for me, I think I will be purchasing the New York Times for the foreseeable future.


  1. Cheikh.Ra8:27 PM

    Shame on the Wash Post, time to put the press on them, no pun intended!

  2. Well, I don't see anything wrong about posting ads with regards to escort services since not all escort service agencies leads to prostitution. Escort service agencies offers companionship, it just depends on the customer if they want to go more than just social interaction.

  3. believes that prostitution should be legalized so that it can increase revenue by taxing the commercial sex industry and, also, for the overall "benefit of society.