Senators Urge Village Voice to Shut Backpage.com Site Linked to Sex Trafficking

The newspaper group, which is in the process of separating itself from Backpage, says it has nothing to do with the controversial classifieds site anymore

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators urged Village Voice Media shut down the adult entertainment section of Backpage.com, the advertising site criticized for its links to child sex trafficking.

David Shankbone / Wikimedia CommonsIn a public letter released Friday, the senators urged CEO Scott Tobias to close the site  ahead of the newspaper group's planned split from the controversial classifieds division.

Backpage first ignited controversy in September 2011, after a group of 51 attorneys general urged the site to follow Craigslist's lead and shutter the "adult entertainment" vertical.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof  wrote a series of stories in March of this year highlighting pimps' use of the site to peddle young prostitutes to clients, prompting protests outside the Voice's historic offices in Manhattan's Cooper Square.

As the public outcry continued into April, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Illinois' Mark Kirk and Richard Durbin, Florida's Marco Rubio and John Cornyn of Texas appealed to the Voice to heed earlier calls for the site to be shuttered.

On Friday, they penned a second letter.

"Any action short of shutting down Backpage's 'adult entertainment' section will only proliferate the exploitation of children," the same group of politicians wrote in the letter, addressed to CEO Scott Tobias. "We insist that you take the steps necessary to terminate the prostitution advertising on Backpage."

Also read: Village Voice, Other Alt-Weeklies Sold

Tobias, a 19-year veteran sales executive at the company, was named CEO of Voice Media Group last month, after Phoenix-based Village Voice Media sold its stable of 13 alternative weeklies to a newly formed company. That deal is expected to close in January, 2013.

In a statement responding to Friday's letter, Tobias denied any current affiliation with the site.

"I and the executive management team at Voice Media Group have no affiliation with Backpage.com and do not have any legal authority to make any changes to another entity's business practices or to exert any control over its operations," he said, adding that the "legitimate separation" of the media business from Backpage preserves his newspapers' editorial integrity.