Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Hard Fought Victory

In 2007, a landmark Human Trafficking trial was held in the Hartford, Connecticut Federal Court. In the testimony of that trial the Hartford Advocate, a local newspaper that is typical of alternative weeklies across America, was mentioned over 70 times. Why? Because Dennis Paris, the defendant in the trial, used the newspaper as his sole channel for advertising his victims in what he claimed was an "Escort" service. One of his “escort” was 16 years old, another just 14. Read more about this case and the Hartford Advocate’s involvement in this Vanity Fair Magazine article or in my book, “The Berlin Turnpike: A True Story of Human Trafficking in America.”

Yet, even though the Department of Justice proved these ads were used to promote human trafficking, the Hartford Advocate continued to run these weekly "escort" advertisements in print, online, and even on their own Facebook Page. For years, the Hartford Advocate, owned by The Hartford Courant, "the nation's oldest continually running newspaper," which is owned by the mammoth Tribune Company, made money from this suffering every week.

In 2010, several of my colleagues and I began a campaign to force the Advocate to remove these ads. Along with my book, these efforts included articles, news reports, radio and television interviews, public awareness events, and successfully writing and passing legislation in Connecticut.

After thousands of hours of work and people calling for the Advocate to remove these abusive ads, they continued to be published five years after they were proven by Federal Prosecutors to be complicit in human trafficking crimes.

Then, on Friday, November 2, 2012 I was informed the ads were being pulled by the paper. After requesting clarification, I was sent this email by, Communications Manager Jennifer T. Humes, “For more than a year, we have been in the process of re-positioning the Advocate Weekly newspapers - which includes the Hartford Advocate, the New Haven Advocate and the Fairfield Weekly – moving them from an “alternative” publication and to a go-to ‘entertainment’ resource. The most recent step in that process was the decision to no longer publish classified advertising which consists of massage/escort and adult spa ads. In order to remain relevant to our readers, the Advocate Weekly newspapers will continually evolve to meet the changing interests of those we serve.”

One advertising account representative at the company told me she was informed of the decision this way, “They told me they were cleaning up the back pages of the Advocate.”

Indeed, they are. Five years after the trial of Dennis Paris concluded that these ads were promoting slavery, the Advocate has finally cleaned house by removing the ads.

As this one newspaper takes up the courage to stop running these ads, then other publications and websites should be highly motivated to do the right thing and end them as well.

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