Monday, June 11, 2012
Jawin's letter to Schenkler
To The Editor (Queens Tribune):
Think global and act local! The issues of sex trafficking and domestic violence require this approach. My role, representing the Center for the Women of New York on this issue, has been mentioned in what has developed into a public discussion between two of our community newspapers, the Queens Tribune and the Queens Chronicle.
The topic of sex trafficking, prostitution and legislation on Violence Against Women has been featured in recent issues in the national press and by various coalitions of women’s groups working against domestic violence and sex trafficking. Nicholas Kristof, a feature writer of the New York Times writes frequently on this issue and in the April 1, 2012, issue states that the problem of sex trafficking has reached epidemic proportions and lists the internet site, Backpage.com, as a major source for advertising underage girls!
Our Center for the Women of New York has been working on the issue of domestic violence for many years and most recently highlighted the problem of sex trafficking at a NYC Hearing called by Councilwomen Julissa Ferreras, Chair of Women’s Issues. The Center also held a panel discussion at our general meeting at Queensborough Hall on Oct. 19, 2011, with representatives of women’s organizations and Mr. Ciminiello, the Chair of the Vice Squad of the Queens District Attorney.
Citing the presence of ads featuring “adult services,” which are thinly disguised ads for prostitution, the group decided to start a campaign at the local level, asking the publishers and editors of the English speaking community papers in Queens to sign a pledge to voluntarily agree not to accept ads promoting prostitution or were degrading to women.
Many of these women and girls are kidnapped, beaten and raped to secure obedience for sexual acts. Some of the women are lured from outside the country to promise of good paying work at hotels and their legitimate jobs. Many of the girls are from all around the country who are escaping violence and difficult conditions at home or have been kidnapped and brought here. The proximity of airports, Port Authority, and railroads make it a rich resource for predators to find innocent victims! The existence of Internet advertising and newspapers as the Village Voice and AM newspapers listing blatant ads for “adult services” feeds this ugly chain of supply and demand.
The problem is huge and our discussion focused on what local community groups could do to try to deal with it. A decision to focus locally on community newspapers was made and a campaign to start with English language Queens media was made. The straightforward request was made to all of the publishers and editors to voluntarily stop accepting the ads that featured adult services or were demeaning and degrade women.
The first publisher, Mark Weidler, of the Queens Chronicle, was the most cooperative and supportive and immediately agreed and promised to help with the goals of our project. The rest of the local media followed. One editor had not realized that his advertising section did contain two or three and immediately stopped accepting the ads. The only publisher who had the most blatant and prolific series of advertisements, often covering two pages in its back section was the Queens Tribune.
A delegation of the Coalition composed of myself, representing CWNY, John Tandana, president of the Queens chapter of the United Nations Association and Karen Siegel, Chair of the Zonta Club of Greater Queens, visited Michael Schenkler and his editorial staff. We explained the problem and requested his voluntary cooperation. He refused with the reasoning that he was concerned with the problem of protecting freedom of speech.
We countered his reasoning with the fact that the services advertised were illegal and he was not required by law to accept ads that were legal or otherwise. His paper was earning money as a result of the ads that the other publishers were sacrificing.
Mr. Schenkler was adamant about both his concern about eliminating sex trafficking and what he considered his responsibility to protect freedom of the press by taking the ads. He offered to give me space in his paper to write about the problem of violence against women and sex trafficking.
I regret to say that after writing an article (with the approval of the other two members of the committee), the editor refused to print it because he was disappointed with the content. Mr. Schenkler refuses to stop accepting the offensive ads!
The celebration of the Center’s 25th anniversary on April 28, 2012, has unexpectedly brought the issue into focus. The Center has invited as its honorees two public officials, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Assemblywoman Grace Meng because of their concern and repeated positions of women’s rights and against violence against women. The sudden vacancy of a congressional seat in the new 6th Assembly District produced two honorees who became candidates for the same seat! But the issue which became explosive was an attack on me by an anonymous writer for honoring one of the candidates, Grace Meng, who was using the publishing company of the Queens Tribune in her campaign and therefore subsidizing sex trafficking. By associating this unexpected coincidence, the writer accused me of lending my support for sex trafficking!
Although I believed the writer’s logic was flawed, I did contact Grace Meng who, to her credit, had a meeting with Michael Schenkler.
I am writing this article because I believe that the result was a poor response by the Queens Tribune. As a legislator, Grace Meng promised to try to get legislation passed to license massage parlors and escort services so that the publishing of such services would be illegal. Mr. Schenkler thinks that is an ideal solution and suggests that the center and similar organizations should work very hard to get this passed. According to his reasoning, he doesn’t violate free speech by taking these ads. Meantime he can continue to make money and publish all the ads he wants!
First of all, I liken this solution to many difficult problems in Congress when they appoint a committee to study a problem and then forget about it!
Second of all, Grace Meng and other women legislators have had press conferences trying to prevent the national Violence Against Women Law to get continued without removing some of the guarantees for immigrant women that already exist. While we are in favor of a New York State law with guarantees for immigrant women, the passage of such laws take a very long time and the abuse of women is happening daily and right in our own neighborhoods!
The third reason we are disappointed with this meeting is that Michael Schenkler refuses to take any responsibility for his practices. He gives everyone else the job of solving the problem.
He refuses to be part of the solution. A new law will not prevent his ads from promoting “Hot Asian Kisses,” or “sweet Asian girls @$50.00 per hour.” They don’t even mention massages! These are all obvious ads for sex without mentioning the word “sex.” In the words of a famous Supreme Court decision about obscenity, “you know it when you see it.”
All we ask you to do, Michael Schenkler, is to think about your community and the lives of these young girls and women and stop taking the money and printing the ads. Live up to the standards of our most prestigious newspaper in our country, the New York Times and their motto, “All the News that Fit to Print!”
Founder, Center For the Women of New York, Kew Gardens