In keeping with our coverage of the phenomenon of trafficking, I direct you to this article by Simon Houpt of the Globe and Mail. My title is both a pun on the immediacy and very urgent reality of trafficking in our society, and the way in which the media helps to foster this sleeping giant (now roused).

The pervasiveness of trafficking is only too evident throughout Houpt’s discussion, because as he astutely observes, even the “health & Fitness” section of New York Magazine is littered with ads for spas whose hours are outside of the normal spa customer’s regime.

Houpt’s article chronicle’s NOW’s fight to pressure the major New York magazines to eliminate their sex-industry ads–a difficult fight indeed given the millions of dollars in revenue such ads provide to the magazines.

Nonetheless, over the past months various publications have made promises to withdraw these ads:

The sex seems to be disappearing from the city.

Over the last few months, advertisements for what are euphemistically referred to as “adult services” have been vanishing from New York’s weekly newspapers and glossy magazines. In August, the alternative newsweekly New York Press announced it was dropping ads for escorts, models and “classy, sensual ladies.” And just three weeks ago, New York magazine marked the new year by eliminating the small but lucrative Adult category in its back-of-the-book Marketplace section.

The moves by both publications came after pressure from a local chapter of the National Organization of Women as part of a campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking. NOW says trafficking isn’t just an abstract event unfolding in some ruined paradise halfway around the globe. Citing a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice that JFK Airport is a major hub for trafficking, it notes that a number of brothels busted over the last couple of years in the city had been operating on the backs of illegal immigrants smuggled into the country and kept virtually enslaved. The ads, NOW insists, are an integral part of that illegal economy.

The organization’s efforts led Governor Eliot Spitzer to pass statewide anti-trafficking legislation in June, emboldening NOW to begin targeting publications around town. “We try to make them understand how [yanking the ads] doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” Sonia Ossorio, the president of NOW NYC, told me last week. “If you have high-end retailers like Tiffany’s, they don’t want to be next to Hot Asian Honeys.” NOW estimates the ads were worth about half a million dollars annually to New York, and perhaps twice that to The Village Voice.

New York was initially unmoved by NOW’s aesthetic and moral arguments, telling the Times in a statement: “If ever the authorities bring evidence of illegal activity behind any of our ads to our attention, we will take immediate action to remove the ad – and the advertiser – from our magazine permanently.” But in early November, two days before a threatened protest by NOW’s sign-wielding masses outside New York’s Madison Avenue offices, the magazine preemptively agreed to pull all such ads by Jan. 1.

Houpt further observes that perhaps the best places to start in the fight against trafficking via advertising are ethnic newspapers:

And if human trafficking is the target, the city’s ethnic newspapers might be a better place to start. One brothel busted in March, 2006, where dozens of Korean women were being kept, had been advertising in The World Journal, the largest Mandarin-language paper in the country. “We’re not able to monitor it as closely as we’d like,” admitted Ossorio. “We need to find people who can help us read it.”

Indeed, they do need help. Regardless of the fact that the sex industry does make some women money independent of exploitation and abuse (though I think this is debatable), rescuing those women who are trapped as objects of the sex trade requires that the entire industry come under attack since clearly the institution as it is does not define the boundaries between ‘object’ and objective… As Ossario observes: “I’m not trying to cause them any harm. But you can’t separate trafficking from the sex industry, because trafficking is a part of the sex industry.” Human trafficking is our reality and it should not be ignored…