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Washington Post Rejects Massage Prostitution Advertising

The Post, long criticized for running massage-parlor ads, has decided it will no longer accept them.

An internal note, e-mailed Tuesday to The Post’s advertising staff, said: “This is to let you know that The Washington Post will no longer accept advertisements for massage parlor businesses.”

The Post had been accepting the ads if the enterprises offeredproof of a valid business license from the jurisdiction where they were located. “If we learned that a specific business was not operating within the law, we would discontinue their advertising,” the note said.

But in examining that policy in recent years, it continued, “we have seen law enforcement identify a number of such businesses as being engaged in illegal activities. We have also been directed to postings on adult websites from customers of these businesses that refer to illegal activities taking place at these establishments.”

“It has become clear to us that our existing standards needed to evolve,” it added. “We have therefore decided not to accept such advertisements going forward.”

The note was written by Stuart C. McKeel, a top official in The Post’s advertising department. He referred questions about the new policy to Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti. If she has anything to add, I’ll update.

The Post often has been criticized by organizations and readers who have asserted that the massage parlors or “spas” in the ads are really thinly-veiled houses of prostitution.

In a blog last year, the head of the Washington-based Polaris Project, which combats international trafficking in women, wrote:

“Ever wonder where traffickers advertise their victims? Turns out it’s in one of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers –The Washington Post. Advertisements for massage parlors that are often front for brothels selling trafficked women are run in The Post every day, despite the fact that the publication has reported on human trafficking in massage parlors.”

It continued: “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 some typeof sexual violence or coercion from customers frequenting the brothels. All of them want to escape.”

The Post’s new policy was first disclosed Tuesday in the “Faster Forward” blog written by the paper’s consumer technology columnist, Rob Pegoraro. He was writing about the aftermath of the recent decision by Craigslist to no longer accept “adult services” advertisements on its popular classified-ad Web site following pressure from public officials.

The Post’s acceptance of the ads had also been criticized by my predecessor, Deborah Howell, who wrote about the issue in a 2006 ombudsman’scolumn. At the time, she noted that The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times had already decided not to accept massage parlor ads