NOW: No more "massage" ads

Activists attempt to shut down amNewYork's "Feeling and Looking Good" ads.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published October 4, 2008 7:32AM (EDT)

We've all flipped to the back of a local alt weekly and read through the massage parlor advertisements featuring young Asian women alongside testimonials to their love for "sensual therapy" and "refreshing facials," and thought: "Yeah, therapy" or "Uh-huh, facials." But, as women's advocates have taken issue with the ads in recent years, listings for illegal massage parlors and escorts have begun to vanish. As the New York Times' City Blog reports, the Village Voice is one of the few local publications that continue to run the ads -- but, recently, these listings have swelled in the free daily amNewYork.

Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW's New York chapter, told the Times: "It's like trying to keep frogs in a bucket." Ossorio sat down with amNewYork's publisher, Terry Jimenez, in hopes of discontinuing the paper's ad section "Feeling and Looking Good," which features "pictures of Asian women with various promises of shiatsu, body scrub and facials," according to the Times. But Ossorio says that amNewYork only publishes advertisements for legitimate businesses. "We've been very conscious that we don't accept advertising for strip clubs or any prostitution, whether or not we believe it to be direct or not direct." When the Times asked how he determines which massage parlors offer legal physical therapy, he said: "We visit."

That's, um, kind of hilarious when you read on only to discover that the Times did a search of phone numbers listed in amNewYork's massage listings and found that one number turned up several times on Craigslist under "erotic services" and featured "photos of scantily clad Asian women with proclamations like 'This babe has no hangups about man pleasing' and 'Asian Hottie Alert.'" Another number was linked to a Web site that dubbed itself "a guide to adult entertainment" and included a man's review of the sexual services he received from a Korean masseuse. Also, some of the parlors list cross-streets rather than actual addresses. Sketchy.

I don't like these unsexy and racially offensive ads, and I understand why advocates campaign against publications supporting businesses that very well could be illegal and exploitative. But, it's worth noting that these ads exist because of a sex industry that exists. (Also, the New York City Police Department has said they frequently read these listings to help investigations.) Would banning these advertisements do anything to diminish sex trafficking or improve conditions for workers? I doubt it. Certainly, seeing those ads disappear from the back of my local alt weekly wouldn't make me think that sexual exploitation was any less of an issue.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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