Sex Trafficking, Newspaper Advertising and Leadership
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I met last week with Assemblywoman Grace Meng.
She asked for the meeting to discuss an issue of concern to her and concern to women’s groups in Queens and elsewhere.
Grace came asking for my input, thoughts and ideas about the role of newspaper advertising and sex trafficking. We’ve known each other for a number of years and she knew without asking I was prepared to join in any effort which would effectively address the problem of sex trafficking.
And I knew that she would certainly give considerable thought to avoid any effort which would compromise freedom of the press or freedom of speech.
Several years earlier, I met with Ann Jawin, a leader in Queens’ effort to eliminate adult ads from newspapers. I explained to Ann back then that I would cooperate with her effort if the responsibility to change acceptable advertising standards was done legislatively but felt that community groups and newspaper publishers should not censor commercial speech. I told Ann I would accept advertising from groups such as the American Nazi Party, the Communist Party, activist Pro Life groups and a large number of other groups I oppose – I even accept ads from Republicans.
All kidding aside, one of the important and valued roles of a free press is to provide an outlet of expression for those we don’t believe in or agree with – as long as the activity is legal.
Sex trafficking is not legal and it should and must be addressed.
The question Assemblywoman Meng and I discussed: What should the effort be to effectively impact and impede sex trafficking?
|Grace Meng and Mike Schenkler
Photo by Ira Cohen
Although I don’t speak for the Assemblywoman, I believe we agree on certain basic issues.
1) We both respect and advocate for the rights of women.
2) We both will take whatever steps that are within our power to end sex trafficking here and/or abroad.
3) We both recognize that “freedom of speech” is a cherished constitutional right that must not be trampled.
4) That “commercial speech” is speech and as such, should be respected, protected and not trampled.
5) The responsibility of righting societal wrongs rests with the legislature – in New York State, the State Legislature.
Therefore, Assemblywoman Meng and I agreed to cooperatively develop a legislative solution to address the concerns that some women’s groups have about newspaper advertising and sex trafficking.
One likely solution
Together, we believe we quickly found one clear pathway to have all the diverse parties and diverse opinions come together on one part of this issue. “Massage” in New York State is a profession licensed and regulated by the State Department of Education. And as such, advertisements for “massage” can and should be regulated by the State.
In the same manner government jurisdictions – New York State and New York City included – have the right and do regulate advertising for chiropractors, doctors, Lawyers, plumbers electricians, etc., they can for those who offer “massage.” “Plumbers” must put their license numbers in all ads. What if anyone offering a “massage” service (ie: massage, body rub, body work, etc.) had to put the number of their massage license in the ad? Does that eliminate many of the advertisements that are being pointed to as promoting sex trafficking?
I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between such ads and illegal sex trafficking but if the State Legislature acts, not only am I onboard, so are all the newspapers in the State – unless the legislature chooses to exclude adult publications. That’s not my decision.
Creating A Law
Step one: Grace and I agreed she would ask Albany Assembly staff to draft an appropriate law requiring advertisements for “massage” or any service that would be provided from someone with a massage license, be required to clearly display their license number in the ads.
Step two: Appropriate legislation would be drafted and introduced by Assemblywoman Meng after legal and expert staff has vetted it and assured enforceability and constitutionality.
Step three: The groups involved in the stop sex trafficking cause would be asked to lobby Albany for expedited passage.
Step four: A large portion of the ads that have been the focus of those groups opposing sex trafficking would be gone throughout New York State and only those possessing a professional license for massage would be permitted.
Step five: We will have avoided issues of censorship in the communities throughout the state preserving our treasured First Amendment rights, while empowering State regulatory authorities to oversee and enforce the professional licensing law.
Taking It Further
Phase II: Grace and I also agreed on a second and equally important phase of addressing the ads which some groups say result in sex trafficking. Grace will ask Albany Legislative staff to address the “Escort” business and recommend legislative remedies – including regulating advertising – where “escort” business cross the line and result in activities that may cause sex trafficking.
Again, groups would be asked to testify and experts would be called upon to focus the legislation on appropriate regulation of the “escort” business.
The legislature would then decide if “escort” services should have their advertising regulated, and what limitations and controls should be placed on their business.
At the end of the day, Assemblywoman Meng will have appropriately picked up the gauntlet and taken the regulation questions about sex trafficking to the State Legislature where it belongs, resulting hopefully in the passage of legislation that would provide a Statewide standard of appropriateness and legality – or illegality.
Newspaper publishers, women’s groups and the rest of the community would not have to worry about threats to our First Amendment rights or be concerned about their rolls in infringing upon free speech.
New York State would and should lead the nation in correctly addressing the problems of society.
Finally, it will be demonstrated that leadership can be most effective when intelligent, focused, thoughtful, collegial, and non confrontational.
You don’t get that every day.
I am happy to follow the leadership of Grace Meng on this issue.