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New York's Village Voice draws protests over classifieds linked to child sex trafficking

John Buffalo Mailer, son of Village Voice founder Norman Mailer, speaks at a protest in the front of the alternative weekly's Manhattan offices.

The Village Voice, the iconic New York weekly newspaper that became a counterculture force in the 1960s, is under fire over claims a classified advertising site it owns is used for child sex-trafficking.

Nearly 100 protesters gathered in front of the paper's editorial offices in the East Village on Thursday to demand that Village Voice Media-owned  Backpage.com be shut down because its adult classified section includes ads that have been linked to prostitution involving minors. The classified ad website earns the parent company $22 million per year, according to The New York Times.

John Buffalo Mailer, 33, the son of author Norman Mailer, who co-founded the Village Voice in 1955, was in attendance at the protest.

"This was once a progressive paper, a people's paper, and to see it lose its credibility is heartbreaking," Mailer told The Associated Press.

"He would not have approved of this at all," Mailer said of his father, who died in 2007.

Mailer's father, along with Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf launched the paper out of a two-bedroom apartment in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan and quickly became known for their groundbreaking investigative articles and counter-culture reporting.

The protesters, a coalition of religious leaders, activists, and politicians set up a pile of children’s sneakers in front of the Village Voice building in Cooper Square.

"These are for the girl who should have been walking in these shoes, but isn't," said the Rev. Galen Guengerich, senior pastor of Manhattan's All Souls Unitarian church, holding up a pair at the protest. "We hear the silent cries of those who have been used and discarded."

The group also delivered a near-250,000-signature petition demanding that Village Voice Media stop running the ads.

Officials at Village Voice Media did not return calls for comment. But in a rebuttal to a story in The New York Times, officials defended their practices.

"Backpage dedicates hundreds of staff to screen adult classifieds in order to keep juveniles off the site and to work proactively with law enforcement in their efforts to locate victims," Village Voice officials wrote on the paper's website. "When the authorities have concerns, we share paperwork and records and help them make cases."

Opposition to the Village Voice Media and Backpage.com began last year when a group of attorneys general from across the country wrote a letter to Backpage.com saying that the site needed to do more to curtail the ads.

"While Backpage.com professes to have undertaken efforts to limit advertisements for prostitution on its website, particularly those soliciting sex with children, such efforts have proven ineffective," the letter reads.

The prosecutors claimed at the time that they had tracked more than 50 instances in 22 states of charges filed against those trafficking or attempting to traffic minors on the site.

In some cases, adults are pictured but minors are substituted at the "point of sale" in a grossly illegal transaction, the prosecutors said.

Several members of the City Council in New York have also introduced a piece of resolution that asks Village Voice Media to close down the adult section because it is being used as a "platform to traffic minors for sex."

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.