Since news broke that Backpage.com was shutting down the “adult services” section of its website, reactions have ranged from joy to concern. These reactions prompted conversations about the effectiveness of the shutdown in preventing child sex trafficking, concerns for potential detrimental effects, and questions about next steps. We have written about our perspective on the shutdown and the report released by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” But the discussions that the news prompted are important, and to add to this dialog we are beginning a blog series featuring the voices of survivors and law enforcement on the issue of Backpage.com and the online facilitation of sex trafficking. For the next three days we will hear from four survivors of sex trafficking about their perspectives on the Backpage.com debate. This is the first blog in that series. Read Part 2 here.
In this blog we interview four survivors of sex trafficking:
- Tara Madison is a published author, speaker and a full time college student whose chief aim is to educate the public on the dynamics of human trafficking.
- A Female Survivor
- Kathy Bryan–A talented speaker, mentor, and author, Kathy attributes God’s amazing mercy and grace for the wisdom, joy and freedom she’s found after surviving two years of sex trafficking as a young teen. Kathy currently serves as Program Director and National Trainer for Rebecca Bender Initiative, passionately equipping thousands across the U.S. She has mentored hundreds of women, encouraging them as they journey towards truth, identity, and worth. kathybryan.com.
- A Male Survivor
It has been argued that Backpage.com should be permitted to maintain its “adult services” section because its cooperation with law enforcement and NCMEC has led to the recovery of victims and missing minors through the information provided. What’s your perspective on that argument?
Tara Madison: The notion that Backpage.com has worked cooperatively with law enforcement in the recovery of victims is nil at best. Backpage.com has been held in contempt by the US Senate for refusing to turn over documentation in child sex trafficking investigations and the recent Senate hearing divulged that the corporation had been editing submitted ads to avoid detection of minors, along with informing their employees to only report the absolute minimal red flags in the instance of suspected child exploitation.
NCMEC claims that 71% of child sex trafficking cases in America are linked to Backpage.com ads. Over one million ads were being posted daily on this site for illegal sex, so to what degree do we measure “cooperation”? If a corporation or individual claims to be cooperating with law enforcement, why would that same corporation or individual be unwilling to cooperate with the government about the same matter?
A Female Survivor: Maybe some, but how many have slipped though that net? I have not had a conversation with a law enforcement officer that was thankful for that Backpage.com help. Might possibly find missing minors but with or without Backpage.com children will still be sold.
Kathy Bryan: It sounds good, in theory. However, that would be like saying don’t prosecute the alleged bank robber because he helped the little old lady cross the street, or has also assisted in the search for missing children in his area. Assisting with something does not negate any criminal activity you also participate in. Backpage’s involvement in human trafficking must be stopped, which, by the way, it hasn’t. The ads have simply moved to another area of Backpage.com.
Perhaps they have assisted law enforcement and NCMEC, however, it begs the questions how, and to what degree, when you read NCMEC’s own report detailing how little cooperation they indeed received from Backpage, despite intensive, ongoing efforts to work with them. Here’s a link to it: http://www.missingkids.com/Testimony/11-19-15
The real issue is we have a legal business profiting from the illegal sale of humans. Trafficking people is illegal in the U.S. Prostitution is illegal in most of the U.S., as is buying sex. If I were found to have assisted or materially participated in any of those three crimes, I would be considered guilty of those crimes. Backpage is not only assisting in the process of trafficking, they are making money from doing so! If Backpage were supporting any other illegal endeavor such as advertising illegal drugs, murder for hire, etc., it would have been stopped long ago, and criminal charges would be made.
One can purchase nearly anything on Backpage. A home, couch, car, clothing, animals, and yes, humans. Interestingly, Backpage posts FREE classified ads EXCEPT for those advertising people. Meaning they make money from the illegal activities of trafficking and prostitution, literally profiting from victimization. Allow me one example of just how lucrative it is for Backpage.com to sell adult ads. These are actual fees a fellow survivor knows were charged when she was sold. One daily ad was $30, and a repost of that ad was $5 per day. She was never advertised with less than four ads per day, and each was reposted five times. So, 4 ads x $30 = $120, plus 5 reposts x 4 ads = 20 reposts x $5 = $100. So, a daily charge of $220. After 365 days, this would have provided Backpage.com with $80,300 per year. This is from one victim! Perhaps now you can see just how much advertising human trafficking lined their pockets.
A Male Survivor: I think the argument that Backpage should be allowed to continue potentially illegal activity because now they are cooperating with law enforcement is a bit like saying, a company that allows its members to hunt endangered wildlife should be allowed to continue because they don’t tell their customers the police are probably watching them. It seems like a well-intentioned argument, but nonetheless, incredibly stupid. If every illegal activity could be justified because the police “might” catch one of the criminals, what shouldn’t we allow? It’s like saying let’s give members of organized crime a pass if they hand over one of their customers after an illegal transaction. Thanks but no thanks.