Backpage.com has, for years, been a place for people to buy and sell household items, cars, post ads for apartment rentals … and for human trafficking. Despite the fact that the site allows for the trafficking of men, women and children, law enforcement has been lax in clamping down on the trading in flesh. Even worse, Backpage allows for the use of Bitcoin, which means such transactions are virtually untraceable.
A recent court case, Doe v. Backpage.com LLC, brings the issue in to astounding focus. The case filed through the Massachusetts federal court by two women details the horrifying abuses they endured as minors when they were sold for sex through ads placed on Backpage.com. Unfortunately, this case is not the first time we are hearing about this; it is one of the numerous accounts that have been reported in the last few years.
In 2012, CNN did a chilling report on Backpage, including interviews with mothers who’d underage daughters had been sold on Backpage.
We meet Violet in a neighborhood just outside St. Paul, Minnesota. The pretty blonde married young. Her high-spirited, 14-year-old daughter later ran away and was missing for three years. Prosecutors say the girl was prostituted by a man she met at a bus stop who gave her food and a couch to sleep on and then advertised her for sex on Backpage.com to “pay him back.”
Violet, who asked we changed her name to protect her family, said, “The worst part was the torture I had to hear about. You know the torture she endured from different people along the way.”
Backpage also allows traffickers to sell children by making slight changes: “ch*ld” for “child” or “g*rl” for “girl.” This allows them to skirt child pornography and trafficking laws. Penny Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America:
If Backpage.com really cared about ending the sexual slave trade, they would have done something long ago. But instead, they’ve deflected away from the issue by arguing freedom of speech while countless victims are trafficked and even killed as pimps continue to go unidentified and scot-free. It is time law enforcement stand up for the precious, overlooked victims of online sexual exploitation. Backpage.com isn’t the only company profiting from the online sex trade; however, removing even one facilitator in the online sex trade is a necessary and important step that must be taken seriously in order to ultimately eradicate sexual exploitation.