In a May 2012 investigation by ABC Nightline, the lawyer for Village Voice Media’s subsidiary, Backpage.com, insisted that the publication giant is helping stop the sex trafficking of minors. This week, Backpage asked that the demand from the state attorneys general to shut down the adult sex ads be dropped. Attorney Liz McDougall told Nightline’s Cynthia McFadden that 80 percent of their Phoenix based employees are tasked with scouring the adult services ads to find postings about children. Approximately 400 notices are passed on to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children each month, double the number reported six months ago.
Nevertheless, there are still children being trafficked through the online ads of Backpage.com. Sheryl*, an employee at a national treatment center* for girls rescued from sex trafficking, regularly monitors the adult section of Backpage. She has recently identified two of the former residents of the facility. The pictures were turned over to the police and the teen girls were found and apprehended. In addition, a third girl, age 15, and the pimp were brought into custody.
View slideshow: Backpage.com: Blatantly violating its own standards on sex ads?
Often, the girls themselves are commanded by the pimp to take and post their own pictures. Even though the posting rules specify that account holders must be 18 or over, and a credit card is needed to pay the ad fees, there is no way to verify the age or identity of the poster.
Posting rules on Backpage.com
You agree to the following when posting in this category:
- I will not post obscene or lewd and lascivious graphics or photographs which depict genitalia, actual or simulated sexual acts or naked images;
- I will not post any solicitation directly or in “coded” fashion for any illegal service, including exchanging sexual favors for money or other valuable consideration;
- I will not post any material on the Site that exploits minors in any way;
- I will not post any material on the Site that in any way constitutes or assists in human trafficking;
- I am at least 18 years of age or older and not considered to be a minor in my state of residence.
The Adult Entertainment section is filled with ads that blatantly violate the company’s own rules. The second bullet point refers to prostitution, which is illegal in all states except Nevada, and there it is legal only in certain counties. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the services being solicited are sex for money, especially with the pictures on the sidebar. Human trafficking may be most identifiable if minors are involved, but “consenting adults” may also be entrapped in the bondage of sex slavery in a variety of ways.
Backpage.com is making $2-3 million every month from the sex ads, but Liz McDougall claims they are helping to stop the sex trafficking by cooperating with the police. However, the attorneys general from 48 states and three territories have declared that they are contributing to the problem by allowing the adult section to continue. There is a major nationwide movement to have Backpage shut down their adult services section, just as Craig’s List did 18 months ago.
What do you think? Does the ease of advertising sexual services contribute to sex trafficking, especially of minors?
*Name of center and employee withheld for the protection of the residents