There’s a documentary that just came out that I’ve been hearing a lot about lately. It’s called “I am Jane Doe”, and it’s about several underage women who were trafficked on Backpage who are suing or have tried to sue the predatory and greedy website. The film’s creator, Mary Mazzio, recently spoke with KIRO Radio in Seattle, and recounted a tale about how she became aware of the problem…
“Sex trafficking of children actually happens in the United States? This was an epiphany for me,” she said. “I just assumed this was a crime that happened in developing countries. Certainly not 15 minutes from near where I lived. When I dove into it I was shocked by the breadth and the scope of this problem.”
Ms. Mazzio was reading about the Boston lawsuit where two underage girls sued Backpage for allowing them to be trafficked on the site. They were only identified in the suit as Jane Does. Unfortunately the lawsuit was dismissed and the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.
Ms. Mazzio’s reaction is not a new one. It’s a reaction that a lot of people have when they first find out about what’s going on in their neighborhood or city, and it’s a symptom of why sex trafficking is not in the public eye more. Not only does nobody want to believe that it’s going on all around them but no one wants to hear about it. In the mind of many it’s too depressing of a subject to believe or even comprehend. We’d rather shut our minds off to it than deal with the problem head on.
I hope that I am Jane Doe is seen by more than people who are already advocates against Backpage. I really hope it finds an audience and enlightens them about the true nature of Backpage and that child sex trafficking is not just someone else’s problem.
A trailer for the movie can be viewed below. I fully intend on seeing the movie once it makes a wider release.
Just because apps like Kik and Snapchat have become more popular with online predators, that doesn’t mean that you can let your guard down when it come to Facebook. When it comes to your kids’ mobile devices not only do you have to keep an eye on Facebook but Facebook Messenger as well. Facebook Messenger only appears as ‘Messenger’ on mobile devices but uses the icon seen at right. Even if your kids only use the desktop version of Facebook you should probably still know their login and password as the desktop version now has a messenger that is just as robust as the mobile one. This would probably be a good chance to also educate your kids that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are and if they’re offering them money they’re more than likely doing so for nefarious purposes.
In the past, lawsuits like these were dismissed due to the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The CDA basically states that a website is not responsible for the content that its users post, however if Backpage did in fact edit ads submitted by users, it may make the CDA defense null and void. These lawsuits are in addition to the ones already filed in the states of California, Texas, Washington and Alabama.
Hopefully at least one of these lawsuits will have its intended consequence because let’s not fool ourselves, even amid its current legal woes Backpage is still making money off the victims of sex trafficking. The fight is far from over, but Backpage is showing a vulnerability in its legal armor.
First off, I’m usually not one to tell police how to do their job, but to the unidentified Tulsa Detective, less prostitution means fewer victims of trafficking. That’s a good thing. Just because 99% of your stings are done online doesn’t mean that your job is dependent on Backpage staying in business. You would think that someone whose job it is to protect the public would be happy that there would be less of a crime instead of maintaining the status quo.
The part of the video I really want to talk about comes at the 1:21 mark where a screenshot from child advocacy group Children of the Night is shown in support of Backpage. They claim that Backpage helps them find trafficking victims in order to rescue them. I would argue that without Backpage there wouldn’t be as near as many people that they would need to rescue but Children of the Night’s motives may be more financial than altruistic.
Even though Backpage’s sex ads still thrive on their website, only in a different section, if the ads were to disappear it would lead to a vast reduction in he number of women and girls being trafficked for sex, and isn’t that the true goal?
The only people who Backpage really listens to are dead Presidents, so hurting them financially really is the best way to put them out of the sex trade business, and yes, they are still making money from sex trafficking ads.
If you’ve been reading this site for any substantial amount of time, you’ll recognize the name Tom Dart. He is the Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, which is one of the largest jurisdictions in the country. Sheriff Dart is also one of the most dedicated opponents of Backpage. He is largely credited as being the man who got the credit card companies to stop doing business with Backpage, even though Backpage had an injunction placed on him from doing so in the future.
Sheriff Dart recently spoke with the press to say that he is skeptical of Backpage’s recent actions of shuttering the adult section of their site. That section of Backpage housed thinly veiled ads for prostitution and child prostitution. Sheriff Cook also stated that the prostitution ads have merely moved to the personals section of the site. As I previously posted, while it may be free to place a personal ad on Backpage, you still have to pay for upgrades to make the ad more visible.
A couple days after Backpage made the switch, Dart said his officers set up a “date” with one of the women advertising on the site and confirmed she was charging for sex.
“We went out and arrested a person off the site,” he said. “We answered one of their ads and it was no different.”
So the fight is still far from over. While Backpage may have made a grand gesture, along with complaining about how their supposed free speech rights have been trampled, women and girls are still being trafficked on Backpage. Backpage may claim that the ads being posted in the personals are out of their hands, but as we all know they have a staff of moderators that the Senate alleges edited the prostitution ads to make them appear more legitimate. If they can use their moderators for that then they can use them to keep sex trafficking ads out of the personals, but I highly doubt they will.
As you can see by the graphic I posted above, the Cleveland personals section is flooded with thinly veiled ads for prostitution. While it is free to post ads in the personals section, there are upgrades you can buy to keep your ads in better positioning and circulation. Also, as we know, Backpage does in fact have moderators that work for them, but obviously they’re turning a blind eye to the personals section now, or worse they’re still allegedly editing the ads and coaching the ad posters to make them look less illegal.
The bottom line is that as of right now women and children are still being trafficked on Backpage, absolutely nothing has changed and we should not let Backpage get away with this.
Hell has frozen over. The end is nigh. Backpage has voluntarily shut down the adult sections of its website after the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations announced its findings about the website. The subcommittee reported that they found Backpage was knowingly editing the ads that appeared to have someone underage in them, but still allowed the advertisements to be displayed. Backpage’s own moderators were also allegedly instructed to remove words from the ads that may have hinted at child prostitution.
Backpage executives began using a feature called “Strip Term From Ad Filter” to help screeners automatically delete hundreds words indicative of sex trafficking — such as “lolita, teenage, amber alert, teen and school girl, according to the Senate report.
“Backpage moderators told the Subcommittee that everyone at the company knew the adult-section ads were for prostitution and that their job was to ‘put…lipstick on a pig by sanitizing them,’” the subcommittee alleges in the report.
Backpage responded to the report not only by shutting down sections of their websites that promoted prostitution, but by also posting the above graphic in the adult sections. Please allow me to address the arguments Backpage put’s forth.
First off, the government has not unconstitutionally done anything to Backpage. They literally shut down those sections on their own. The Chairs of the Senate Subcommittee, Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo, even say as much…
“Yesterday we reported the evidence that Backpage has been far more complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone previously knew. Backpage’s response wasn’t to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site. That’s not ‘censorship’—it’s validation of our findings.”
Potentially, Backpage could bring back those sections at any time, and I wouldn’t put it past them.
Also as I’ve said many times in the past, this was never an issue about free speech, it’s always been an issue about how much money Backpage could make off of the women and girls that sold into sexual slavery through their website. The only thing that has kept them legally protected was the archaic Communications Decency Act of 1996 whose crafters obviously didn’t imagine websites would be using their legislation to defend the ‘freedom’ of deriving profit from sex trafficking.
As far as donating to Children of The Night, I can’t stop you from doing that. They do work to get children out of prostitution, however they admittedly have taken money from Backpage which is said to make up 10% of their budget. I would personally recommend SelahFreedom as they have personally assured me they have taken no money from Backpage and never would.
As far as the people who will say that this will drive prostitution and trafficking further underground, I say that’s the whole point. Backpage’s adult sections made it easy for just about anyone to become a pimp or trafficker when all they had to do was pay a few bucks to turn anyone out. With the closing of the adult sections it will mean a significant drop in the number of potential pimps looking to traffic someone online.
For those of you who say Backpage made sex work safer, I’ve already said that concept is highly suspect as it has allowed killers and rapists to have their victims delivered directly to their homes.
Since Backpage reportedly receives 80% of their profits from their adult ads, and that their founders, including CEO Carl Ferrer, are still facing criminal charges, it remains to be seen if Backpage will try to survive as a ‘normal’ classifieds site. However, if I had to hazard a guess I would say probably not, but in the past Backpage has been a virtual Rasputin refusing to die.
Make no mistake that this isn’t a blow to free speech but a victory for all the women and girls that have been trafficked on Backpage for the past decade and more.
32-year-old Antonio Rosales of Chicago is accused in the murder of 16-year-old Desiree Robinson in Markham, Illinois, on Christmas Eve. Rosales was attending a party in Markham when he saw an ad for Robinson on Backpage. Rosales had sex with Robinson, but when he couldn’t pay her he allegedly punched her and slit her throat. Robinson’s friends went to the house where the party was where they found Robinson’s body and a knife. The autopsy said that Robinson had been beaten and choked before having her throat slit.
While I hope that prosecutors do everything within their power to put this scumbag behind bars for the rest of his unnatural life, I hope they’re also looking to prosecute the people who put Desiree Robinson on Backpage to begin with. While some may argue that Ms. Robinson was on Backpage by choice, I find that very hard to believe. The first thing that indicates to me that she was being trafficked is that she had been reported missing as a runaway since November 29th. Pimps and traffickers often convince their underage victims to run away with promises of a life of luxury. Ms. Robinson’s mother also said that Desiree had contacted her but couldn’t tell her mother where she was. Victims of sex trafficking often can’t reach out to their family due to threats of violence against them and their family. I also have to wonder if her ‘friends’ were her pimp and enforcers. A number of prostitutes often travel with a ‘security guard’. They’re supposed to make sure that not only does the prostitute collect the money for the pimps, but they’re also supposed to make sure that the prostitute doesn’t run off. Sounds a lot like slavery doesn’t it?
As far as I’m concerned, whoever turned her out on Backpage is as equally culpable in her death as Rosales allegedly is. This isn’t even taking into account that Backpage once again allowed a minor to be sold for sex on their website which led to her violent death. Just another drop of blood money in their already overflowing coffers.
UPDATE 2/7/2017: The family of Desiree Robinson have made it known that they plan on suing Backpage for Desiree’s death. I hope they’re successful in that endeavor, however history is not on their side as all similar lawsuits filed against Backpage were dismissed.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, has filed new charges against the heads of Backpage. After having the pimping charges against Backpage dismissed, Harris is now pursuing charges of money laundering, 26 counts of it to be exact. While these new charges have been filed against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and shareholders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, I have yet to see any information whether or not arrest warrants have been issued for them. However, they are scheduled to be arraigned on January 11th.
While I admire Ms. Harris’ dedication to the cause, she needs to tread carefully. If these charges are dismissed as well, any further legal action by the Golden State after that could be seen as persecution by the courts. It also bothers me that Ms. Harris is slated to take her new position as a US Senator shortly. Her successor is said to be the Jerry Brown nominated Congressman Xavier Becerra. Will Attorney General Becerra continue the fight against those who profit from sex trafficking with the same devotion that Ms. Harris has? Unfortunately, that remains to be seen. However, the state is looking for victims of Backpage…
The attorney general’s office encourages anyone who was a victim of trafficking via Backpage to file a report with the California Department of Justice by emailing email@example.com.
I can’t say I’m feeling confident about these new charges. While the Communication Decency Act seems to be inapplicable to money laundering charges, I’d be more confident about these latest charges if they made more details public. So far Backpage has been a slippery eel when it has come to being pursued by the law. Hopefully these new charges will finally cut the heads off of this greedy and heartless monster.
Prosecutors say they have new evidence to justify the case. They claim Backpage illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions.
Now that the Senate claims that Backpage was editing their ads to make them appear legal, these criminal charges may finally have a leg to stand on.