Previously, tech giants like Google had opposed the bill fearing it would open them to potential lawsuits even though the amendment to the CDA specifically targets sites that bad-actor websites. Now, The Internet Association, which represents such tech luminaries as Google, Facebook and Twitter, has reversed their opposition to the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.
While it may not have been done out of the goodness of their hearts, but more to try to get Congress off their backs, this is still an important step towards the bill becoming law. Without as many allies, Backpage’s support is now crumbling. We are now several steps closer to seeing protections enabled to prevent girls and women from being trafficked on sites like Backpage and hopefully the successful prosecution of those who have profited way too long from their victims’ suffering.
Recently, the FBI announced the outcome of a nationwide sex trafficking sting operation called Operation Cross Country XI. They were able to rescue 84 juveniles and arrest 120 people involved in sex trafficking. Of course, one of the sites they used during this operation was Backpage.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Operation happened in Denver, Colorado, where agents were able to rescue two sisters, ages 5-years-old and 3-months-old, from someone who was turning them out for money. A ‘friend’ of the girls’ family was offering them for sex (child rape) for $600. I really hope this was the first time this supposed friend was offering these girls out, but somehow I doubt it was.
While it can’t be said for certain those girls were turned out on Backpage, I would hazard that at least a large portion of the other 82 juveniles rescued were. Yet Backpage still continues to do business, still continues to make money off of these victims, and still claims that their role in the national sexual slavery trade of juveniles is their right to free speech. Yet very few in the general population of the country care because they don’t think it’s happening where they live, or to someone they know. That’s just one of the ways they’re wrong. It’s happening across all social classes, locations, and ethnicities, and unless we wake up to the problem and it will only get worse.
For the past two weeks, the news has been filled with stories about Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Details have been made public about his alleged serial behavior of sexual assault and harassment against actresses and other female members of the entertainment industry that according to some reports goes back as far as 1980. The number of women who have spoken out against Weinstein’s behavior has been staggering. This in turn has sparked the Me Too movement where women from all walks of life have come out on social media using the hashtag #MeToo to show they have been sexually assaulted or harassed, and again, the numbers are staggering.
Now I’m not saying that any woman’s sexual assault is more or less traumatic or impactful than any other, however, there are a number of women and girls out there in society who don’t have the freedom or liberty to say they were sexually assaulted too. I’m sure by now you know where I’m going with this. Thanks to websites like Backpage and people like its CEO Carl Ferrer, there are more women and girls than ever being trafficked for the purposes of forced prostitution and sexual slavery.
Many of these victims are forced into this life through either violent means or some form of deception, such as their traffickers posing as talent or modeling agents. Often these victims have no means of communication to the world outside of prostitution and are often raped by their pimps. Then they’re advertised to be raped again for money on sites like Backpage. Meanwhile, it’s the pimps and Backpage itself who make all the money. To make matters even worse, Backpage hides behind the concept of free speech to continue exploiting these victims.
Sadly, Backpage’s victims don’t receive the same kind of media attention as the Weinstein scandal. They have very few voices who are willing to shine a light on their plight and when they do many people ignore them because they either believe the myth of consenting adults or they find the subject to be too depressing to care about.
So while the women who are sharing their stories are brave indeed, let us not forget the victims who can’t speak on their own behalf due to the position of slavery they have been tragically trapped in.
Back in 2012, three women filed a lawsuit against Backpage in the state of Washington. They claimed they were underage when they were forcibly trafficked for sex on the website. Previous lawsuits like this filed against Backpage have failed, however, in 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the lawsuit could proceed.
This story has huge implications when it comes to the future, or lack thereof, of Backpage. The first is that this is obviously an attempt to appease Congress who has been breathing down Backpage’s neck with supposed evidence of criminal activity in the way Backpage edits their ads. The second is that Backpage’s other pending lawsuits against them in the states of Texas, California, and Alabama, may either proceed or be settled as well. These settlements can’t be exactly cheap for Backpage. This could lead to even more lawsuits and more settlements until Backpage is hopefully bankrupt. I could see the triumvirate of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, and founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin paying out millions of dollars in order to avoid any kind of real prison time.
Maybe, just maybe, this is finally the writing on the wall for Backpage.
The pregnant victim gave birth about a month before her due date in March. The arrest documents said the child tested positive for methamphetamine, cocaine and opiates shortly after being born at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.
Tell me again about consenting adults.
Let’s also not forget the money Backpage made from the victim’s ads.
Nicholas Kristof, of the New York Times, is one of the few nationally known journalists who has continually reported on the transgressions of Backpage when it comes to Backpage’s part in the sex trade. In one of his recent columns, Kristoff goes after an even bigger fish in the polluted waters of internet sex trafficking, Google. Google opposes the proposed amendments to the Communications Decency Act that would remove the protections from prosecution that sites like Backpage have been hiding behind, otherwise known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.
Kristoff claims that Google has an unfounded fear when it comes to their argument of a slippery slope with Google claiming the new amendment to the CDA could open them up to frivolous lawsuits. However, a spokesperson for the National Center for Missing and Exploited children points out the new legislation is crafted in such a way that it only applies to those sites which are directly receiving money from traffickers.
“This bill only impacts bad-actor websites,” notes Yiota Souras, general counsel at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “You don’t inadvertently traffic a child.”
Yet the majority of Silicon Valley is opposing the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act mostly out of fear that it will somehow affect their right to free speech, which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is no slippery slope here. There is no downside. I think what the mostly insular tech community forgets is the victims being bought and sold into sexual slavery on sites like Backpage are real flesh and blood people and not just nameless pixels on a display screen.
Instead of worrying about Backpage’s ‘freedom of speech’ these tech companies should be more worried about the fact that many of the women and girls being trafficked on Backpage have no freedom at all in a country that prides itself on liberty.
16-year-old Makayla Massey was last seen in her Victorville, California, home on August 25, 2017. Police say Makayla was using the social network/app MeetMe to possibly sell herself for sex. She reportedly posed as a 19-year-old with the names of Anita Green, Anitta Argintino, Anita Franchise, and Anita Massey. She is said to not have had her own cell phone, but instead used an iPod that has wifi capabilities.
Makayla Massey is described as a white female, five feet 4 inches tall and weighing 146 pounds. She has brown hair with lighter-colored hair at the ends, according to her mother, and blue eyes. She was last seen wearing gray sweat pants, a white shirt and carrying a black Adidas backpack.
Anyone with information regarding Makayla Massey’s whereabouts is urged to contact Detective Dana Weinberg at 760-243-1989, 760-559-5362, or the Victorville Sheriff’s Station at 760-241-2911. Callers wishing to remain anonymous may call the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-782-7463 or visit www.wetip.com.
MeetMe has been around since the MySpace days of social media and has devolved into nothing more than a hook-up site. Like most social apps, you don’t necessarily need a phone to access it. You can use just about any device that has wifi capability, like in this case, an iPod. Please, regularly check your kids’ devices for any activity that could put them in harm’s way.
Sadly, child sex trafficking is nothing new to social media. Pimps and traffickers have been using social media since the days of MySpace, luring impressionable kids with tales of money and fame only to turn them out on the street or online.
Back in December, I was concerned that incoming California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, wouldn’t pursue charges against Backpage like his predecessor Kamala Harris did. Those fears were allayed after the Sacramento County Superior Court overruled defense dismissal motions, meaning prosecution against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and Backpage shareholders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin. While the court dismissed pimping charges against them, again, the court did allow charges of money laundering to remain.
Prosecutors have said that Backpage’s operators illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions.
“Today’s victory doesn’t exact justice just yet against those who would prey on vulnerable young women and men. But it brings us a step closer.”
Backpage not only allegedly edited their ads to remove any references to underage girls while allowing the ads to remain, they’ve also been accused of copying ads from other websites and soliciting business from people who post sex ads to other sites. Evidence like that could not only prevent Backpage from hiding behind the Communications Decency Act, but could also finally lead to justice for the girls and women who were violently trafficked on Backpage and sold into sexual slavery against their will.
19-year-old Christopher K. White and his 28-year-old girlfriend, Adria Regn, of Mount Holly, New Jersey, are accused of allegedly keeping their 17-year-old babysitter captive and making her work as a prostitute. The girl knew White and thought she would be baby sitting Regn’s kids when the victim went to the couple’s motel room. Instead, she was given meth and weed and was told she needed to work for the couple so the couple could make money.
They took explicit photos of the victim and posted them to Backpage. They are said to have forced her to have sex with up to five men a day for a four-day period. Regn told the victim if the girl didn’t make them money, it would be her fault if Regn lost her kids. White was said to have also threatened to beat her if the victim tried to leave. Any money that was made by the victim was kept by White and Regn. The victim was eventually able to escape and contact police. The pair are looking at a sentence of 20 to life for human trafficking.
Again, if you think Backpage is doing anything to protect girls like this, you’re wrong. I highly doubt the ads these two idiots placed were thoroughly reviewed by anyone at Backpage. If anything, they probably posted the ad in other places too.
That’s not even mentioning Mount Holly is a pretty small town, which shows prostitution and human trafficking have permeated all corners of our country thanks to Backpage. Backpage has made it so easy for anyone to become a pimp and all it takes is a gift card. There’s no depths the greedy heads of Backpage won’t stoop to.