28-year-old Martin Eddie Herrera has been in a Texas prison since 2007 on multiple aggravated robbery charges. Apparently, this hasn’t stopped him from running a criminal enterprise that deals in the trading of people.
With all the Congressional hearings and possible legislation against Backpage, the child sex trade is still going on unabated on their website, even though they’ve lowered themselves to accepting gift cards as payments for ads. With any luck, the legislation will go through, the Backpage heads will be prosecuted and their seized assets will be put to better use, like providing resources for all of their sex trafficking victims.
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.
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.
And we go back to Houston, Texas, where 30-year-old Clifton Campbell has been arrested for allegedly forcibly prostituting a woman on Backpage. Police say when the woman tried to leave Campbell, he punched her in the throat and in the eye. Please tell me about consenting adults again.
And Backpage still continues to collect that ad revenue from scum like this. More people should be outraged about this rather than whatever the reposted Facebook outrage story of the day is, you know, like football players kneeling, or how dogs would wear pants.
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.
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.
43-year-old Patrick Trottie was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, for allegedly forcing drug-addicted women into prostitution on Backpage. Trottie would reportedly look for women who were going through heroin withdrawal, give them heroin, then tell them they had to prostitute themselves in order to pay back their ‘debt’ to Trottie. The women were forced to give all their money to Trottie and if they tried to leave, he would beat them. One victim who escaped was found hiding behind a dumpster with a swollen face and split lip. Another victim claims Trottie threatened to shoot her if she tried to escape and would hold a gun to her head. So tell me again how this is a victimless crime.
Now, Backpage claims they have several safeguards in place to prevent underage girls from being peddled on their site. A claim which is dubious at best. However, my question is: What is Backpage supposedly doing to prevent women from being forcefully trafficked on their site? I’ll tell you. They’re cashing the checks from these violent pimps while laughing all the way to the bank.