Small ads sex trafficking: the battle against Backpage

July 4, 2017 Comments Off on Small ads sex trafficking: the battle against Backpage

Small ads sex trafficking: the battle against Backpage
Annie Kelly  Sunday 2 July 2017

Backpage started out with small ads for household goods. So how did it grow into a major online market for child sex trafficking? Annie Kelly meets some of the survivors – and reveals how their fight for justice became a battleground for free speech on the internet

The first time Kubiiki Pride used Backpage, America’s largest classified website, was to buy a fridge. The second time she sold some clothes. The third time she was looking for her 13-year-old daughter.

The family had spent nine frantic months looking for MA, posting flyers, launching public appeals and scouring the streets. It took Kubiiki less than five minutes to find her on Backpage. “We were so desperate we were trying everything, but when my husband said check Backpage I was confused because I thought it was a site where you sold stuff you didn’t want any more. It never occurred to me that children were being bought and sold, too.”

My 13-year-old was starved, had her head shaved, was abused and then they sold her on Backpage like she was a used car

Kubiiki found the site and clicked on the adult section. “It took a minute for the page to load, but immediately the third link down from the top just caught my eye,” she says. “It was covered in hearts and these little flower pictures. It looked like something a kid would like, so I clicked on it and there was my baby.

Small ads sex trafficking: the battle against Backpage

Backpage started out with small ads for household goods. So how did it grow into a major online market for child sex trafficking? Annie Kelly meets some of the survivors – and reveals how their fight for justice became a battleground for free speech on the internet….

Over the past decade the enormous revenue streams created by the voracious appetite for online sex ads has thrown anti-trafficking campaigners into a state of acute alarm.

“The scale of child sexual exploitation is not something many people are willing or able to accept,” says Yiota Souras, senior vice-president at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Some campaigners believe that up to 100,000 children like MA are exploited for profit across the country every year.

“What we do know for certain is that, since 2010, the number of reports of suspected sex trafficking has gone off the chart – we registered an 846% increase between 2010-2014 and this number is growing every year,” says Souras. “And we believe a large driver of this has been the increased use of the internet in the buying and selling of children.”

Souras says the unfettered and largely unregulated growth of the internet has been a gift for traffickers. Online classified websites, such as Backpage, have provided a cheap and relatively risk-free platform through which to conduct their business, with traffickers scattering children among the thousands of ads for private massages or escort services.

“All a pimp needs is a classified website to post ads and a cell phone. All the client needs is an internet connection,” says Souras…..

Nobody has a clear idea of how many children have been sold on Backpage but, currently, 73% of child sex trafficking reports NCMEC receives from the public relate to Backpage ads. NCMEC’s early collaborative relationship with Backpage soured when, Souras said, it became clear the site was using NCMEC as good PR but failing to implement adequate checks and balances that the centre believed needed to be put in place to protect vulnerable children…..

“They just kept on winning,” says Brad Myles, director of anti-trafficking group Polaris. Judge after judge accepted that Backpage was not accountable under US law for the child trafficking occurring on its website. Backpage was, according to the courts, no different from any other web publisher provided immunity for content posted by third parties under the 1996 Communications and Decency Act, where section 230 had been included to ensure that the burgeoning tech industry was not crushed by litigation. It has also emerged that not-for-profit special interest groups funded by companies including Google have supported Backpage’s legal battles and provided expert briefs in support of the site.

“The most disheartening indication of our judiciary’s legal priorities,” says Myles, “was the fact that judges would do nothing to hold a website that was profiting from the sale of children accountable to preserve the legal immunity of the billion-dollar tech industry.”

Kubiiki and MA were devastated by the judge’s decision not to let their case against Backpage go to trial. “These are children who are being raped, yet the whole debate around Backpage has become about the rights of internet companies to not get sued?” says Kubiiki…..

Mazzio’s documentary forensically timelines the legal assault waged against Backpage, first by Kubiiki and MA and then by other families along with state prosecutors and law enforcement officers. Her film also charts the astonishment and dismay as one by one their lawsuits bit the dust….

Regardless of which side you come down on, it looks as if the net could be closing around Backpage. When Carl Ferrer failed to answer a subpoena to appear before a Senate subcommittee in 2016 investigating child trafficking, the Senate’s response was to launch a full-blown investigation into the company. One of the closing scenes in Mazzio’s documentary is the moment when Larkin, Lacey and Ferrer are forced to appear before the subcommittee in January this year.

Earlier that day Backpage had finally closed its adult services listings. “Today, the censors prevailed,” wrote Lacey and Larkin in a statement. “The shutdown of Backpage’s adult classified advertising is an assault on the First Amendment. We maintain hope for a more robust and unbowed internet in the future.”

“They weren’t willing to invest in what we believed were comprehensive measures to protect children,” she says. “They were far more focused on hiring a legal team to ensure that their revenue streams could continue.”….

“For me, the biggest tragedy is that for seven years there has been all this debate about free speech and First Amendment rights. And the basic fact that these are children who are being raped and sold on a public website somehow got pushed to the background. What happened to the rights of my child?” asks Nacole, fury in her voice. “What if this was your daughter? How would you feel if this happened to you?”…. 

Neil Brick will be speaking at S.M.A.R.T. Child and Ritual Abuse Conference – August 11 – 13, 2017
Neil Brick has developed Internet resources to publish scientific information about child and ritual abuse. He publishes a bimonthly newsletter and organizes informational conferences. The goal of these resources is to help stop child and ritual abuse through public education.

The Survivorship Ritual Abuse and Mind Control 2017 Conference
Video Presentations from The Survivorship Ritual Abuse and Mind Control 2017 Conference

How to Avoid Being Mind Controlled at a Conference and Freedom from Mind Control – 2017 Presentation by Neil Brick

Strong accuracy and validity of ritual abuse research:

Fran and Dan Keller legal case information

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