Human Trafficking on Backpage.com Under Fire By Attorneys General

September 7, 2011

In a joint action by 45 attorneys’ general, online classified site Backpage.com has been called upon to end the “online clearinghouse” for human trafficking. Though the site claims to have strict anti-criminal policies, the AG’s have found hundreds of ads on Backpage.com’s regional sites that are clearly for illegal services. “It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote.

Backpage has apparently taken over a large share of the human trafficking that Craigslist became famous for prior to the AG’s crackdown on that site – see my blog Seventeen State attorneys general Tell Craigslist to Drop Adult Services.

In a letter to the online classified site’s lawyers, the AG’s say the site is a hub for illegal sex ads and a magnet for those seeking to exploit minors. It points to more than 50 cases, in 22 states over the past three years, involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through Backpage. “These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely exist,” the attorneys general wrote. They also reminded Backpage of a 2010 request from nearly two dozen attorneys general asking that the adult services site be taken down.

The Backpage crackdown coincides with the ascension of Washington State attorney general Rob McKenna as this year’s president of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). McKenna’s presidential initiative is combatting human trafficking by holding traffickers and abusers accountable; mobilizing communities to provide hope and care for victims; and raising public awareness of the issue and reducing demand. To learn more about this initiative see the NAAG website Pillars of Hope: Attorneys General United Against Human Trafficking.

Here is an excerpt from McKenna’s Washington State AG website; “Traffickers who exploit runaways and other disadvantaged kids shouldn’t be provided with a powerful online clearinghouse. The only way for Backpage.com to completely stop child sex trafficking on its site is to take down adult services advertisements altogether and take aggressive steps to be sure such ads don’t surface elsewhere on the site.”

McKenna added that kids aren’t capable, legally or otherwise, to consent to be sold for sex. And regardless of a prostitute’s age, it’s difficult to know whether the person advertised is being coerced.

In many cases involving human trafficking on Backpage.com, law enforcement finds that minors are, in fact, often coerced. Prosecutors in Benton County, Wash., are handling a case in which teen girls say they were threatened and extorted by two adults who marketed them on Backpage.com.  One of the adults rented a hotel room in Kennewick and forced the girls to have sex with men who answered the online ads, for which Backpage.com charges $1 and up.

Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, LLC, is the top provider of “adult services” advertisements. The multimedia company, which owns 13 weekly newspapers in the United States including the Seattle Weekly, admits its involvement in advertising illegal services. In a meeting with staff at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Village Voice board member Don Moon readily acknowledged prostitution ads appear on the Web site. And in a June 29, [2011] article published nationally by the Village Voice, the corporation criticized those concerned about child sex trafficking as “prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession,” acknowledging that, as a seller of adults services ads, “Village Voice has a stake in this story.”

Join the AG’s in this fight against human trafficking AND against the practices of Village Voice Media – the parent company of Backpage.com

That previous paragraph leaves me gagging. It is sickening that the company not only freely admits its involvement in profiting from prostitution and illegal services, but defends their position by blaming those who would stop trafficking of victims as being “prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession.”

Vote with your mouse. Don’t use Backpage.com, or any of Village Voice Media’s other properties

To be sure, Village voice and Backpage aren’t alone in the facilitation of trafficking victims. A quick check on the Seattle Times Personals pages, and the Washington Post’s personal pages shows ads equally explicit and suggestive of trafficking – as do many other personals sites.

NOTE: the Seattle Times/NWSource site also sells the email addresses and usernames of ‘interested parties’ to other “adult” sites ensuring you are spammed instantly.

Learn more in these blogs:

Linda

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Internet Safety for Victims of Violence

June 27, 2011

Found via an online account, she was beaten, lost an eye, and in a coma. Over the years I’ve trained many law enforcement groups on the internet’s role in domestic violence, but the phone call informing me of this victim’s fate was a tipping point; it compelled me to write a 20 page special document specifically for victims. The result is Internet Safety for Victims of Violence that can now be found under our Learn Safety section on ilookbothways.com.

It is my sincere hope that the material in this document will help protect victims of domestic violence, victims of human trafficking who have managed to escape, victims of stalking, victims of hate crimes, and anyone else who, for whatever reason, need to have their online actions carefully protected.  To ensure the highest quality, the information has been edited and vetted by domestic violence experts across the country. Internet Safety for Victims of Violence contains information for victims before they manage to escape, and for those who have already escaped horrible circumstances.

You know an abuse victim. Help get this document into their hands, and into the hands of domestic violence shelters, LGBT organizations, human trafficking organizations, church groups, and more. 

If you know more than 4 women, chances are high that you know a victim of partner or ex-partner abuse. The statistics are shocking, but there are simple steps each of us can take to dramatically influence the safety of the women, children, youth, and yes, the men being victimized today.

The stats:

  1. Nearly one in every four women are beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood[i].
  2. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence[ii].
  3. Approximately 37% of women seeking injury-related treatment in hospital emergency rooms were there because of injuries inflicted by a current or former spouse/partner[iii].
  4. Approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year[iv] – or about 20% of the total U.S. child population of 74.5 million[v].
  5. Men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and adult domestic violence as children were almost 4 times more likely than other men to have perpetrated domestic violence as adults, according to a large study[vi].
  6. The cost of intimate partner violence annually exceeds $5.8 billion, including $4.1 billion in direct health care expenses[vii].
  7. In 2008, a 24-hour survey of domestic violence programs across the nation found that over 60,000 victims were served in one day. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources, there were almost 9,000 unmet requests for services.[viii]
  8. In 2008 the National Domestic Violence Hotline received 236,907 calls, but over 29,000 of those calls went unanswered due to lack of resources[ix].

Take Action:

According to research by the National Criminal Justice Reference service, every year in the U.S. between 1,000 and 1,600 women die at the hands of their partners[x]. That’s 3 or 4 women every single day.

Learn the signs of domestic violence on the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s website, or by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).

NOTE: If you are the victim of domestic violence, do not look for support information on any computer or phone or other device that may be under the control of, or monitored by, your abuser.

Stay alert for these domestic violence signs and ask questions. Silence is an abusers best friend.

If you suspect someone is a victim of domestic violence and the threat is immediate, dial 911. Otherwise report your suspicions to the police.

Together we can get help, safety, and justice for abuse victims.

Linda


[i]  U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (July 2000). Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington, DC. Tjaden, P.,& Thoennes,N)

[ii] Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Statistics, “Intimate Partner Violence in the United States, 1993-2004.” December 2006

[iii] Rand, M. Violence-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Room Departments 5 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997).

[iv] McDonold, R et al. (2006).“Estimating the Number of American Children Living in Partner Violent Families.” Journal of Family Psychology,30(1),137-142

[vi] Whitfield, C.L., Anda, R.F., Dube, S.R., &  Felitti, V.J. (2003). “Violent childhood experiences and the risk of intimate partner violence in adults.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 166-185.

[vii] National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2003). Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States.

[viii] Domestic Violence Count 07 A 24- hour census of domestic violence shelters and services across the United States.The National Network to End Domestic Violence (Jan. 2008).