Is Backpage.com complicit in human trafficking?

A lawsuit brought by three teenage girls who were caught up in human trafficking and repeatedly raped through ads placed on Backpage.com by their traffickers says, “yes.”

Three Washington State girls, seventh and ninth graders, are fighting back against the website that advertised them multiple times a day. Kevin Ryan of Covenant House writes in Huffington Post, the girls seek damages from Backpage.com — believed to sell the most online prostitution ads involving children in the country — for creating an illegal online marketplace and policing it in bad faith. After Backpage.com published their pictures and sales pitches about them, the girls, ages 13 and 15, were repeatedly raped by customers.

The reporting link leads to a pop up window of national and international agencies. Apparently if there's a problem, Backpage doesn't really want to know.

The reporting link leads to a pop up window of national and international agencies. Apparently if there’s a problem, Backpage doesn’t really want to know.

Even when family repeatedly followed Backpage.com procedures to report the girls as minors in illegal situations, the website stonewalled their efforts with a message that read, “If you accidentally reported this ad, don’t worry. It takes multiple reports from multiple people for an ad to be removed.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is putting their weight behind the victims’ lawsuit. NCMEC submitted a friend of the court brief saying, “Backpage guides traffickers through the process of developing ads, and prompts users to enter an adult age, rather than a child’s age, to create an escort ad. Backpage allows traffickers to pay to advertise children for sex using anonymous payment methods, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to track the source of payments. For traffickers not savvy enough to think of using anonymous gift cards on their own, Backpage has advised them exactly how to get and use them. Backpage removes sting ads placed by law enforcement for investigating child sex trafficking. Backpage accepts and retains payment not only for ads it believes relate to child sex trafficking, but also for ads repeatedly reported by parents and loved ones of child victims. And Backpage does not remove from public view all active ads that it reports to NCMEC for suspected child sex trafficking.”

If that does not turn your stomach then you are hollow indeed.

As a reporter, I wondered if Backpage.com had perhaps become more proactive and was momentarily encouraged to see a link to report suspected child trafficking on the site’s opening page. But instead of an internal form allowing Backpage to act quickly on a charge, the link opened a window with links to NCMEC, National Human Trafficking Resource Center, the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre of Canada and a list of global human trafficking hotlines. It seemed very much like, “if there’s a problem, we don’t really want to know.”

 

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