Prostitution Online – Human Trafficking in the US

I can’t begin to keep track of how many times I have overheard people dismiss sex trafficking as something that happens in other countries such as Thailand or India. Of course it is considered to be an issue everyone should be concerned with, but for many it isn’t urgent since it isn’t happening in their own backyard.

Or is it…?

It’s a hard pill to swallow. Realizing that women and children are being forced into sexual acts, essentially reduced to slavery, in our own neighborhoods is unsettling for even the most steadfast individual. However sexual slavery is alive and well in our society.

Though the internet is considered for many (myself included) an invention we cannot live without, something which enables us to connect with loved ones, gain knowledge with the click of a button, and occasionally check in on past boyfriend/girlfriends; for many it is used as a tool to use women and children for sexual exploitation. The part of that statement that really gets to me is the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation. I can’t even begin to describe my disgust that a) the innocence of children is stolen without a second thought and b) there is enough of a demand for sex with children that this type of trafficking continues.

According to End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) there are an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children at risk of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States.

The best way to traffic these children and to find the most johns is through the internet. Sex is very accessible online which allows pimps and traffickers to market the women and children they force or coerce into sexual exploitation. Escorts ads are posted online through a variety of sites and, though there may be some minor effort to monitor the content of those ads to ensure children are not involved, more often than not ads for sex with children slip through.

There are 5 main websites in the United States that carry prostitution advertisements. These websites set a record of combined revenue of $3.3 million in January 2012, the highest combined revenue since Craigslist stopped selling ads for escorts/adult services in September 2010 (The AIM Group). Craigslist pulled their ads for adult services due to law enforcement pressure and anti-trafficking groups that cited Craigslist as having ads which promoted sex slavery for underage children. Unfortunately, it appears this pressure did not extend to the other large sites which also offer similar escort ads.

According to the AIM Group, 70% of the $3.3 million January revenue came from Backpage.com, a site owned by Village Voice Media which offers escort and adult service ads. Though Backpage has changed their advertising after criticism from anti-trafficking groups and does try to help police screen for underage girls in their ads, these types of ads cannot be caught at all times. Recently pressure has been growing to force Backpage to stop allowing escort ads on their site to eliminate the problem entirely. By shutting down Backpage, more pressure would be put on traffickers and johns. It would make the service less accessible and, though the demand may not change, the process to “supply” children for sexual exploitation would be hindered.

Recently action has been taken against Backpage and currently we are waiting with baited breath to see what Village Voice Media’s next move will be. Groundswell organized a petition which was signed by 19 US Senators, 51 of the nation’s attorney generals, 53 anti-trafficking experts and state lawmakers around the country and was delivered on March 29, 2012 (Groundswell). In addition to these signatures, more than 230,000 people signed the petition which has the ultimate goal of the having Village Voice Media immediately shut down the Adult section of Backpage.com so that no girls or boys are trafficked via the Web site, despite safeguards that have been implemented.

The rally to deliver the petition was a wonderful success and even John Buffalo Mailer, the son of Village Voice’s co-founder, was in attendance.

John Buffalo Mailer speaks during a protest rally, Thursday, March 29, 2012 in New York. Mailer, the son of the Village Voice co-founder Norman Mailer, joined a coalition of religious and civic leaders concerned that the ads encourage sex trafficking of children. Bebeto Matthews / AP Photo

After the delivery of the petition along with dozens of pairs of girls shoes to symbolize the lost childhoods of sexually exploited girls, no major action was seen from Village Voice Media to make significant changes. To date, Village Voice has removed the links to Backpage at the bottom of each of their newspapers online, yet links to Backpage can still be found on the Village Voice and the Backpage.com URL itself is still active (Village Voice Pimp).

The Groundswell campaign is still collecting signatures for their petition with the goal of reaching 300,000 signatures.

To sign the petition, please click here and share the link with your friends and family. Spreading awareness of the issue is the only way to get the attention of law makers to change the law and force companies like Village Voice to remove sites such as Backpage.com and take an important step against child sex trafficking.

 

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