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FBI Shuts Down Backpage

One of the causes that I am most passionate about is human trafficking. Human trafficking or modern-day slavery, as it’s sometimes referred to, is a multi-billion-dollar industry. In terms of numbers, it is estimated that human trafficking makes $150 billion dollars a year; in terms of illegal activity, this is second only to drugs. Traffickers often say that once someone buys drugs from you that sale is complete. But if you sell a human being they can be sold repeatedly. There are many different types of human trafficking; labor, sex, forced criminality, etc. The type that most people have heard is of sex trafficking particularly sex trafficking of women. It is important to mention that BOTH men and women are victims of all types of human trafficking including sex trafficking.

Due to the rise of the internet, it has become much easier for a trafficker to place ads. One of the biggest sites for sex ads has been Backpage.com. It is the largest US online marketplace for sex trafficking allowing for customers to pay to post ads selling everything from massages, to erotic dances to sex.  The problem is that not all of these ads are selling services by a willing participant. Many of the ads listed are placed by traffickers. The site had ads for adults as well as children listed. Backpage was aware that the ads placed on their site were selling children for sex. They stood behind the right to free speech and argued that since they did not place the ads on the site directly they could not be held responsible for any actions that stemmed from the ads. The documentary “I Am Jane Doe”, describes the lives of young girls who were sold on Backpage as prostitutes while they were victims of human trafficking. These survivors and their parents fought against Backpage, but it was a losing battle.

After public backlash, Backpage changed their rules for placing ads on their site.  So instead of explicitly stating that someone was under 18, the ad would say %100 young, and daddy can i be your candy?  Once these new rules were not enough, they allowed for sex ads to be labeled as “Censored”. These stipulations obviously did little to stop the selling of sex on the site especially if you were aware of what keywords to look for.

But this weekend there is reason to rejoice: Backpage has been taken down by the FBI due to an investigation. This is a huge victory in the fight against human trafficking. But one site being removed will only force the traffickers to move elsewhere. Traffickers used Craigslist until the site closed their adult services section in 2010. As more victims are rescued and we learn more about the ways in which traffickers sell their victims, we will be able to shut down more sites. But companies must be willing to do the right thing and shut down the sites regardless of the monetary cost.

There is no one who is immune to the trap of human trafficking.  We must remember to see victims of human trafficking as other humans and not as others. This crime is happening all around us every day. By developing an understanding of human trafficking and what to look for, we can work together to put an end to this horrific practice.

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