By now, it’s pretty much accepted that backpage.com has become the Internet’s defacto marketplace for sex trafficking of both adults and children. Law enforcement officials know it. Prostitutes and pimps know it. And, certainly, the johns who fund this underground world, know it.
But despite all the pressure for backpage.com to pull these ads from its site – from police and politicians to activist groups and even those in the business, like me - no one at backpage seems to be fazed. I guess an estimated $22 million in annual profit for Village Voice is enough to ease a conscience and buy a good night’s sleep.
Still, I continue to believe that it’s a fight worth fighting and I’m encouraged that backpage.com is being kept under the spotlight for its practices. But I think what bothers me most is that the company tries to portray itself in a positive light, as a company that’s troubled by the acts of human trafficking that are being advertised on it site and is working hard to eradicate it.
Give me a break.
In a recent segment on ABC News Nightline, backpage.com attorney Liz McDougall actually had the nerve to suggest, when pressed to comment about the amount of money backpage.com profits from these ads, that “…this is not about money. This is about providing a tool to save children online.”
I’m appalled at the suggestion that backpage.com – which is regularly used by law enforcement officials as a way of both learning more about the underground world of sex trafficking and targeting traffickers in sting operations – would ever be considered a tool for saving children.
In the same Nightline interview, McDougall suggests that “if shutting down the adult category on one website was the answer to stop child exploitation, I would be all over that and I would be out front saying that’s the answer. That is not the answer.”
My response to that is that no one is suggesting that shutting down the sex ads on backpage will bring an end to child exploitation or human rights violations. But what backpage.com is choosing not to acknowledge is the role that it plays in allowing this underground world to grow and prosper. McDougall says the site invests manpower in identifying questionable ads and refers those ads to law enforcement officials – but if it didn’t allow the ads to begin with, it wouldn’t have to monitor them. And the idea that a room full of employees manually scouring the ads, instead of a high-tech solution to identify them, is making any sort of dent in the problem is laughable.
At Geebo, we don’t employ dozens of people to scour the site for possible acts of human trafficking or child prostitution. I pulled all of the personals ads from Geebo nearly two years ago – and my conscience and I sleep great at night.
●Keeping the Fight Alive against Online Sex Ads
●As Prostitution Persists, Anti-Human Trafficking Activists Look to Root Causes
●Business decisions can be driven by moral values. Will Backpage step up to prove it?