There’s a person behind the webpage

Morgan White
Opinion Editor

Illustration by Dan Nacu

Slavery in the U.S. didn’t end over 150 years ago. Flaws in our laws allow it to happen within our own borders. The Senate needs to pass the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2014. The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives on May 20, would make it illegal to post prostitution ads online. It would also prohibit knowingly benefitting financially from commercial sex acts that violate laws against sex trafficking of children or of any person by force, fraud or coercion. The bill was introduced to the Senate on July 14 and given to a committee to be considered further.

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut wrote a letter to Craigslist in March 2008 demanding the removal of sexual ads on their website. Blumenthal led a group of 40 attorney generals to reach an agreement with Craigslist to cut down on prostitution ads in Craiglist’s erotic services section.

On Nov. 6, 2008, Blumenthal’s office released a press release announcing that Connecticut and 39 other states reached an agreement to deter prostitution ads on the website. Craigslist required that “posters of erotic services ads give a working phone number and pay a fee with a valid credit card.” Craigslist agreed to give this information to law enforcement.

Blumenthal stated on May 3, 2010 that Craigslist may have been receiving $36.3 million from possibly illegal ads in the year prior to that time. The problem was not merely that these were prostitution ads but these ads contributed to the business of sex trafficking. The battle Blumenthal waged over the reportedly biggest pimp in America at the time came to an end on Sept. 10, 2010.

This was a great victory — until took Craiglist’s place. Backpage is able to get away with what Craigslist couldn’t due to the Communications Decency Act, which states internet service providers are not held liable for criminal activity. On certain aspects the CDA is necessary; for instance, Mark Zuckerberg can’t be held liable for what he can’t control within the realm of Facebook. What differentiates the two though are that Backpage knowingly provides a space to commit these crimes.

Richmond is one of the top 20 cities in the U.S. for human trafficking, less than 200 miles south of Washington, D.C., another city on that list. The I-95 corridor makes Richmond an obvious choice for the transportation of illegal services. Backpage is currently the biggest facilitator of prostitution ads on the web. In 2013 a report published by the Advanced Interactive Media Group reported that Backpage netted 82.3 percent of total industry revenue of $45 million from its adult services sections. The estimate is extremely conservative, advertising was only tracked in 23 of the 394 markets where Backpage offers localized sites in the U.S.

When someone posts these prostitution ads on the adult services section, it’s either on the tabs titled “body rubs” or “escorts.” The ads under those sections are often under the guise of  “This girl is new in town and looking to have fun,” which is partially true. She’s new and she’ll be gone soon. Pimps jump from city to city  to avoid being caught by cops. They state there that this is meant to be two people meeting up and talking. Whatever happens beyond that is between two consenting adults, no pay will be required, but donations are welcomed.

This isn’t a nonprofit company, nor a charity. Most often it’s a woman being forced by a man’s hand to do this and pay the money back to him. Most of the time these victims have ended up there because they were easiest to lure. The victims are easiest to lure because they are most likely either a drug addict with a weak mindset and given the promise of recovery or a minor with an unhealthy home life.

It is not illegal to exploit underage girls online in this fashion. They can profit off of the sexual acts these ads are promoting as much as they want while the girl in the ad is completely forced to do this. It’s a tragedy that this is the world we live in, that innocent children must fear things such as this.

The fact that a child can be used like a ragdoll, be reviewed on brothel forums, criticizing their weight or complaining that the person looking for company would prefer a different eye color is detestable.

It’s devastating that a column even needs to be written about the way a man can strip a child of their identity, take away their free will and force them to live as a caged animal. To force a child into a life of fear is despicable. To be able to lawfully exploit that child sexually is on a whole other level. It’s perhaps one of the most wretched flaws society has in this day and age. This disgusting loophole should not exist.

Backpage’s way to combat this is a disclaimer placed upon the clicking of these ads, where they make the viewer agree to “report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking to the appropriate authorities.”  When you agree to the new iTunes terms and conditions do you actually read it? If you’ve actually read it are you living your day to day under the ruse that you will no longer do the things iTunes asked you not to do? It’s the same way for Backpage. The only way to extinguish this problem is through the passing of the SAVE act of 2014. This cannot wait — it needs to have happened yesterday.

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