Online Trafficking

July 27, 2017

I can’t begin to imagine the horror of having a child go missing, or realizing that your young daughter has run away from home. But, adding to that – the horror of then seeing pictures of your daughter on the internet advertising her for sexual services? That is absolutely inconceivable. 

I am Jane Doe is a documentary that details the abuse of websites when they allow advertisements for the slavery of human beings. The worst of the worst is Backpage.com, with an estimated 80% of sexual services being advertised there. Many of these women are underage. The vast majority of these women are being held in virtual slavery by their pimps, thereby making them victims of sex trafficking. 

Several young girls have opted to tell their stories for this documentary, using anonymous names, as have their families. Their stories of being brutally raped 20+ times a day by men who pay for their services, and likely know that they are only teenagers, is heartbreaking. It is also revolting. How anyone can participare in such a thing is beyond comprehension. 

The most compelling thing about this documentary is the role that websites, most specifically Backpage.com, have in all of this. Although I have worked in startups in the past, and I have a great many number of colleagues, family members and friends who work in the industry, I have never heard of such a thing as the “CDA” (Communications Decency Act). This act, passed in 1996 by Congress at the very beginning of the internet boom, gives internet companies a “pass” when it comes to other people posting illegal activities on their websites. So, it gives companies like Backpage a legal pass, even if they knowingly comply in these activities. Backpage has been sued repeatedly by victims of sex trafficking, and they have prevailed in court over and over again. 

When viewing the documentary, it is clear that reversing the CDA is a slipery slope. Yes, there are First Amendment rights to consider. Yes, companies can’t possibly “police” everything and yes, they can’t possibly be held liable for every little thing. However, knowingly participating in the sale of human beings is illegal, not to mention morally repulsive. Clearly, companies need to bear some responsibility for the ads for which they are receiving revenue. 

The only glimmers of hope presented in the film were the many agencies that are trying to help these helpless victims. The trauma these young girls have experienced is literally unimagineable and the physical and mental scars will last a lifetime. It is so nice to see awareness campaigns building in strength and lifelines being thrown to these girls. (United Methodist Women, of which I am a very proud member, has been working with these agencies for a very long time.) 

It is not an easy film to watch, to say the least. The interview with a “former” pimp is particularly revolting, though I think it’s important to get some perspective, if only at the very least to try to protect young girls from these potential predatory situations. It is also incredible to watch the CEO from Backpage refuse to answer questions, to the point of refusing to even respond to a Congressional subpeona! It is also incredibly disturbing to see members of Backpage and its parent company finally show up to a Congressional Committee Meeting (after literally being forced to by the court system) only to have them all invoke the First and Fifth Amendments – smugly. 

I can assure you that I will never, ever, purchase anything from Backpage – ever. As long as I live. 

Matthew 18:10 (NRSV): Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

Serve all with love.

Photo courtesy of: stocksnap.io

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