Human Trafficking Online
How often do you go on a classifieds website, such as Craigslist or Gumtree? And what do you search for? The NY Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof has recently reported on how pimps are using certain websites to traffic and sell their girls online. Advertising and selling a prostitute over the internet, from a pimp’s perspective, is perfect. It makes their job significantly easier as it removes the risk of their girls being arrested when soliciting on the street. Websites such as Backpage.com earn 22 million dollars annually through their ‘adult services’ adverts where girls are bought, sold or bid for like items on eBay. This online platform also makes it much more difficult for authorities to crack down on these trafficking and prostitution rings due to their constant movement from site to site.
In one of Nicholas D. Kristof’s articles, he interviews a former prostitute called Alissa, (her street name) who is forever reminded of her former life by a deep scar on her cheek where a pimp sliced her with a potato peeler, warning her not to run away. Alissa managed to escape and did testify against her pimps (6 of them went to prison for up to 25 years) but she is particularly scathing about Backpage.com. She compares it to the concept of buying a child at the American chain Wal-Mart – buying girls online is the same principle, and yet is accepted.
Craigslist majorly censored their 'adult section' after many public protests. Pimps then moved to Bakpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media. In the USA, lawyers from 48 states wrote a joint letter to Backpage, warning that it had become “a hub” for sex trafficking and calling on it to stop running adult services adverts due to cases in 22 different states in which pimps peddled underage girls through Backpage.
Liz McDougall, of the general counsel of Village Voice Media, stated that these accusations are “shortsighted, ill-informed and counterproductive”, since many other Web sites are also involved, particularly because it is Backpage's policy to screen adverts for minors and reports possible trafficking cases to the authorities. But surely this means that Web sites should also be held accountable for these crimes? Shouldn't these websites be held morally responsible for providing a vehicle for pimps and facilitating sex slavery?
But Backpage isn’t budging. Indeed, it has fought back with personal attacks on those, such as actor Ashton Kutcher, who have linked it to human trafficking. Steve Suskin, legal counsel to Village Voice Media, argued that the company is already cooperating closely with law-enforcement authorities. He cited a 16-year-old girl in Seattle who was rescued as a result of a tip the company had made.
Suskin firmly believes that censorship will not rid the world of exploitation, but I ask you - isn't this a risk worth taking? Eliminating online hubs for human trafficking is a fundamental step in the battle against this heinous crime.
By Amelia Stewart