Citing pressure from the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Backpage.com closed the adult section of its website, which offers classified advertising. This is a victory for those of us who want to make it harder for sex buyers to exploit vulnerable people:
- Sex buyers will face a major disruption in the marketplace.
- The federal government has proven it is committed to fighting sex trafficking.
- Other websites that sell “escort services” – a cover for prostitution and sex trafficking — should be worried.
- The media coverage of Backpage’s shutdown has put this issue in the public eye.
Backpage has claimed that it only posted the ads and didn’t know that they were used to facilitate illegal sex trade. But the Senate rejected that faulty reasoning. Lawmakers and prosecutors have said that Backpage helped shape the ads. The bipartisan Senate subcommittee reported that Backpage has “knowingly concealed evidence of criminality by systematically editing its adult ads” for up to a decade. The Associated Press reported, “The Washington state Supreme Court similarly ruled last year that the company didn’t just host the ads, but helped develop the content.”
What makes the activities of Backpage and sites like it any different from those of sex traffickers and pimps? Nothing. These sites are in the business of facilitating the sale and exploitation of vulnerable people. We are right to hold them accountable for the harm they do. Still it’s not enough to assume that this one victory ends the fight. In 2010, when Craigslist stopped posting escort services, that traffic moved to Backpage. Already, people who buy others online are sharing other online sites for buying sex, and on Backpage traffic has moved into other dark corners of the website. Beyond Backpage, traffickers and pimps are using some of today’s most popular mobile apps, like Snapchat, WhatsApp and Facebook, to recruit young boys and girls into the sex trade.
The only way to end sex trafficking is to go after the root cause. End sex buying. No buyers means no business.
We are at an inflection point. We can and should celebrate our victories, and we need to get ready for the larger battles ahead. And we need your help. You can:
- Support groups like Demand Abolition that are focused on ending sex-buying.
- Use social media to spread the word: buying another person is not okay.
- Organize a group of friends to see a powerful new documentary, I am Jane Doe, which is about children who were trafficked on Backpage. It opens in select theaters on February 10.
- Educate yourself about Backpage and the Communications Decency Act.