Victims' Rights Caucus

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The Huffington Post

The Internet, Backpage, Child Trafficking, Congress -- and Our Responsibility to Vulnerable Children

 

Malika Saada Saar

Director, Human Rights Project for Girls

Posted: 07/10/2012 2:00 pm

The day that Craigslist shut down its adult services section, I got a call from a mother whose daughter was still under the control of a trafficker. "You did it" she said. "The pimps are losing their minds because they can't put the girls up on the site anymore. They don't know what to do."

For a period of time, it did feel as if we had won. I worked with a powerful constellation of the Attorneys General, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, anti-trafficking organizations, the media, and most importantly survivors, to shine the light on how Craigslist was the go-to site for child sex trafficking.

Many folks criticized those of us who fought so hard for the shut down. We were told that shutting down these ads would not end child sex trafficking, and that the ads would simply migrate to another site.

Two years later, Backpage.com is now that other site. At present, it makes up 80 percent of all online prostitution ad revenue.

Were folks right, then, that the Craigslist sex ads shutdown would not do anything to curb child trafficking and exploitation in the U.S.? Are they right now in saying that it is useless to go after Backpage?

No, they are not. The ads did migrate to Backpage, but not in the same numbers. We knew that when the iconic, respected Craigslist got out of the business of child sex trafficking, so too would many of the buyers. In fact, after Craigslist shut down its adult services section, a study revealed that the site's closure precipitated a 48 percent drop in the overall volume of prostitution ads online.

And the success of the Craigslist shutdown also signaled to survivors and victims of trafficking that their lives were valued. The girls who dared to speak out against how they were sold off of Craigslist were finally heard by a larger public that rarely sees or listens to these hurt girls.

This is exactly why Backpage cannot be allowed to continue to profit from child sex trafficking. We must go after Backpage because no website should be allowed to rely on people selling children for sex for its business model. In just a 12 month period, Backpage has generated almost $27 million in revenue from online prostitution advertising.

And we must go after Backpage because purchasing a child for sex should never be as easy, convenient and acceptable as ordering up a pizza. As long as mainstream -- and not the salacious and marginalized -- websites like Craigslist before and now Backpage are used to exploit children, demand for a 14-year-old girl for sex will be normalized.

On Thursday July 12th, there will a Congressional briefing hosted by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) and the Victims Rights Caucus on child trafficking and the Internet. Human Rights Project for Girls, Ernie Allen from the Center for Missing and Exploited Childre