On the evening of July 18th, I had the opportunity to attend the special viewing and panel discussion of the film I Am Jane Doe. Since my novel True Mercy deals with the topic of human trafficking and I want to be involved in the movement to end slavery, it was important for me to attend and learn more.
That evening I encountered many women and men at the meeting dedicated to ending slavery. However, as we watched the film, we learned about the obstacles anti-human trafficking organizations, attorneys, law enforcement officials, and politicians have in confronting these underground organizations. One of those obstacles, as shown in the film, is the quest to shut down Backpage.com’s ads selling children for sex. Despite numerous court battles throughout this country, Backpage.com keeps prevailing.
Some background on Backpage.com: it was started in 2004 and is now the second largest buying and selling of products and services website (Craigslist.com is the largest). They control 80% of the market for sex ads. Many of their ads feature underaged teenage girls in provocative poses under the guise of “escort services.” Backpage.com even helps pimps create and develop these ads, using code words like “fresh off the boat” for “underaged.” One would think this criminal activity would be easy to stop, but in court case after court case, from Seattle to Boston, Backpage.com has prevailed. Judges keep dismissing the cases.
There are an estimated 150,000 underaged human trafficking victims in the US alone. When a teenage girls runs away from home, they are susceptible to strangers who pretend to understand and care about them, and before they realize what is happening, they are manipulated or tricked into human trafficking. This includes being raped and given drugs like heroin and meth. In the film My Name Is Jane Doe, former victims and their parents discussed their experiences. Fortunately, these girls were spotted being advertised for sex and then rescued, but when both parents and children filed suit against Backpage.com, this website hired expensive attorneys who used first amendment rights of free speech and CDA 230* to successfully triumph in every lawsuit.
Currently, Ann Wagner, the Republican representative for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, introduced the bill HR1865 on April 3, 2017 to amend Section 230 so owners of the websites like Backpage.com can be held responsible.
I urge readers to join in their efforts. You can do this in many ways: watch the film I AM JANE DOE—check media listings for when it is being presented; call your US representatives for support of HR1865, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Trafficking Act of 2017;” sign the petition at CHANGE.ORG, which urges Google, Facebook, and Microsoft to stop their support of child sex trafficking; and log onto organizations on social media to spread awareness. For instance, in New Jersey, there is NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking on Facebook and @NJ_Coalition on Twitter. And of course, a donation of any amount to help fund the efforts to enact HR1865 would be most welcome.
*Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that “’No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’ This portion of §230 is often characterized as granting website owners complete immunity regarding any content posted by users. “
–Taken from “The Lawless Internet? Myths and Misconceptions About CDA Section 230” By Mary Anne Franks