Backpage is a lot like Craigslist. It is a classifieds site where you can find people selling furniture, cars, etc. in your area. However, among human trafficking advocates, Backpage.com is known as the one stop shop for pimps to sell prostitutes to johns around the country. It only takes two clicks from the home page and you will be offered an individual profile with a number at which you can reach someone in your area who is selling sex. Try it- it’s shocking. Go to Backpage.com and then click the link for “Escorts”.
You might remember that Craigslist used to have an escort function on their website, but, amidst pressure created by a nationally aired CNN documentary- which exposed online sex ads as direct fuel for human trafficking- they cancelled that part of the company. Unfortunately, this has only made Backpage.com’s escort page stronger. Backpage has refused again and again to remove that portion of their site, likely because of the 20 to 30 million dollars a year that their sex ads bring in.
On the site, anyone can put up a sex ad, and while the higher-ups at Backpage have stated that they are cracking down on the ads, which are supposed to be, somehow, innocent ads for “escort services,” this has basically amounted to erasing nudity from the site and not much else. Because it is so easy to create a post, and because johns in different areas handle them so quickly, the amount of sex ads on the site far outweighs any possible level of police interest. Simply put, the only way to stop people from using the ads would be to cancel that function of the website altogether or to shut it (the website) down completely.
Alarmingly, many of the posts on Backpage are for underage girls. Again, the site is a hub for girls that are or have been victims of human trafficking. Many of the ads depict girls with a false age of 18 or 19 and use adjectives like “young” “fresh” or “bubbly” to describe the girls. CNN’s Amber Lyon did a 40-minute documentary on Backpage (easily found online) in which she interviews a girl that was sold online at the ages of 12 and 13 years old. In the film, Lyon posts an ad with a picture of her at age 14, and even after telling the johns that call her that she is 17 years old she is solicited over and over again and eventually offered 30,000 dollars to fly to another state and meet a high profile client. Again, all of this despite explaining that she is underage. And all of the action was done through Backpage.
With school out for summer break, traffickers could be looking for kids to take advantage of. The route into the world of human trafficking often starts through kidnapping kids who run away from home- and during summer break, this could be a prime opportunity for pimps to stock up on their Backpage merchandise.
Parents need to be educated about Backpage and about the dangers and proximity of the human trafficking world in Houston. If you have children, especially if they are prone to running away from home – be aware that kids that run away are easy and sought after targets for pimps who are simply looking to fill up space on the “Escorts” page as quickly as possible. The owners of Backpage themselves are doing all they can to keep the moneymaking part of their site afloat. Follow along with news on Backpage at www.VillageVoicePimps.com – there you will find information on how to be proactive against one of the most dangerous web pages around.