The organization that brought down Craigslist’s “erotic services” section is targeting another alleged online under-aged sex traffic enabler — Village Voice Media’s Backpage.com.
According to The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, Backpage.com has been negligent at best, complicit at worst, in allowing sex traffickers to advertise and pimp under-aged girls on its website.
Aiming to shutter another outlet for sexual deviants, the Rebecca Project has teamed up with a number of children’s and women’s advocacy groups to buy advertisements in papers and media owned by Village Voice Media (VVM), directly addressing the Village Voice to address the problem.
The coalition is intent on getting results before February, when it says sex trafficking activity is heightened around the Super Bowl. Malika Saada Saar, the founder and executive director of the Rebbecca Foundation told The Daily Caller that the fact that the Super Bowl is being held in Dallas, one of the top five cities notorious for sex trafficking, makes her organization’s goal especially pressing.
Saar says that one of the major problems is that the Internet has created a much easier environment for illegal activity.
“Unfortunately what has played out, especially because of the Internet and because of the lack of punishment toward those who buy children, we are in a situation where too often we see [that] these very young girls are the ones who are being trafficked,” Saar said. “That is a new reality. That is not part of what the landscape was even 10 years ago, and we really have to identify the contributing factors that have led to very young girls being the ones sold for sex and the leading causes are.”
Amy Siskind, president of The New Agenda, a women’s advocacy organization and one of the Rebbecca Project’s coalition members, told TheDC that the lack of awareness among the general public is one of the challenges facing online sex trade opponents.
“People in our country are largely unaware of this crisis of young women and girls being trafficked and I think there is an assumption that, if it is happening, ‘Well, it isn’t our girls,’ but it is a lot of women here in the U.S.,” Siskind said. “The way the sex trade is driving is online and that is why the work Rebecca’s Project did to shut down Craigslist was so important and a lot of that traffic dissipated but part of the traffic moved to the Village Voice, and they knowingly have been pimping young girls who have been forced into sex.”
Steve Suskin, legal counsel for Village Voice Media, told TheDC that following a thorough review, the company has implemented several new safety measures, including reviews of new ads in the personals and adult sections, implementation of key-word searches, blocking of HTML ads to prevent links to sites that might violate its usage policies, prohibition of all nudity and recruiting child safety experts to help strategize further precautions.
“Backpage.com is committed to preventing those who are intent on misusing the site for illegal purposes. Even one case of teenage prostitution is one too many. For that reason, Backpage.com works closely with law enforcement in helping them bring these perpetrators to justice,” Suckin wrote in an e-mailed statement to TheDC.
Malika Saada Saar says that still is not enough, as children continue to be the victims of sex trafficking on the site. Saar says, either ensure that no child is ever harmed through the site, or take a cue from Craigslist and eliminate the adult section entirely.
“They have talked about a screening process, but from what we have been able to understand about their screening process is that they will essentially eliminate pornographic imagery, so any kind of sexual explicit advertisement they will shut down,” Saar told TheDC. “And that is significant, but it is not really the point of what we are asking. The point of what we are saying is that they need to figure out a way to ensure that children are not being sold on their site.” she said, explaining that if they cannot do it then they should eliminate the section entirely.”