Q&A on BackPage
It has been argued that Backpage.com should be permitted to maintain its “adult services” section because their cooperation with law enforcement and NCMEC has led to the recovery of victims and missing minors through the information provided. What’s your perspective on that argument?
It sounds good, in theory. However, that would be like saying don't prosecute the alleged bank robber because he helped the little old lady cross the street, or has also assisted in the search for missing children in his area. Assisting with something does not negate any criminal activity you also participate in. Backpage's involvement in human trafficking must be stopped, which, by the way, it hasn't. The ads have simply moved to another area of Backpage.com.
Perhaps they have assisted law enforcement and NCMEC, however, it begs the questions how, and to what degree, when you read NCMEC's own report detailing how little cooperation they indeed received from Backpage, despite intensive, ongoing efforts to work with them. Here's a link so you can read about it.
The real issue is we have a legal business profiting from the illegal sale of humans. Trafficking people is illegal in the U.S. Prostitution is illegal in most of the U.S., as is buying sex. If I were found to have assisted or materially participated in any of those three crimes, I would be considered guilty of those crimes. Backpage is not only assisting in the process of trafficking, they are making money from doing so! If Backpage were supporting any other illegal endeavor such as advertising illegal drugs, murder for hire, etc., it would have been stopped long ago, and criminal charges would be made.
One can purchase nearly anything on Backpage. A home, couch, car, clothing, animals, and yes, humans. Interestingly, Backpage posts FREE classified ads EXCEPT for those advertising people. Meaning they make money from the illegal activities of trafficking and prostitution, literally profiting from victimization. Allow me one example of just how lucrative it is for Backpage.com to sell adult ads. These are actual fees a fellow survivor knows were charged when she was sold. One daily ad was $30, and a repost of that ad was $5 per day. She was never advertised with less than four ads per day, and each was reposted five times. So, 4 ads x $30 = $120, plus 5 reposts x 4 ads = 20 reposts x $5 = $100. So, a daily charge of $220. After 365 days, this would have provided Backpage.com with $80,300 per year. This is from one victim! Perhaps now you can see just how much advertising human trafficking lined their pockets.
Critics of the closure of Backpage.com’s “adult services” section have voiced concern that exploitation will take place in much more dangerous conditions, such as on the street, rather than via the anonymity of the Internet. What is your perspective on that argument?
I would never negate the fact that the comfort of a motel/hotel room is far better than the street, it totally is, though one can be trapped in a room much easier, but I digress. The truth is trafficking is incredibly dangerous wherever it occurs. The main danger is from the trafficker and buyer, who will be present no matter the location. Trafficking has been occurring since the beginning of time. Telling ourselves that Backpage.com's advertisement services somehow makes it safer and less harmful, is an illusion at best, and a travesty at worst. Yes, the victim didn't have to go procure the buyer, which is much nicer, and could add a small measure of safety. However, nothing makes the fact that you are being raped several times a day by someone, who paid to do it, easier to live with.
In your opinion, what impact does the shutdown of Backpage.com’s “adult services” section have on the sex trafficking of minors?
Sadly, very little. We must not be fooled into thinking shuttering Backpage.com adult ads will somehow stop or lessen human trafficking. It simply forces the criminals to use other ways to ply their trade, most of which already exist. Assuming a trafficker has only one victim, and that victim generates a minimum of $1,000 daily, or $365,000 per year, we'd be foolish to think they wouldn't quickly find another way to keep that income flowing. There's no way they will throw their hands in the air, and decide they should just go get a job!
The internet did not exist when I was being trafficked in residences as a teenager. However, there was never a shortage of buyers. My point is, those who participate in this crime will find it regardless of internet sites. It flourished when I was sold in the early 80's, and it flourishes now. This is a heart condition. The hearts of people who are consumed with greed, power, and lust fuel this crime. We can mitigate circumstances, make and enforce laws, and educate on the reality of slavery, however it will never end without a heart change both in the individual and as a society. In the meantime, turning a blind eye to a 'legal corporation whose coffers grow fatter daily from sales of human flesh is unconscionable. I applaud our Senate for all they are doing in this matter.
Kathy Bryan is a speaker, trainer, mentor, survivor leader and currently serves as Program Director and speaker team member for RBI.