Investigating Backpage and Exploitation

Exploitation is one of the worst diseases of all time in our society.

Exploitation isn’t a new disease; acts of abuse in taking advantage of those who are vulnerable, who can be beaten down, held hostage in some manner, used for work, sex, entertainment, experiments, etc., and to increase the perpetrators’ profits have occurred since the beginning of our existence.

It is almost impossible to avoid as it occurs in many forms, so when an investigation such as this one into the website Backpage and the people running it leads to a shutdown, seizure and federal charges, it’s a big win.

Exploitation of others, especially of children, isn’t going to slow down until profit centers collapse and perpetrators are exposed. In my work and throughout this website I explore and report on various forms of exploitation and abuse. I believe it’s important to identify the pressure points in society where vulnerabilities are created or worsened, where families are broken down, parent-child relationships disintegrated and children destabilized to a point that puts them at much greater risk for harm. Families in conflict, especially when children are involved, are ripe for exploitation. It is profitable to take advantage and to use children to increase profits.

Common sense, even without all of the available data, tells us that when you destabilize children, increase uncertainty, take away needed medical and psychological healthcare, traumatize them by denying access to nurturing and safe parents, enable perpetrators of physical and psychological abuse, you are setting our young ones up to fail. You are also creating inventory for those who profit from exploitation of children.

What is Backpage and what is the impact of this investigation?

As seen in Reuters online news:

Groups and political leaders working to end forced prostitution and child exploitation celebrated the shutdown of Backpage, a massive ad marketplace that is primarily used to sell sex. This effort involved multiple states and federal authorities including the FBI, IRS and also the US Postal Service. The website posting said U.S. attorneys in Arizona and California, as well as the Justice Department’s section on child exploitation and obscenity and the California and Texas attorneys general had helped shut down the website.

“Today, Backpage was shutdown. It’s a huge step. Now no child will be sold for sex through this website,” tweeted US Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Heitkamp helped draft legislation passed by the Senate last month that makes it easier for state prosecutors and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep sex trafficking and exploitative materials off their platforms. The bill passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 97-2.

President Donald Trump will sign the bill into law next week, said Heitkamp. The legislation, featured prominently in the popular Netflix documentary “I am Jane Doe,” amends the Communications Decency Act, which has shielded website operators from state criminal charges or civil liability if they facilitate sex ads or prostitution.

“Shutting down the largest online U.S. marketplace for sex trafficking will dramatically reduce the profitability of forcing people into the commercial sex trade, at least in the short term,” said Bradley Myles, chief executive of Polaris, an international anti-slavery group that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

There would be “a dramatic shift in the marketplace starting tonight,” Myles added.

This article by Medium explains more about the steps and effort involved to achieve the passage of SESTA and the shutdown of Backpage.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FEDERAL LEGISLATION HERE.

The legislation followed a two-year investigation by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, on which Heitkamp serves, into ads placed on Backpage.com of victims of sex trafficking, including in North Dakota.

The new federal law will empower states to do more to protect those vulnerable to trafficking. The name of the legislation is the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).

Specifically, SESTA would:

  • Allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly or recklessly facilitated the crimes against them.
  • Eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws.
  • Enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

Senator Heitkamp emphasized that this legislation is necessary to immediately provide victims an avenue to seek justice for their exploitation – and make sure that companies will be held liable to the fullest extent of the law for profiting from this form of modern-day slavery.

Note: until there is greater liability and consequences for those profiting from all forms of exploitation of children, both online and offline, our children will not be safe. This work at the state and federal level to take down this website and charge the people responsible for facilitating child sex trafficking is a great step; it is already having a powerful impact on the exploitation of minors.

In local Georgia news:

Atlanta news station WSB-TV’s reporter Lauren Pozen interviewed advocate Kasey McClure of 4Sarah.net along with attorney Esther Panitch who is waging battles for victims childhood sexual abuse.

“Lots of companies who host other people, who communicate through them, are really going to be watchful for to see how far this goes because it’s not just an unpopular website like backpage, but will it affect other websites that maybe are kind of on the line,” said Channel 2 legal analyst Esther Panitch.

Advocates for victims of sex trafficking say the takedown  is a step in the right direction.

“More victims started coming forward and saying this is happening to me and I think people started recognizing they had a problem. The issue that is going on with backpage is them being held accountable for basically allowing men to exploit and rape minors,” said advocate Kasey McClure, who founded 4sarah.net.

How does this affect my community, my children?

Backpage.com let users create posts to sell items but it is mostly known for prostitution among adults but also trafficking children.

Channel 2 Action News reported child trafficking as recently as last month in Cobb County where police found prostitutes as young as 14 years old inside a Marietta motel. Teens told police they were forced to create ads on backpage.com.

Children should not be treated as commodities, should not be sold or exploited, ever. They deserve our focus, and need our time and resources to protect them. Do you agree? Contact me here to learn more about what you can do.

Noteworthy Research by My Advocate Center

Studies show that it is routine practice for professionals involved in family conflict to break down relationships between protective parents and children. It is routine practice to engage in psychological abuse of the children and to put them in harm’s way, escalating stress and worsening coping mechanisms.

These children become more vulnerable to addiction and exploitation.

Why is this happening? The answer is multi-faceted but simple:

  • It’s profitable to do so.
  • Family conflict cases create ripe opportunities to increase profits at the expense of victims of abuse and/or fraud.
  • Perpetrators of abuse are motivated to spend more to avoid consequences; they are also often led to break other laws to avoid exposure.
  • Parents who are desperate for protection, including for their children, are easy to destabilize and take advantage of during litigation; trauma is intentionally caused and used to wear them down, using up time and financial resources as well as removing community support from them in the process.
  • Children can be easily isolated or cut off from the protective parent and worn down or brainwashed into not resisting against abuse; during the course of such abuse the children are also often denied the kind of medical and psychological treatment needed to survive and cope with what has happened to them.
  • There is no oversight, let alone accountability, for those exploiting and profiting from this form of child trafficking.
    • Even in cases where child sexual abuse has been confirmed by DFCS or other forensic experts, the result is the withholding of protection and a coverup of the abuse.
    • Even when professionals obtained proof the abuser created and/or possessed child pornography, this evidence did not serve to protect the children.
  • Anyone trying to stand up for their right to protect their children faces attacks to discredit and destabilize them; and may even be denied due process, including being prevented from presenting evidence and testimony in their defense.
  • Children who have asked to be heard are silenced, with some sent out of state and isolated by appointed court professionals such as psychologists acting as “evaluators” of the family conflict concerning the children.
    • Children who are not sent away are still restricted and controlled through the use of certain therapists and/or guardians who serve to control the thought process of abused children, and filter or control the flow of information to and from the children.
    • The professionals in these roles will often also submit false reports to courts, give false testimony to protect the abuser and/or to blame the protective parent.
  • Putting profit over protection is the norm that parents are not warned of before submitting their lives and giving up their rights in our courts

Use this form to report a situation involving any of the above issues. For reports involving child abuse, click here.

Fortunately there are also legislators at the national level who understand this is a major problem;

The mishandling of family conflict by professionals who control and profit from undoing and withholding what children need, including safety and the nurturing care of a safe parent, is a problem that feeds the sexual predation industry and also benefits from it. The two areas of exploitation serve the other and conflict with the key policies and statements set forth in this concurrent resolution in our U.S. Congress.

  • Child Safety must be the first priority in matters of custody litigation, and states should improve how custody cases are adjudicated
  • 15 million children per year are exposed to domestic violence or child abuse, which are often linked
  • Child sexual abuse is significantly under-documented and under-addressed in the legal system
  • Child abuse is a major public health problem with an estimated total cost of $124 billion related to child maltreatment, including physical, sexual, psychological abuse and neglect, and that is just for one year’s worth of confirmed cases.
  • The CDC’s work on Adverse Childhood Experiences (“ACE”) further explains the harmful impact in this resolution
  • Allegations of family violence, child abuse and child sexual abuse are discounted often in litigation
  • Perpetrators of abuse are often given custody of the children. There’s more, but you get the idea.

My parting thought for you is this question:

Is it possible to strengthen families and to better protect children so that we eliminate the vulnerability of children to predators?

Deb Beacham

 

About Public Information Officer

Deb Beacham of Atlanta is the founder of My Advocate Center, Inc., a Georgia non-profit corporation created in 2011 to serve the rapidly growing needs of families and children caught in conflict.

What is Solutions-Based Journalism?
Researching and reporting are being leveraged in the development of creative solutions to help families preserve their time, energy, financial resources and homes for the benefit of their children.

Public awareness and engagement are key so Ms. Beacham launched programming for professionals serving families, reaching more than a million listeners across the metro Atlanta area. Pro Advocate Radio will be announcing its next series soon!