Category Archives: Human Trafficking

More on Backpage from the Washington Post

Here’s the link to the Washington Post article that first reported the shutdown of Backpage’s “adult” section. I’m not feeling the least bit sorry for poor Backpage. If they weren’t trafficking in children they might gain some sympathy for their outcry of censorship. They had become a venue for low level traffickers and pimps, advertising children who would be obviously underage on the streets. It was far too easy. This won’t stop the trafficking, but it might slow down the ones with lesser skills. One small step.

Backpage.com shuts down adult services ads after relentless pressure from authorities

January 10

Fighting accusations from members of Congress that it facilitated child sex trafficking, the classified advertising site Backpage.com abruptly closed its adult advertising section in the United States on Monday, saying years of government pressure left it no choice but to shutter its most popular and lucrative feature.

The decision came shortly after a Senate panel released a report alleging Backpage concealed criminal activity by removing words from ads that would have exposed child sex trafficking and prostitution. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is scheduled to hold a hearing on the report Tuesday morning. Backpage’s founders and executives will appear in the hearing but do not plan to testify, according to their attorneys.

In a related development Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lawsuit by three sex-trafficking victims who claimed Backpage promoted the sexual exploitation of minors.

Backpage said in a statement that scrutiny of the site by government officials has made it too costly to keep operating the adult section. The company rejected the subcommittee’s findings, saying the decision was the result of “unconstitutional government censorship.”

“For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed,” Backpage said, “but new government tactics, including pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage, have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content in the United States.”

Backpage has been the target of multiple lawsuits and investigations in recent years focusing on its adult ads, and its founders and executives are currently fighting money-laundering and pimping charges in California.

The ads for escorts, body-rubs and adult entertainment, many of them including revealing photos as part of the come-on, were an important source of revenue for Backpage, which operates like Craigslist, with users paying to advertise a range of goods and services. Advocates say such advertisements have improved safety for sex workers by allowing them to negotiate services online rather than in the streets. But the National Association of Attorneys General and other law enforcement officials have argued that Backpage and sites like it provide an outlet for people who seek to sexually exploit minors.

Backpage launched in 2004 and expanded significantly six years later when Craigslist shut down its adult advertising section under pressure from law enforcement and Congress. On Monday night, disclaimers appeared on Backpage’s adult section reading “CENSORED” in red letters and “the government has unconstitutionally censored this content.”

The federal Communications Decency Act provides immunity to website operators that publish third-party content online, but multiple lawsuits have argued that the 1996 law does not protect Backpage because the site contributes to illegal activity — claims Backpage has vigorously denied.

The Senate subcommittee raised similar concerns Monday. Its report alleged that Backpage knowingly hid child sex trafficking and prostitution by deleting incriminating terms from its ads before publication. The report found that the company used a feature that automatically scrubbed words such as “teenage,” “rape” and “young” from some ads, while manually removing terms from others.

The subcommittee also alleged that Backpage founders James Larkin and Michael Lacey still own financial stakes in the company, despite claiming that they sold their shares roughly two years ago.

The panel has been investigating Backpage since June 2015. Initially, the company refused to turn over subpoenaed documents, but a federal court ordered the company to comply with the probe last summer.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who spearheaded the investigation, said Backpage’s decision to close the adult section showed that it was “complicit” in online sex trafficking.

“Backpage’s response wasn’t to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site,” the senators said in a statement. “That’s not ‘censorship’ — it’s validation of our findings.”

Larkin and Lacey are scheduled to appear at Tuesday’s hearing, along with Backpage’s chief executive, chief of operations and general counsel. Several alleged “victims of Backpage’s practices” are also slated to appear, according to the subcommittee’s site. In a letter to the subcommittee, attorneys for Backpage said Larkin, Lacey and the others do not plan to testify, and compared the subcommittee’s probe to the anti-communist crusades of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

In a separate statement, Larkin and Lacey cited Backpage’s list of legal battles, saying courts in multiple states have sided with the site in litigation over its adult ads.

“Today, the censors have prevailed. We get it,” Larkin and Lacey said in a statement. “But the shut-down of Backpage’s adult classified advertising is an assault on the First Amendment. We maintain hope for a more robust and unbowed Internet in the future.”

Backpage contends that its adult section has become a resource for law enforcement agencies and says the closing of its adult section will not reduce human trafficking. According to Backpage attorneys, local and federal authorities around the country have turned to the site for help tracking down people who have “impermissibly sought to use the internet as a platform to commit abhorrent crimes.” The site has long collaborated with law enforcement officers, the attorneys said, and has donated to Children of the Night, an organization whose mission is to rescue children from prostitution.

Children of the Night Founder and President Lois Lee called the site a “critical investigative tool” that has helped authorities arrest pimps and recover missing children.

“The ability to search for and track potentially exploited children on a website and have the website bend over backwards to help and cooperate with police the way Backpage did was totally unique,” Lee said in a statement. “It not only made law enforcement’s job easier, it made them much more effective at rescuing kids and convicting pimps.”

Along with Lee’s remarks, Backpage offered two pages of what it said were testimonials from law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, praising the site for assisting investigations. “I know your company is vilified nationally because it is an easy target,” read one testimonial, attributed to the Denver Police Department. “I have told numerous people that Backpage is law enforcement friendly and does not support human trafficking.”

In October, authorities raided the Backpage’s headquarters in Dallas and arrested Chief Executive Carl Ferrer on charges of pimping a minor and conspiracy, after an investigation by state attorneys general found that prostitution ads posted to the site involved sex-trafficking victims. Authorities also charged Larkin and Lacey with conspiracy to commit pimping. At the time, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris accused themof designing Backpage to be “the world’s top online brothel.”

A judge dismissed the charges in December, but Harris filed new charges shortly after, accusing the trio of money laundering and conspiracy to commit pimping, as the Los Angeles Times reported. Attorneys for the men say the charges are baseless.

 

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Finally. Some good news to start your day.

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FBI: Guatemalan Migrants Exploited in Forced Labor Scheme

migrant-worker-scheme

With talk of educational opportunities for minors and good paying jobs for adults, traffickers lured Guatamalan migrants to Ohio. Rather than going to school or finding lucrative employment, they were forced to work long hours for little pay at a chicken farm. Their living conditions were almost as deplorable as those of the chickens. Based on a hotline tip, the traffickers were arrested and the Guatamalan slaves rescued. This is in modern-day America, folks. Read the report: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/guatemalan-migrants-exploited-in-forced-labor-scheme?utm_campaign=email-Daily&utm_medium=email&utm_source=fbi-top-stories&utm_content=587383

 

 

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Survivor’s Poem

This is a powerful visual presentation of a poem written and performed by a survivor of domestic sex trafficking. Not for the faint of heart.

And I would add: not only are America’s daughters at risk, but our sons as well.

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A Theology of Rape

New York Times: ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

A Yazidi girl from the New York Times article: ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

The article linked below appeared in the New York Times this morning and describes the development of a human trafficking network within ISIS and the theological justifications used by their leaders to condone rape of women and girls. In it, escaped Yazidi captives tell their stories. I was shocked, disgusted and disturbed by the treatment of these girls and especially so because their rapes were surrounded by acts of prayer and justifications from the perpetrators that, in essence, blamed the victims–if they had not been infidels, they would not be treated so.

Then I reined in my outrage and asked myself: is this anything new? Once a person/group decides that another race, religion, or gender is less than human, he can justify whatever he does. It happened in this country in our own slave history–owners repeatedly raped their slaves. It still happens in this country–not just in other parts of the world, but here too, lest we be tempted to point fingers at these “barbaric” people as if we’ve evolved above such things. Unchecked, hiding in the shadows, humans are capable of all manner of atrocities in any country, anywhere. One need only scan a few days’ worth of news article to see that.

Yes, ISIS’s deeds are horrible. Yes, Boko Haram commits cowardly inhumane acts. I am not diminishing the horrific nature of their crimes. My emotional response: I would love nothing more than to see their own barbarity turned back on them. But there is a bigger picture here. These groups have developed a “culture” around their behavior that makes it socially and morally–even theologically–acceptable for them to commit these heinous acts. If someone raped one of their little sisters, they would probably behead him. The difference: the captives are not considered human, they’re property. And it is no different for the wealthy Coloradan, whose purchased domestic worker is his to rape at will. We, as a combined human race, must say that NEVER is it right for one human to do this to another, that no religious conviction, no social conviction, no caste system, no economic condition can justify the brutality of rape. This requires a basic understanding that all humans have the right to be treated as humans, not chattel, even if we dislike them or don’t agree vehemently with them.

So, even though my emotions would like to see the barbarity returned onto the perpetrators in kind, my moral and ethical code says they must be treated as human beings, deserving of due process and respect. We need to process these actions as war crimes in the world court.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/world/middleeast/isis-enshrines-a-theology-of-rape.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

 

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I feel little, broken, invisible, lost…

I found myself saying those words this morning, over and over—in truth, sobbing them. hiding child BWAnd at the very time I need to be the opposite of those things, or so I tell myself. I wanted to hurry past the feelings, push them away, like I have been doing for weeks. I know better. I spent years in therapy trying to expose the buried emotions that kept me from functioning at my fullest. I also spent years as a counselor encouraging clients to “embrace their brokenness” rather than push it away or bury it. And yet, here I am.

As the release of my first book approaches, the turmoil has increased. Rationally, it is not surprising. As a survivor of severe abuse, one of my strongest defenses has been to be invisible, blend into the woodwork, never draw attention, and now I am asking myself to do the opposite: be visible, expose myself, my thoughts, my very heart. And the broken part of me says that is dangerous, deadly. I can argue with the thoughts, but changing the feelings is near impossible. My counselor self says, don’t change the feelings, embrace them.

So I allow myself to feel what I have been pushing away. It’s ugly, painful, terrifying. This world seems huge, unfriendly, just looking for a way to crush me. I am not wanted here.

Oh, I hit a core belief. I am not wanted. Who I am is a mistake. My thoughts are not wanted, my feelings are not wanted. I should never have been born. Ouch. My heart twists with the pain. It is so deep, so fathomless.

I want to rush to counter the belief. I am loved by many people. I am wanted now. I have gifts, thoughts, skills that are valuable and needed. But to rush to that argument diminishes the value of that broken part of me and confirms her beliefs: nobody wants to hear that negative talk, nobody likes a loser—just ask Donald Trump. The world wants to see confidence, power, strength, not ugly, self-pitying weakness.

I have learned over the years, however, that I make truer, deeper connections with others in and through my brokenness. A huge percentage (don’t ask me for numbers; I have no idea) of this world’s population is more familiar with brokenness than power and “success.” Exposing my broken places, being honest about who I am and what I feel, has built more bridges to others than my façade of confidence ever has or will.

My entire novel series, in fact all I’ve ever written, has come out of my brokenness, not my learned skills or my inner power.

The reason I am a modern day abolitionist, the reason I fight for the rights and dignity of all people comes out of my brokenness. moderndayslaveryWhat I’m feeling today—little, broken, invisible, lost—those trapped in slavery, those being trafficked, those being abused, feel every day. I don’t want to shove away my feelings because they keep me connected to 27-30 million slaves around the world and  uncalculated numbers of survivors of abuse.

And so, I embrace my brokenness, and I embrace our broken world. If you are one of the  broken, I hope you feel my heart reaching toward you. And if you should choose to reach back,  my heart is open.

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Not a “Ponography” Site

This weekend I was at the Word Press inaugural blogging conference in Portland. So many bloggers. So many great technical minds. The “happiness lounge” was filled with brilliant, young computer engineers helping bloggers find their blogging nirvana. I was inspired to stop neglecting my poor blog.

So as I was reacquainting myself with the dashboard, I checked the stats on my blog, mostly interested in what countries the visitors were from. It’s amazing to see places listed that I didn’t even know were countries. Then I looked at what search terms people were using to get to my blog and was really disheartened by what I found. Some were searching for “ponography”–yes, spelled that way. My site deals with a lot of anti-trafficking issues, and apparently I tagged one of them as dealing with “ponography”–yes, I made the same spelling error. I’m sure the searchers were not looking for articles on the misuse of children in pornography or the effects of rampant, graphic pornography on the sexual development of adolescents, but that’s what they found. For some reason it makes me feel a little sleazy to know that the Google search engines are directing people my way who are looking for “minor ponography pictures” as if I were promoting one of the very things I stand against.

Writing a blog and being involved in social media is a strange adventure. I’ve never thought of myself as a naive person–I’ve lived waaaay too much life to be that way–but I feel like I’m seeing a whole different world through the internet. Some very wonderful things like being able to connect with people all over the world–over 150 countries in a year. That’s mind-boggling. But there is the dark side too. I’ve been fortunate not to have to deal with negative comments on my site, but I see them on other people’s blogs. People can be so mean-spirited and hateful. Something about anonymity seems to free people from civility. I like honesty, but I believe honesty can, and should, be civil and intelligent. And my hope is–naive as it may seem–that I will be able to keep this blog site a place of shared knowledge and civility.

So those are my musings on this Monday morning. Hope you have a great week.

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