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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My Third E-Book Now Available

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Rescued from enslavement and adopted by two leaders of the realm, Elena has found a new home at Kelach and the safety to explore her developing powers. But when a guised stranger infiltrates the keep and threatens her, Elena learns her birth father is alive and will risk anything to get her back, even collaborating with ancient evils.

This revelation sends her adoptive fathers, Celdorn and Elbrion, into the dangers of Penumbra and ultimately leads them to move Elena to the safety of Queyon. Using secret routes, the journey is long and fraught with opposition from Anakh, her eidola, the Zakad, and humans from Elena’s village—all who want to control and use her powers.

The children rescued from Anakh’s compounds also set off for Queyon, via the main trade route, escorted by Guardians and pursued by the same enemies. Mishon, the six-year-old from Greenholt whose father was killed by Anakh’s forces, rises as a leader and protector of the terrified children. Along the way, he receives assistance from the great forest of Alsimion and the powerful beings that live there—and inadvertently discovers a hidden treasure.

Eventually, the two groups converge and face the perilous crossing of the Pallanor Mountains with unexpected betrayals and devastating losses. As Elena knew even before they left Kelach, not all will survive the journey to Queyon.

$1 from every book sale is donated to help domestic survivors of sexual trafficking

Available on Kindle through Amazon.

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FBI: Guatemalan Migrants Exploited in Forced Labor Scheme

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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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A Girl with a Book: a Powerful Weapon

My two favorite quotes from the article that follows:

Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population.  

and

I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.

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Meet Sultana, the Taliban’s Worst Fear

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, JUNE 4, 2016

Sultana pursued an education from inside her home in Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened to douse her with acid if she went back to school. Because of the danger to her and a photographer if she was visited there, her picture was taken via Skype. CreditAndrew Quilty for The New York Times

OF all the students preparing to go to college this fall, perhaps none have faced a more hazardous journey than a young woman named Sultana. One measure of the hazard is that I’m not disclosing her last name or hometown for fear that she might be shot.

Sultana lives in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, and when she was in the fifth grade a delegation visited her home to warn her father to pull her out of school, or else she would have acid flung in her face. Ever since, she has been largely confined to her high-walled family compound — in which she has secretly, and perilously, educated herself.

“I’m unstoppable,” Sultana laughs, and it’s true: She taught herself English from occasional newspapers or magazines that her brothers brought home, in conjunction with a Pashto-English dictionary that she pretty much inhaled. When her businessman father connected the house to the internet, she was able to vault over her compound walls.

“I surrounded myself with English, all day,” she told me by Skype. Today her English is fluent, as good as that of some Afghan interpreters I’ve used.

Once she had mastered English, Sultana says, she tackled algebra, then geometry and trigonometry, and finally calculus BC. She rises about 5 a.m. and proceeds to devour calculus videos from Khan Academy, work out equations, and even read about string theory.

Sultana, now 20, says she leaves her home only about five times a year — each time, she must wear a burqa and be escorted by a close male relative — but online she has been reading books on physics and taking courses on edX and Coursera. I can’t independently verify everything Sultana says, but her story generally checks out. After reading a book on astrophysics by Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, she reached him by Skype, and he says he was blown away when this Afghan elementary school dropout began asking him penetrating questions about astrophysics.

“It was a surreal conversation,” Krauss said. “She asked very intelligent questions about dark matter.”

Krauss has become one of Sultana’s advocates, along with Emily Roberts, an undergraduate at the University of Iowa who signed up for a language program called Conversation Exchange and connected with Sultana.

By Skype, Emily and Sultana became fast friends, and soon they were chatting daily. Moved by Sultana’s seemingly unattainable dream of becoming a physics professor, Emily began exploring what it would take for Sultana to study in the United States.

With Emily’s help, Sultana has been accepted by a community college in Iowa, with a commitment by Arizona State University to take her as a transfer student a year later. Emily started a website to raise money for Sultana’s university education.

Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population. Virginia Woolf wrote that if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister, she never would have been able to flower — and Sultana is Shakespeare’s sister. Yet it’s also clear that internet connections can sometimes be a game changer.

Sultana’s family is wary of her passion for education but surrenders to her determination. “My mom said a lot of mouths will be open, a single girl going to the Christian world,” she said. “But I will die if they stop me.”

Unfortunately, the United States isn’t helping. Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul rejected her application for a student visa. That happens all the time: Brilliant young men and women are accepted by American universities and then denied visas because, under U.S. law, they are seen as immigration risks.

(As a Muslim, Sultana would also be barred by Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. I asked her what she thought of Trump, and all she would say, with quiet dignity, was: “He thinks all Muslims are bad. It’s painful.”)

Michelle Obama has pushed an impressive campaign called Let Girls Learn, yet her husband’s administration has never seemed as enthusiastic, and America routinely denies visas that would actually let girls learn. The United States spends billions of dollars fighting terrorism by blowing things up; I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.

The Taliban understand this: That’s why their fighters shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. If only we were as cleareyed as the Taliban about the power of girls’ education to transform societies.

Sultana now spends her days working on calculus equations, listening to Bon Jovi and doing household chores while listening to the BBC or self-help audiobooks. It also turns out that she is a longtime Times reader and gets my email newsletter. She’s now working her way through more serious reading: Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”

Sultana has set up another appointment for a visa, for June 13. It won’t be Sultana who is tested but American policy itself. I’ll let you know what happens.

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My Second E-Book Launches Today

EB, Maduranga final

The second book in The Innocence Cycle continues Elena’s courageous journey to find healing for herself and her land. Again, $1.00 from each book sale will go to help victims of human trafficking. From the back cover of the book:

Seventeen-year-old Elena is adjusting to her new life as the adopted daughter of the Lord Protector of the Shalamhar realm and his companion, the Prince of the Elrodanar. For the first time, she has friends, a devoted dog, and the possibility of love. With two fathers, seven personal guards, and a keep full of warriors, she should feel safe—but she doesn’t.

The rogue Guardian who nearly killed Elena still hasn’t been found. In addition, Anakh and the remnant of the ancient Alraphim race have vowed to never stop pursuing her until she is theirs again to use, sell, and destroy. While Anakh makes direct attacks on Elena, a new foe—a race of strange half-human, half-wolf creatures—raids her home village and another Guardian stronghold. Soon reports of missing children and brutal assaults are coming in from every corner of the Shalamhar.

In order to save her new family and protect the rest of the realm, Elena knows she must embrace the shattered parts of herself and learn to use the powers hidden in her complex inner world. The answers she needs most are in the place she least wants to go—behind the third door.

Available on:

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My First Author Interview

Here’s the link to my first interview as a published author. So exciting.

Shattered-by-Shadows-front-cover-Ebook, 19,25

An Interview with Debut Author, J D Abbas.

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