A resolution drafted by two senators is calling on the Village Voice “to act as a responsible global citizen” and take down the adult classifieds section on its Backpage website. Kind of like Craigslist, Backpage is a place to get used sundries, free sofas, junk and treasures, and in Backpage's case, child prostitutes.
According to Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.):
“Just a few clicks on this site easily enables ‘johns’ to purchase children for sex. Law enforcement believes that the existence of Backpage encourages the recruitment of victims for sexual exploitation because it allows traffickers to operate out of sight from police patrols.”
S. Res 439 as it's called, was drafted by Kirk and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) after a whole host of organizations drew attention to the ever growing issue. Namely, Advanced Interactive Media Group a Change.org petition and 55 anti-trafficking organizations all expressed the desire for the Voice to drop its adult section ads.
And while the resolution was passed with unusual (for the government) speed, as with most things on the 'net, there are lots of ways to look at the numbers, and make changes without making changes. Pre passing of the resolution, this Techcrunch article sat down with Liz McDougall, General Counsel for Village Voice Media for her take on it. Unsurprisingly, her take was quite different from the anti-trafficking groups.
According to Techcrunch in addition to the security fraud and spam measures already in place, they do a good job of policing the adult sections. "About 1/25 of 1 percent (.04 percent) of the ads Backpage removes from its site on a monthly basis are suspected of advertising a minor for sexual services, a number that represents 1/00 of one percent (.01 percent) of its monthly ad volume."
Only 400 or so ads, the article says, are suspected of advertising a minor from the 1 million worldwide ads that are in the adult classifieds section. Sweet so only 400 chances a month for child traffickers to pimp kids.
And before we just turn children into mere statistical numbers, numbers, you should watch this New York times video entitled Age 16, She Was Sold On Backpage.com And while you're at it, read about the 51 arrests for prostitution, and drugs, and attempted murder while you're at it.
But 51 arrests is a small number, right? Right?
Not to say that any of these measures could actually prohibit a minor from posting an ad in Backpage’s Adult Category, even if Backpage were to implement a third-party age verification solution.
McDougall says age verification “might help us identify the age of the pimp or the trafficker, but it’s not going to help identify the age of the victim. Even if the victim is being forced to do the posting, they’re typically using the credentials of the pimp or the trafficker who is over age.”
So basically it's all Pontius Pilate. Nothing to be done. We're doing the best we can, but you know, it's so tricky, blah blah blah. Even more interesting is Craigslist. Back in 2010, It shut down it's adult services section worldwide. Guess what happened? Backpage's revenue of selling such ads increased 29%.
While McDougall suggests shutting down the section would drive the sex traffickers underground, I'm not exactly sure that's a justification for keeping it open. Put another way, the Senate resolution finds human trafficking to be the largest growing criminal enterprise in the world, and in this case I would put emphasis on the world "enterprise."
It's a business if you have the means and resources to turn it into one. And with Backpage.com you have such a place.
As with everything else, there are no easy solutions. McDougall may have a point. Still, one has to always consider the bottom line. According to that New York times video, they make 22 million on those kinds of sites so you know. Let's not kid ourselves. That's a big chunk of change
if there's money to be made, it's hard to give it up. My issue too, is the usual attitude of such sites that shrugs and says "we'll just keep it at status quo until we can figure it out."
Are far as I'm concerned, these kinds of sites shouldn't be a work in progress. So kudos to the Senate. let's hope now that the Voice and Backpage.com will do the right thing. I somehow doubt it, though.