The Common Good

BackPage and "Baby Face": Stop Human Trafficking

In his column for the New York Times, Nicolas Kristof tells the story of a 13 year old girl in Brooklyn he calls “Baby Face”. She had been sent into an apartment building by a pimp to meet a customer.

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But, after being sold for sex five to nine times a day and beaten with a belt when she failed to bring in enough money, she told prosecutors later she was in too much pain to be raped by a john again.

Instead, she pounded on a stranger’s door and begged to use a phone. She called her mother and then 911. 

Kristof writes:

The episode also shines a spotlight on how the girl was marketed — in ads on Backpage.com, a major national Web site where people place ads to sell all kinds of things, including sex. It is a godsend to pimps, allowing customers to order a girl online as if she were a pizza.

Lauren Hersh, the ace prosecutor in Brooklyn who leads the sex-trafficking unit there, says that of the 32 people she and her team have prosecuted in the last year and a half — typically involving victims aged 12 to 25 — a vast majority of the cases included girls marketed through Backpage ads.

Backpage is owned by Village Voice Media. Back in October, Jim Wallis joined dozens of other national faith leaders in calling on Village Voice Media to shut down the adult services section on Backpage (you can learn more about the campaign here.) So far, these calls have only been met with excuses.

They argue… we’re following all the laws. We cooperate with authorities. If we don’t do it, somebody else will.

Kristof received a statement from a Villiage Voice Media legal counsel Steve Suskin who cited the businesses cooperation with authorities leading to arrests in other cases of child prostitution. He also argued, “Censorship will not rid the world of exploitation.”

That’s true. But, it’s also true that making laws against assault, theft or murder doesn’t rid the world of assault, theft or murder. That isn’t an argument against not having the laws in the first place.

Kristof ends his piece with a call to the executives at Village Voice Media:

When Baby Face ran away from her pimp and desperately knocked on that apartment door in Brooklyn, she was also in effect pounding on the door of the executive suites of Backpage and Village Voice Media. Those executives should listen to her pleas.

Here’s a post with further reading on trafficking on the blog and in the magazine.

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