Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice seized Backpage.com, a classified ad website notorious for facilitating prostitution and the sex trafficking of children. The site’s founders face more than 100 criminal charges.
In response, the Women’s March, which promotes itself as a movement to empower women, freaked out, calling the DOJ’s seizure an “absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients.”
. The shutting down of #Backpage is an absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients. Sex workers rights are women’s rights. Follow @SafeSpacesDC @melissagira @swopusa @KateDAdamo @supporthosechi @anaorsomething for more info. https://t.co/S3Orx3aM8Z
— Women's March (@womensmarch) April 7, 2018
Tim Ballard, founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, which has rescued more than 1,000 victims from human trafficking and assisted in the arrests of more than 443 traffickers, spoke with The Federalist about why this reaction is ill-informed and harmful to women.
“Last time I checked, there were some girls that were also children,” Ballard said of the Women’s March’s response, which he says overlooks the dangerous reality girls throughout the world live in. Backpage’s shuttering and the cost to those who voluntarily sell sex is a “small price to pay to protect children,” Ballard said. “What do we value more? The right [for] a sex worker to sell her body, or a child being raped for money?”
Throughout Ballard’s experience at OURescue and as a special agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he also fought the Internet exploitation of children, traffickers used Backpage as the primary venue to sell children for sex — a dark reality he says many people simply do not understand.
“We always have to convince people that this is real,” he said, of the world’s fastest-growing crime.
This naiveté about the sex industry makes it harder for organizations like OUR to fight sex trafficking. Of all the child sex-trafficking cases The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children has handled, 73 percent involved Backpage.com. Throughout the grand jury charges levied against the site are horrifying stories of Backpage employees helping underage girls and pimps change the wording of their ads in order to get them past the filters on the site.
On page 32 of the recently unsealed document, it says one girl was forced starting at age 14 to have sex with men. Her pimp used Backpage to solicit sex, the document says, and she was coached by the site’s employees to lie about her age on the site. This victim was gang-raped, choked to the point of having a seizure, and was forced to perform sex acts at gunpoint, the document says. You can read this story and more here.
“Children have a higher demand,” Ballard said. “Pimps can charge more for selling kids. . . We know these traffickers. These same traffickers who will sell a 20-year-old will sell a child.”
Whenever prostitution is completely legalized — that is, no criminal ramifications for pimps or Johns — child sex hubs abound. Despite such realities, the Women’s March isn’t the only organization pushing to legalize sex for sale worldwide. Amnesty International, a human rights group, has been pushing this for years, with the assumption that legalizing the industry would empower sex workers to demand better treatment.
“Law enforcement is so backlogged already,” Ballard said. “This will put a strain on them to regulate (prostitution) and they will have no time to search for kids.”
“So long as people are unwittingly fighting for a system that facilitates the rape of children, then we’re not there yet,” Ballard said. “They aren’t evil, they just don’t understand how easy it is for children to get exploited on Backpage — where they can easily be raped.”