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Website hosts sex-trafficking ads

By KARLEE STEFFANNI • Sep 10, 2017 at 8:00 PM

A bill backed by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) arose in response to a website that advertises humans for sex-trafficking.

A member from a local organization against sex-trafficking said the matter “is a situation that’s going on in our communities.”

Backpage.com is a classified advertising website that launched in 2004. A two-year investigation led by Portman and another senator determined the website “knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits.”

In connection with their findings, Portman and others proposed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017. If passed, the bill would allow sex trafficking victims to seek legal action against websites that facilitated crimes against them.

Compass Ministries, based out of Erie and Lorain counties, is a local organization dedicated to fighting the battle against sex trafficking.

Executive director Jeanette Johnson said Backpage is currently the leading place for sex-trafficking advertisements and the website advertises a number of individuals in our communities on any given day. 

“It’s easier to purchase a human being online right now than it is to buy a couch or a car,” she said. “That’s mind blowing to me.”

According to an article by Axiom, the Internet Association, which represents Google, Facebook, Amazon and others, warned the bill would expose its members to lawsuits and said that it "jeopardizes bedrock principles of a free and open internet, with serious economic and speech implications well beyond its intended scope."

The article also states, Noah Theran, an association spokesman, said the "internet industry has and continues to be committed to finding additional ways to combat trafficking and hold criminal actors accountable."

Johnson said the issue about Backpage, in regards to law enforcement, is a complex one because many agencies are using the site to track victims. 

“It’s a Catch-22,” she said. “If they shut down that website completely, they lose the ability to find the victims that are being advertised.”

Ultimately, Johnson said something does need to be done about Backpage.

“I think that’s awesome that the politicians are working so hard to combat this issue,” she added.

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