“We Need To Go Further”

We’ve been witnessing a lot of positive momentum in the recent spate of successful Backpage prosecutions and while this is encouraging news it is important to remember that though the site has been outlawed by the Federal Government, reverberations of the damage it’s caused continue to echo.

This week a number of news outlets picked up on something longtime readers of this blog will be well familiar with: the scourge of the sex trafficking model Backpage popularized is increasingly being adopted by other platforms.

It is no secret that Tony Ortega gleefully co-signed the official lie at the heart of Backpage when he said:

“Backpage exists solely so that people can freely express themselves—sometimes in ways that make other people uncomfortable. We’re First Amendment extremists that way. Always have been.”

  But now, the seeds sown by ‘First Amendment extremists’ like Tony Ortega are beginning to bear sickening fruit.

Apps like Facebook and Tinder are flourishing in the vacuum of wholesale sex-trading, fueling the “soaring industry” of online prostitution and sexual exploitation, according to a worldwide study published by a French anti-prostitution group last Tuesday.

Sex trafficking has moved from Backpage to a host of new apps which allow pimps recruit young girls via Snapchat and Instagram before prostituting them in apartments rented on Airbnb, said anti-prostitution group Foundation Scelles.

The report, “Sexual Exploitation: New Challenges, New Answers” looked at trends in 35 countries. In Israel, the dating app Tinder is the most popular tool to find prostitutes, while in Zambia students in cybercafes join Whatsapp and Facebook groups to connect with prostitutes and pimps in a few clicks, the report said.

In France, gangs contact underage girls from “welfare homes and high schools” on social networks such as Facebook and Snapchat, promising “opportunities to make money very quickly” before posting online advertisements and prostituting them.

Adverts on dating websites and online forums about sexuality — but also “websites having no direct connection to this theme” — facilitate “the concealment, anonymity and discretion… of these illegal activities”, the study confirmed.

“This is happening around the world, from restrictive countries like China, to Germany where legislation is more lenient,” Yves Charpenel, head of the Fondation Scelles explained.

However, it can be hard to track down perpetrators, who hide behind online anonymity and ambiguous advertisements for “massages” and “pleasant moments” in the same way Backpage attempted to ‘sanitize’ its lurid content.

Charpenel said: “From the same computer, a criminal network can find its ‘products’, advertise to clients, and then launder the money,”
Just as Backpage taught them.

The report also condemned the “industrial scale” of online prostitution, which allows pimps to “avoid personal risk” by creating a distance from their victims. This could well have been lesson taken straight from Tony Ortega’s ‘We’re First Amendment Extremists!’ playbook.

The organization went on to call upon authorities to “mobilize social networks” and hold accountable websites which profit from online prostitution, in the same way Backpage is being held to account.

We’ve come a long ways since the dark days of Backpage but as Charpenel report itself rightfully concludes: “We need to go further.”

Stay tuned.

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