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Entries in Sex Trafficking (4)

Monday
Jul302012

Three Teens Sue BackPage.com over Sex Trafficking

Filephoto. Comstock/Thinkstock(TACOMA, Wash.) -- Three Washington teenagers have filed a personal injury lawsuit against the classified ad website Backpage.com, alleging that the site allowed them to be forced into prostitution for the company's own financial gain.

The three unnamed girls, now aged 15 through 17, filed the suit in Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Wash. In the suit they allege that through the adult listings in Backpage.com the company allowed them to be raped -- and that it profited as a result, making millions of dollars each month.

"Our kids were hurt by Backpage, so we're going after Backpage," Erik L. Bauer, an attorney representing the three girls, told ABC News.

Images of the underage girls were posted to Backpage.com, which is owned by Village Voice Media, beginning in 2010. The site is a frequent online destination for escort services. The ads were posted by three men who pimped the girls out and kept all of the profits for themselves, the lawsuit claims.

The complaint states that BackPage.com did nothing to prevent these men from exploiting the underage girls, and claims that the site, "knowingly developed a nationwide online marketplace for illicit commercial sex" and, "developed a reputation for itself as a website where pimps and prostitutes advertise commercial sex."

The suit says there is little to prevent anyone from posting ads offering prostitution on Backpage.com, other than a "posting rules" screen that asks users to certify, "I will not post any solicitation directly or in 'coded' fashion for any illegal service, including exchanging sexual favors for money or other valuable consideration." The site also asks users to verify they are 18 years old, and says that posting by a minor will be subject to criminal prosecution.

In Tacoma, the site charges $10 per ad for a posting to escort services, and allows eight pictures to be included. The site also offers a feature to repost escort ads automatically, for an additional fee.

The lawsuit against Backpage.com says the site's rules are hardly a deterrent to those promoting prostitution. The pimp who took advantage of the three girls, the suit says, was legally an adult. The three girls are identified in the complaint only as S.L, L.C. and J.S.

"Other than requiring the poster of the ad to agree to this term by 'clicking' on the posting rules page, Backpage.com does nothing to verify the age of the escorts who appear in its prostitution ads, even though it knows that pimps are usually the ones who create the ads, or force their minor sex slaves to do so," the complaint says.

Baruti Hopson, 33, was the pimp who exploited the three girls via Backpage.com, the girls' lawyer told ABC News. Hopson was convicted in 2011 on multiple counts of child rape and promoting the sexual abuse of a minor.

Seattle attorney Liz McDougall, who represents Backpage.com, said the lawsuit will not pass legal muster and is barred by federal law. She also said that Backpage.com employs a triple-tier prevention system and has a "robust system" to aid law enforcement when the company receives a subpoena -- which she told ABC News can happen five times per day.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a decision Friday in favor of Backpage.com's right to continue its business without stricter age verification.

Last week Backpage asked a Washington judge to issue an injunction against a state law that would require classified ad companies to verify the ages of people in sex-related advertisements.

Attorneys for Backpage.com argued that the law will force sex trafficking further underground, where it will be far more difficult to police, and said that the law infringes on free speech.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez granted the injunction. Bauer, the attorney for the three girls, responded that it was "ridiculous" to call this an issue of freedom of speech.

"How about, basic freedom for kids? How about freedom to live life happy and joyous? Freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are constitutional rights. And children have them. These freedoms are more import than corporate freedom-of-speech rights," he said in an interview with ABC News.

Bauer also argued that the nature of Backpage's listings create a "volume business." He said the girls were sent to clients for sex up to 20 times per day. He said he doesn't believe that the company's "triple-tier prevention system" makes a difference.

McDougall said that closing down Backpage.com will not prevent the exploitation of children. She said the solution lies in stopping the demand.

"What I find frustrating with this lawsuit is that we finally have a focus on child trafficking in the U.S., and we've ignored that, until five or six years ago," she said. "[Now] all of the attention is being focused on Backpage. If you shut down Backpage, it's not going to solve the problem.

"The endgame is that the same activity will continue to occur, but it will just move into the deeper part of the web -- or offshore," she said. "When it goes offshore, they're not in the jurisdiction of law enforcement. There's nothing we can do."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun262012

Hidden America: Police Target Pimps in 57 Cities

Photodisc/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- When the sun goes down on the streets of Denver, things are just heating up. With guns drawn, police swoop in on a man they suspect is a pimp after he drops two young women, ages 19 and 20, for pre-arranged trysts.

Hidden among the nation's leafy suburban streets is an epidemic of sex trafficking, authorities say, especially of underage girls and boys lured into the life by pimps.

The arrest in Denver was one of 107 suspected pimps busted in a three-day weekend sweep in 57 cities. In all, 79 underage children were rescued, more than ever before in a nationwide sweep.

ABC News gained exclusive access inside Operation Cross Country, journeying deep inside a hidden world of cat and mouse between law enforcement and those who traffic young women.

"A pimp is everybody and anybody. White, black, Hispanic, purple, green, doesn't matter. Man, woman, old, young," Sgt. Dan Steele of the Denver Police Department said.

Steele runs a new Denver task force that teams local cops with the FBI. They call themselves the "Pimp Hunters." Their mission is to put a dent in the growing number of women and underage kids forced into the sex trade, an estimated 100,000 children.

Cops say the average age of a girl entering this life is 12. Once on the streets, experts say one-third of girls are approached by a pimp within 48 hours.

"People have a tendency to believe that this is foreign countries and it's all about people being brought in from Indonesia, which happens, but it's also our kids, our neighborhoods, our children," Steele said.

Austin, 20, a former teen prostitute, was rescued by the "Pimp Hunters" two years ago. Austin grew up in the well-to-do suburb of Highlands Ranch.

"I lived a pretty life, I went to some of the best schools," she said. "I never, like, wanted for anything."

Despite her privileged upbringing, Austin's teen years turned ugly. She got hooked on drugs and alcohol and was in and out of jail. At her most vulnerable, she was taken in by a man offering help. He was a pimp, she was 17.

"He came in and was like, 'I will take care of you. I know you just lost your job, we will fix that, we can be business partners,'" Austin said. "[When he said business partners], I thought he was going to help me get a job, not what he actually did."

Austin said she was able to get through the calls by shutting down inside.

"I blacked it out, like it wasn't even happening," she said. "This isn't really life, you disassociate from it, just not thinking about it."

Pimps succeed, experts say, by luring women and girls who are emotionally vulnerable and easily manipulated. The task force is trying to offer a way out.

Austin was only able to escape prostitution after her pimp was arrested by Denver police. He was convicted and sent to prison. Today, Austin says she's sober, planning on going to college and is engaged.

"What a terrible feeling that is to feel like at 14, 15, 16, 17, that your life is over. That no one wants to see you like you want to be seen. Now my life is totally different," she said, starting to cry.

"I never would have seen myself getting out of the situation and on top of that going on and being successful in the way that I am."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun052012

Backpage Sues Over Wash. Sex-Trafficking Law

Comstock/Thinkstock(OLYMPIA, Wash.) -- Backpage.com, the online classifieds website that has become a target for activists because of its sex ads, is seeking to invalidate a law recently passed in Washington state that would require proof of age for those posting the ads.

The law is an attempt to reduce child sex trafficking online, a problem Backpage.com acknowledges and says it is working to stop.

The law, which is set to take effect Tuesday, would impose a $10,000 fine and up to a year in prison if a website does not make a reasonable attempt to ascertain the age of someone placing an ad for commercial sex.

“Although its ostensible motivation -- to prevent the sex trafficking of children -- is laudable, the law is not,” said Liz McDougall, the attorney for Backpage, which is owned by Village Voice Media.

Backpage’s legal filing argues that the Washington bill contradicts a federal law, the Communications Decency Act, which Congress passed in 1996. The Act says that Internet service providers or “interactive computer services,” like Backpage, are merely hosts and not publishers in the traditional sense. That means that the websites cannot be held liable for material posted on them by a third party -- which is why while the act of prostitution may be illegal, Backpage is not responsible for someone posting an ad for it on their site.

Washington’s Attorney General Rob McKenna said some in Congress are exploring how the Communications Decency Act might be changed to protect victims of child sex trafficking.

“A group of bipartisan U.S. senators have taken on this issue in a bold way in the last couple of months,” he told Nightline in April. “So we intend to be working with them to make sure there’s no federal law that acts as a shield behind which Backpage and other Internet publishers can hide.”

In the meantime, other states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering legislation similar to the Washington law.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb022011

Planned Parenthood Fires Manager For Advice to 'Sex Trafficker'

Photo Courtesy - PlannedParenthood.Org(PERTH AMBOY, N.J.) - Planned Parenthood has fired an employee after undercover video revealed the clinic manager giving advice to an actor pretending to be a sex trafficker.

The 22-minute video, captured by anti-abortion group Live Action, was released Tuesday and appeared to depict the manager of the New Jersey clinic advising a pimp and an underage prostitute on how to apply for health services without triggering mandatory reporting requirements and evade detection by law enforcement authorities.

"The only thing that you do have to be careful is if they are a minor we are obligated if we hear any certain information to kind of report," the manager said in the video. "So as long as they just lie and say, 'Oh he's 15, 16.' You know, as long as they don't say '14' and as long as it's not too much of an age gap then we just kind of like play it stup-- ..."

The man and woman posed as sex traffickers when they entered the Perth Amboy, N.J., clinic on Jan. 13 to inquire about STD testing, abortions and access to contraception, Live Action said. They openly stated involvement in "sex work" that employed young, undocumented immigrant girls.

"This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Planned Parenthood intentionally breaks state and federal laws and covers up the abuse of the young girls it claims to serve," said Live Action president Lila Rose. "They don't deserve a dime of the hundreds of millions they receive in federal funding from taxpayers."

Planned Parenthood said Tuesday that they were"profoundly shocked" by the incident and took immediate action.

"We have a zero tolerance policy for this kind of behavior, and the employee in the video was immediately suspended from her duties this morning and was terminated this evening," the company said in a statement. "We are fully committed to delivering high-quality reproductive health care to the women of our communities, complying with all laws, and upholding the highest ethical standards.”

The clinic said it had suspected the visit could have been a sting and notified state and federal authorities of a suspected sex trafficking ring.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio