Myrtle Beach, SC, August 28, 2017
Imagine the desperation you would feel if your daughter went missing. Fear turns to panic as days go by and police can’t find her. Her friends have no idea where she is but mentioned she spent a lot of time with an older man – something she kept hidden from you. Someone mentions the words “human trafficking” and you shudder.
The words go over and over in your mind so you do some research and learn that human trafficking victims are often posted on Backpage.com. You’re fearful but go to the site to see if you can find your daughter. After hours of pouring through ads of exploited children, you see her face. That’s your sweet girl! Joy and pain flood your heart. You found her but she is being sold.
This was the reality for a family from North Carolina recently. After their daughter went missing, they found an ad for her on Backpage.com. The parents reported it to law enforcement and once they learned she was in the Myrtle Beach, SC area the police conducted an undercover operation to rescue the girl. Law enforcement texted the phone number on the ad and set up a meeting at the Caribbean Resort and Villas in Myrtle Beach. The police report states, “An undercover officer was invited into the room … and a takedown was conducted.”
Now their daughter is home. She is safe but will carry the scars of her exploitation forever.
Two adults who trafficked her are in prison, awaiting justice. Julius La Rose Riley of Homestead, Florida and Kerry Andrell Lewis of Fayetteville, North Carolina were both arrested last week and are being held on bond.
We must ask the question: Was Backpage.com helpful or harmful? On one hand, the parents found the girl by identifying her on the website. However, the fact that the minor was posted on the page to begin with is disturbing. Even though it was helpful this time, there are countless other victims who are posted on the site who are never found. The ability for pedophiles to easily purchase cheap sex from trafficking victims on a website is absurd. Backpage.com should be held responsible for being complicit in children and adults being sold for sex through their website.
Cindy McCain, wife of Senator John McCain, recently wrote, “It is incomprehensible that websites like Backpage.com hide behind arguments of free speech while knowingly facilitating sex trafficking as they post ads selling children for sex right alongside ads selling sofas and bicycles.” She adds, “Putting up posters of trafficked people or children for sale in a shopping mall constitutes a federal crime. Yet companies like Backpage do this online. Backpage ‘rents’ out pieces of online real estate and allows ‘tenants’ to post advertisements and photos of trafficked people.”
by Blair Pippin
Creative & Prevention Director • Florida Abolitionist