Over the course of a night, Sophie* was repeatedly raped and sold on Backpage to at least five different men. Her traffickers posted her photograph and an advertisement offering her for sex.
Now Sophie is fighting back with the help of one of the best litigation firms in the country, Boies Schiller Flexner LLP. A federal lawsuit against Backpage.com has been filed to hold the company accountable for facilitating human trafficking. The lawsuit states that Backpage “knowingly participated in, and benefited financially from, the unlawful sexual exploitation” of victims of human trafficking, like Sophie.
Florida Abolitionist’s mission is to end modern day slavery, in all its forms, including through online sex trafficking that Backpage facilitates. Florida is a hub of human trafficking, much of it on Backpage. The Florida Department of Children and Families reported that in 2015 alone, it received 1,892 reports of human trafficking. We are proud to be a part of this lawsuit because every day we see how much suffering Backpage causes.
A recent Senate subcommittee report found that Backpage employees helped sex traffickers by changing words and phrases used in their posts to avoid legal ramifications. Instead of reporting the abuse, employees removed words used indicating minors like “teen” or “lolita” from the ads.
Publicly available information indicates that Backpage causes victims serious harm while profiting greatly. According to a recent report issued by the U.S. Senate, Backpage earns $9 million in profits each month for sex ads, many of which are placed by sex traffickers.
More Than A Lawsuit
The goal of the suit is not only to hold Backpage accountable but to end online child rape. “The online exploitation of teen girls is the biggest human rights violation of our time. Backpage.com knowingly facilitated this evil and must be held accountable to the harmed girls and to the organizations that provide them services so they can heal and recover,” said Carol Robles-Román, the President and CEO of Legal Momentum and a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
In order to educate the community about online sexual exploitation, advocates have created a documentary film entitled I Am Jane Doe. “I Am Jane Doe chronicles the epic battle that several American mothers are waging on behalf of their middle-school daughters, victims of sex-trafficking on Backpage.com, the adult classifieds section that for years was part of the Village Voice.” Florida Abolitionist will be hosting viewings of the film in the near future.
Community awareness and legal action work hand-in-hand to end online sexual exploitation of children. Join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #IAmJaneDoe and following us on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also, join our newsletter to receive exclusive information about our first showing of I Am Jane Doe!
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by Blair Pippin
Creative & Prevention Director • Florida Abolitionist