Abused orphan gets second chance. Safe house helps teenage sex trafficking victim. Survivor overcomes her sex trafficking past. Sex trafficking in Colombia. Students fight modern slavery. Artists draw attention to modern slavery. From domestic slave to the Democratic Convention.
Sex trafficking victim speaks out. Story highlights The bill that passed Congress may actually harm sex workers, critics say Internet forums provide protections for sex workers, who find work off streets. Seeing her own reflection "was so traumatizing" for Stark, a transgender woman who hadn't yet undergone the surgical treatments she knew she needed.
Some days, she couldn't leave the house. She tried taking her own life. An Army veteran living with disability, she could not get this surgical care from her usual provider, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which does not pay for or perform gender transition-related surgeries. Stark calls Wisconsin home but mostly lives out of a suitcase, maintaining a busy schedule as an escort, adult film performer, photographer and phone sex operator. But now, her career is coming to an abrupt end after a bill passed by Congress in March.
Senate approves anti-sex-trafficking bill. I just call it the end of my career, essentially," she said. The bill, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act , prompted the online bulletin board Craigslist to shut down its personal ads two days after its passage.
The bill was directed against sex trafficking, not the volitional career in sex work to which Stark credits her own survival. Craigslist is an online classifieds site, divided by city or geographic area, through which users advertise a range of goods, services, jobs and housing. Now awaiting the president's signature, the bill paves the way for sex trafficking survivors to hold websites accountable for "knowingly" facilitating their abuse.
The legislation chips away at part of a act that gave a broad layer of immunity to online companies, such as Facebook or Twitter, from being held liable for what their users post. The company did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. Though the bill aims to crack down on sex trafficking and protect survivors, critics say it threatens the lives and livelihoods of sex workers who choose to work in the profession by encouraging websites like Craigslist to censor their content -- pushing some sex workers back out to the street and removing their tools for finding and screening clients.
Some sex workers are already losing their housing as a direct result of forums like Craigslist personals going dark, according to Christa B. Daring, board president of the Sex Workers Outreach Project. Many pay rent week-to-week and struggle to feed themselves and their children, they said. Craigslist was the first site Stark used to transition away from the street, where she relied on her military training to make "snap judgments" to stay out of harm's way, dodge potentially dangerous clients and avoid getting arrested -- again.
Even with the advantage of her military training, however, "most often, physical appearance and demeanor really don't tell you a whole lot," she said. Many sex workers run background checks on clients, communicate through online forums and check "bad date lists," which sex workers create to warn others about hostile clients.
Stark also has a mandatory hour waiting period before she agrees to meet clients, giving her time to check for criminal records and other warning signs. She learned ways to stay safe and grow her business from other sex workers online, some of whom keep blogs. We can mentor each other. We can support each other. We can screen our clients," said Akynos. Bolstering these concerns about sex worker safety is a recent research paper -- still under peer review -- that suggests Craigslist's "erotic" services section may be linked to a drop in the female homicide rate.
Prostitutes speak out against Senate health bill. I don't think Waco had one. But Craigslist didn't launch this section in every city at the same time. Cunningham's team found that cities where Craigslist launched the section for erotic services reduced their female homicide rate by up to However, it is not possible to say what portion of those homicide victims were sex workers, Cunningham said, nor is it possible to prove that Craigslist was directly responsible for the dip.
This reduction wasn't seen for other types of homicides Cunningham analyzed. Numerous writers, non-governmental organizations "NGO's" legal experts and law enforcement officials including the Electronic Frontier Foundation,   the Internet Archive,  and the Cato Institute,  have pointed out that the freedoms and potentially the entire fabric of the internet would be threatened if this type of free speech is prohibited on Backpage.
They cite both First Amendment rights of free speech guaranteed in the Constitution as well as Section of the Communications Decency Act. Writers for Forbes , the Huffington Post , and Fast Company have suggested that Backpage is a useful tool for law enforcement and the public in exposing the perpetrators of human trafficking.
In many cases, the critics of Backpage say that these efforts are less than is necessary or possible.
Some say that no efforts to police the site and report bad actors outweigh the negative impact the site may have in this area. They enlisted support from musicians, politicians, journalists, media companies and retailers. The campaign created a greater public dialogue, both pro and con, regarding Backpage. Over , people including religious leaders, 51 attorneys general, 19 U.
In , Village Voice Media separated their newspaper company, which then consisted of eleven weekly alternative newspapers and their affiliated web properties, from Backpage, leaving Backpage in control of shareholders Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin.
Executives for the spinoff holding company, called Voice Media Group VMG and based in Denver, raised "some money from private investors" in order to purchase the newspapers. Beginning in a number of legal challenges were initiated by foes of Backpage in attempts to eliminate the adult section of the website and or shut down the website entirely.
These actions included legislative initiatives as well as lawsuits brought by individuals; all of these lawsuits, which were mostly brought by politicians and NGOs, were successfully challenged by Backpage, which argued that the First Amendment protections of free speech were being compromised by any restriction on postings by individuals on the Backpage website.
The Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution as well as the Commerce Clause were also cited as reasons that these efforts were illegal under U. Section says that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
It contains details about 17 alleged victims which range from minors as young as 14 years old to adults, who were allegedly trafficked on the site while Backpage was knowingly facilitating prostitution. One year-old is alleged to have been forced to do in-calls at hotels.
A second teenager was allegedly told to "perform sexual acts at gunpoint and choked" until she had seizures, before being gang-raped. A third victim, advertised under the pseudonym "Nadia" was stabbed to death, while a fourth victim was murdered in , and her corpse deliberately burned. The lawyer for Backpage operations manager Andrew Padilla stated that his client was "not legally responsible for any actions of third parties under U.
He is no more responsible than the owner of a community billboard when someone places an ad on it,"  .
The State of Texas was also considering a money laundering charge pending its investigation. Lacey and Larkin were charged with conspiracy to commit pimping. Backpage general counsel Liz McDougall dismissed the raid as an "election year stunt" which wasn't "a good-faith action by law enforcement", and stated that the company would "take all steps necessary to end this frivolous prosecution and will pursue its full remedies under federal law against the state actors who chose to ignore the law, as it has done successfully in other cases.
He posited that AG Harris was more interested in the publicity from the arrests for political gain than in enforcing a law she had previously admitted was unenforceable by individual states as specified in section But the attorney general of California has managed the feat. By charging Carl Ferrer, the chief executive of Backpage. Numerous previous court ruling and decisions were cited in the Demurrer supporting this position.
The AG filed its response to the Demurrer on 4 November Backpage Attorneys filed their reply in support of the Demurrer on 10 November On 16 November Judge Michael Bowman of the Superior Court of the State of California issued a tentative ruling in this case supporting the position of Backpage and granting its request for dismissal of the case.
Bowman dismissed all the charges in the complaint, stating that:. Congress has precluded liability for online publishers for the action of publishing third party speech and thus provided for both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial. Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this Court, to revisit. They were charged with pimping and money laundering.
Lawyers for Backpage responded that the charges rehashed the earlier case that had been dismissed on December 9, Jim Grant, an attorney for Backpage said: Since April , the U. Over the ensuing months, Backpage raised and PSI rejected numerous objections to the subpoena, including that the subpoena was impermissibly burdensome both in the volume of documents PSI demanded and in its intrusion into constitutionally-protected editorial discretion. PSI subsequently issued a shorter document subpoena with only eight requests but broader in scope and also targeting Backpage.
PSI applied in March for a federal court order to enforce three of the eight categories of documents in the subpoena. In August , the U. District Court in D. Backpage immediately filed an appeal and sought a stay, which the district court denied, then filed emergency stay petitions with the U.
Court of Appeals for the D. Circuit, and Supreme Court. Each appellate court issued temporary stays to consider whether to grant a stay pending appeal,  but eventually denied the emergency stay requests,  However, the D. Circuit agreed to expedite the appeal, and one of its judges who considered the emergency stay said he would have granted it.
Backpage has continued to pursue its appeal despite producing thousands of documents to PSI pursuant to the District Court order.
PSI scheduled a Subcommittee hearing regarding Backpage. S 1st Circuit Court of Appeals that a suit filed in Boston federal court in against Backpage by three women who claimed that Backpage was responsible for them being forced into illegal sex transactions.
The Court of Appeals held that Backpage could not be held liable as the "publisher or speaker" for postings on its site by third parties in accordance with the protections provided to website operators under section of the CDA. Also on 9 January , prior to its scheduled hearings on Backpage the next day, the PSI released a report that accused Backpage of knowingly facilitating child sex trafficking. Shortly thereafter, Backpage announced that it would remove its adult sections from all of its sites in the United States.
In late-March and early-April , courts in Massachusetts and Florida affirmed that Backpage's facilitation of sex trafficking fell outside of the immunity granted by Section safe harbors. The latter ruling argued that because Backpage "materially contributed to the content of the advertisement" by censoring specific keywords, it became a publisher of content and thus no longer protected.
On 6 April , Backpage was seized by the United States Department of Justice , and it was reported that Michael Lacey's home had been raided by authorities.
On 12 April , Carl Ferrer, the chief executive officer CEO of Backpage pleaded guilty to both state and federal charges, including but not limited to conspiracy to facilitate prostitution and money laundering. Also on 12 April , the company Backpage pleaded guilty to human trafficking , announced the Texas Attorney General.
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