Human Trafficking and the Internet

Human sex trafficking in the United States and around the world is a serious, and growing problem that everyone should be educated about.

 To begin, what is the definition of sex trafficking?

  Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery.  Criminals of sex trafficking such as pimps, johns, and madams use violence, threats, lies, money, drugs, and other forms of coercion to compel or force children and adults to engage in unwanted sexual acts against their will. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary dramatically. According to the Polaris Project, many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces or manipulates them into prostitution. Others are lured in with false promises of a job, such as modeling or dancing. Some are forced to sell sex by their parents or other family members. They may be involved in a trafficking situation for a few days or weeks, or may remain in the same trafficking situation for years. There is a wide range of venues where sex trafficking occurs including fake massage businesses, via online ads or escort services, in residential brothels, on the street or at truck stops, or at hotels and motels, etc. 

Why should you be educated about Human Trafficking?

  • It may affect you or someone you know and love someday. Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.

  • Human sex trafficking violates basic human rights, including the rights to bodily integrity, equality, dignity, health, security, and freedom from violence and torture.

  • Survivors of sex trafficking tell stories of daily degradation of mind and body. They are typically isolated, intimidated, or sold. They are subject to severe physical and sexual assault by multiple sexual assaults and beatings. Most live under constant mental and physical threat.

  • If the victim is able to make it out alive, many of them suffer severe emotional trauma as well, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and disassociation.

  • They are at greater risk of contracting sexually transmissible infections, including HIV/AIDS and may become pregnant and may be forced to have unsafe abortions.

What are some Statistics?

*** It is important to remember that these crimes are often  unreported, actual rates are believed to be significantly higher. ***

How Does Sex Trafficking Happen Online?

      With the growth of technology and the use of social media, the buying and selling of human beings has become as easy as a simple "click" on a keyboard. On websites such as backpage.com, men, women, and children were available for "purchase" with sexual acts as their "product" to sell. These websites made it easier than ever for traffickers to find victims and have made forms of payment nearly untraceable. This poses a tremendous concern because victims are being trafficked without a way to track those who are paying for their services which makes it even more difficult for law enforcement to charge these criminals. In addition, traffickers are able to quickly "friend" and "follow" potential victims through various apps such as facebook, instagram, twitter, etc. As previously stated, many victims become romantically involved with their traffickers and are then forced or manipulated into prostitution or are lured in with false promises of a job. With this in mind, traffickers may use social media as a platform to reach potential victims on a larger scale by reaching more victims at a faster rate. 

      Previously, these websites such as backpage.com were protected under the law. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (a common name for Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996) is a landmark piece of Internet legislation in the United States, codified at 47 U.S.C. § 230. Section 230(c)(1) provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an "interactive computer service" who publish information provided by others. What this means is that the website could not be held responsible for what others published on their websites. There have been several lawsuits brought against sites such as backpage.com but they were dismissed or won by the people operating these sites. 

     In recent months, backpage.com has been "shut down" by the federal government stating, "Justice Department Leads Effort to Seize Backpage.Com, the Internet’s Leading Forum for Prostitution Ads, and Obtains 93-Count Federal Indictment. Additionally, seven individuals have been charged in a 93-count federal indictment with the crimes of conspiracy to facilitate prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, facilitating prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, conspiracy to commit money laundering, concealment money laundering, international promotional money laundering, and transactional money laundering." 

    Although this is a step in the right direction, there is still much more work to be done in combating sex trafficking. One important way to continue to propel this issue in the right direction is education. Education plays a huge role in the prevention of sex trafficking. With that in mind, it is important to recognize this so we can continue to address the need/want for this horrific crime within all societies as well as recognize the victimization of these victims so that we can continue to understand ways to help them heal.

To learn more about sex trafficking and the online world, the documentary, "I am Jane Doe," offers great information and insight into how these websites were able get away with this for so long.