The facts are clear: we have a serious problem in our region with underage sex trafficking. A Human Services Department report published in 2008 estimated there are 300 to 500 children being exploited for commercial sex each year. In the last 12 months, our service providers identified 185 cases of underage sex trafficking.
This affects children of color, low-income, transgender, abused and other vulnerable kids more than others. But any child can be exploited, and we have found that even straight-A students have fallen into exploitation. The age of victims are getting younger, and service providers are seeing more kids age 13-14. Children as young as twelve have been exploited.
This traffic is moving online. Police say more pimps are using internet ads to promote young girls. Using internet ads makes it harder to locate girls – pimps set up “outcalls” instead of a central physical location.
Backpage.com is a well-known accelerant of underage sex trafficking. Since the beginning of 2010, 22 kids advertised on Backpage.com were recovered by the Seattle Police Department. No juveniles were discovered on any other sites in that time – that includes ads on craigslist, The Stranger, and other adult sites. The problem is specific to Backpage.com.
To place an ad on Backpage.com, all you have to do is enter credit card information and check a box that says “I am over age 18.” That’s it.
You would think that when this information was brought to the attention of the Seattle Weekly and Village Voice Media, they would have immediately acted to clean up their site and implement tougher policies to prevent their sites from being used for underage sex trafficking. Instead they are arguing about numbers instead of finding ways to get underage sex trafficking off their site. Perhaps the only number that matters to them is the $2.1 million in revenue they generated from their erotic service ads.
Their irresponsible journalism masks the real problem, and takes focus off the real issue – that Backpage.com is an accelerant of child prostitution.
They need to start changing their practices – and they need to start now. The Seattle Weekly and Backpage.com must require age verification with a photo ID for every ad placed. Other sites require age verification, and as a result, we have not found evidence their sites are being used for underage sex trafficking. Backpage.com can set this up quickly.
Later today I will meet with executives from the Seattle Weekly and Backpage.com. I will be direct: they have to stop minimizing the problem, get serious, and work with us to stop underage sex trafficking.
Seattle will not stand for anything less.