Burgess’s Solution To the Backpage.com Problem

City Council member Tim Burgess thinks he has a solution to Backpage.com’s child prostitution problem:  a decade-old internet payment system you’ve probably heard of if you’ve ever bought anything on the internet.

In a post on his City View blog this morning, Burgess name-checks Paypal.com as an example of online-ID checks done right, says the company should switch to a similar system to prevent “criminal predators” from exploiting young women, (even though they “likely” won’t).

Village Voice claims that proper online technology doesn’t exist to screen ad buyers like they can at the offices of their print publications. But that’s not true.

A virtual version of the “in-person check-in” is readily available using technology that many of us use on a regular basis to conduct Internet-based transactions. To truly reduce the sexual exploitation of girls and young women, backpage.com—and other online advertising portals—could immediately change their payment practices to only accept payment from ad buyers through services like PayPal that have accurate and reliable protocols in place to verify the identity of the person making the payment and their bank account details. If they can’t hide their identities, these criminal predators will be far less likely to make use of these sites.

Will backpage.com and other online sites make the switch? Not likely.

The profitable choice is to maintain the lie, deny the scope of the problem and make excuses for why they can’t do much to prevent it.  This choice continues the exploitation of our children and young women.

Backpage has until Wednesday to respond to 47 attorneys general, led by Washington AG Rob McKenna, who have demanded the company shut down its escort section or turn over records to prove it is actually working to prevent juveniles from being sold into the sex trade on the site.

There’s one other point in Burgess’s righteous post that’s worth flagging: the fact that juveniles aren’t the only ones being trafficked and sexually exploited through sites like Backpage.com.

While the majority of the recent discussion about human trafficking and sexual exploitation on Backpage.com has focused on children, there’s a whole group of victims out there who’ve been largely ignored, just because they’re over 18.

Just as Josh wrote here on PubliCola a few weeks ago, Burgess notes that “in recent years, we have become more aware of how prostitution almost always involves someone exploiting another person.”

While we’re undoubtedly a long ways off from seeing a large-scale discussion amongst legislators about victimization within the sex industry, t’s nice to see that Burgess is laying the groundwork for a larger discussion somewhere down the road.