Sunday, May 13, 2012

An uneasy Backpage alliance - Anti-trafficking activists

An uneasy Backpage alliance
Anti-trafficking activists may turn to the site for tips, but some say we're ultimately better without it
By Tracy Clark-Flory
Saturday, May 12, 2012

In the fight against child sex trafficking, is seen as both friend and foe. The online classified site screens ads, reports thousands of potential cases of exploitation, assists in police investigations and acts as a resource for those searching for trafficked kids. But even some activists who use the site for good see greater benefit in the site shutting down its adult section — a move called for recently in Senate and House resolutions. This uneasy alliance reveals the complexities of the problem at hand.

In the past 16 months — the length of time Backpage has been screening and reporting potential trafficking ads — the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received nearly 5,000 tips from the site. The center’s president, Ernie Allen, tells me, “There’s no question they have undertaken the screening and reporting process very aggressively.” Ultimately, though, the question is whether it’s enough.

After working with Craigslist in a similar fashion for almost two years, he says, “What we basically concluded was that it wasn’t working. The price you pay to allow this kind of activity to proliferate was too great.” Eventually, Craigslist shuttered its adult section and, Allen says, “the total volume of these ads dropped dramatically, and most of that has not come back.”

If Backpage were to do the same thing, “it would dramatically reduce the scale and scope of the problem,” he says. “Some of it would relocate, but I don’t think it would proliferate at the same level.” Allen says that NCMEC doesn’t make “public pronouncements about the policy stuff,” but his message is clear: Shuttering Backpage’s adult section would make things better — but, short of that, NCMEC is devoted to helping the site reduce harm....

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