Late last night, I tucked my youngest into bed and watched her fall asleep before I crept away to the comfort zone that is my laptop. After writing a post that was a look back on 16 years of wedded bliss, I turned to Netflix. I scrolled through the sections aimlessly until my eyes stopped on “I Am Jane Doe.”
Assuming rather than reading the synopsis that this would be about unsolved cold cases of murder, I settled back and started to watch. The voiceover is soft, non threatening, timid almost, masking the horrors yet to unfold. A mother sends her child off to school. Another sends her child to the mall. These children are in their tweens and early teens. 13, 14 yrs old. Let that sink in.
They, the mothers panic and scramble when their daughters do not return home. They call the police, FBI and eventually months later, they are found on the Escort pages of backpage dot com a service much like craigslist except that their revenues each year is climbing based on the selling of children. The fine print on each ad states that the webpage is not liable for content. A catchall that is protected under section 230 of an act called CDA under the constitution. I will not get into legalities or what that entails.
But, I will exhort you to watch the documentary (on Netflix, YouTube, Google Play and Apple iTunes). I will then urge you to lookup the companies funding a non-profit that is helping backpage litigate and win each of these cases. I will ask you to put yourself in the shoes of those mothers, fathers and children who have been through trauma. Trauma that is being raped upwards of 20 times a day. Trauma that is being hooked to drugs, subject to brutal violence and kept in only what can be classified as modern-day slavery.
I am not talking about morals here. What consenting adult men and women do using classifieds on online spaces is not the concern. The concern is that these are underage children being trafficked openly and wantonly because the provider refuses to take them down or put in place measures like verifying age of the people hawking services online. This is about the terms like “fresh off boat”, “everything on the table” and innocuous sounding words that backpage instructs its ad placers to use to circumvent the law. Most of all it is about companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft that fund and abet companies like backpage citing freedom of speech and internet freedoms. There is legal and there is what is right.
I listen to each of these mothers who have persisted and are still fighting for their daughters. Fighting so that your daughters and mine do not have to go through the trauma their children did. This is about seventh and eighth grade children who should be learning violin and playing soccer. It is about innocence robbed, bodies and minds traumatized for money.
It is about fighting for and petitioning congress to add a narrow amendment to section 230 to specifically outlaw and criminalize selling of underage children online. One would think this is a no-brainer. Yet, here we are after many, many years when backpage has won more often than not. Congressional committees have debated the section 230 and nothing has been done.
What can you do?
Spread the word. Share the website link. Share the documentary trailer. Encourage conversation.
Watch the documentary and share.
Sign this petition.
Support the mothers litigating. Ask your local libraries to arrange for a screening.
Keep these children and their families in your prayers.
Educate your children on what trafficking is and what to watch out for.
Most of all put yourself in those shoes and figure out where you stand.