Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Internet Based Prostitution A Real Problem

There were a couple of stories out last week that pointed to the problem that Internet based prostitution is becoming in many communities. This one over at the Minneapolis Star Tribune shows the frustration that many city governments have with Internet sites such as Backpage.com whose sites are being used to facilitate prostitution in their communities. 
Minneapolis City Council members passed a resolution Thursday that calls for a popular website to halt running ads that fuel the sex trade at the expense of young people.

The resolution targets Village Voice Media, which operates Backpage.com. Minneapolis police report that all 20 child sex-trafficking cases they have investigated so far this year involve juvenile victims being prostituted on this website. Village Voice Media, which also owns the Twin Cities-based weekly City Pages, says it has cooperated with investigators, but has resisted pressure to shut down its adult section of ads.
An even more interesting and maybe more promising approach to combating this activity is found in this story over at USA Today. The story outlines efforts by three teen girls to sue the company that runs Backpage.com for facilitating the sex trafficking that victimized them in the prostitution trade.
"Is it proper for some outfit, for some entity, to make millions of dollars not only in trafficking women, but even more importantly trafficking children?" asked Seattle attorney Mike Pfau, who with Erik Bauer represents the teens. "No. It is absolutely unacceptable."

The lawsuit alleges that photos of the underage girls in skimpy garb appeared in numerous ads on the site, paid for by their pimps. It accuses the owners of doing nothing to prevent it. The actions described in the complaint date to 2010.
Village Voice Media, the owners of Backpage.com media seems to be hiding behind the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to avoid responsibility for what their website is facilitating. Even in the sleepy little burg where I work, Backpage.com is becoming the place to go to engage in prostitution.

If Village Voice Media continues to dodge responsibility on this one I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see lawmakers move to change the DMCA to remove some of the safe harbor provisions of the law. It's sad to think that Village Voice Media has to be forced to do the right thing where sex trafficking of women and children is concerned.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a guidebook of strategies to combat street prostitution. While not specifically covering Internet based prostitution, some of the strategies would likely work on both types of prostitution.

What is your community doing to combat Internet based prostitution? Have you found any strategy that works better than others?

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