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Backpage Exploitation Gets Kristof's Attention

By Jonah Spangenthal-Lee January 26, 2012

The New York Times seems to be changing its tune on Backpage.com.

In October, NYT columnist David Carr kinda-sorta defended Backpage—accused by attorneys general across the country and our own Mayor Mike McGinn of peddling juvenile prostitutes—calling Backpage.com's refusal to shutter its escort ad sections a "principled stand."

Today's NYT op/ed, by Nicholas Kristof, looks a bit different:
In November, a terrified 13-year-old girl pounded on an apartment door in Brooklyn. When a surprised woman answered, the girl pleaded for a phone. She called her mother, and then dialed 911.

The girl, whom I’ll call Baby Face because of her looks, frantically told police that a violent pimp was selling her for sex. He had taken her to the building and ordered her to go to an apartment where a customer was waiting, she said, and now he was waiting downstairs to make sure she did not escape. She had followed the pimp’s directions and gone upstairs, but then had pounded randomly on this door in hopes of getting help.

Baby Face said she hurt too much to endure yet another rape by a john. She told prosecutors later that she was bleeding vaginally and that her pimp had recently kicked her down a stairwell for trying to flee.

The episode also shines a spotlight on how the girl was marketed — in ads on Backpage.com, a major national Web site where people place ads to sell all kinds of things, including sex. It is a godsend to pimps, allowing customers to order a girl online as if she were a pizza.


When Baby Face ran away from her pimp and desperately knocked on that apartment door in Brooklyn, she was also in effect pounding on the door of the executive suites of Backpage and Village Voice Media. Those executives should listen to her pleas.

Speaking of Backpage cases, prosecutors have charged a 45-year-old Kent man with commercial sexual exploitation of a minor after he was caught trying to set up a sexual rendezvous with a 16-year-old girl through Backpage.com.

The case started when police called up a prostitute they'd found on Backpage.com, and detained her at a motel in Kent. As police were talking to the woman, her phone began ringing and buzzing. She told police she was receiving lots of calls about her ad on Backpage.

"In order to address the 'demand' in the commercial sex industry, it was determined we would attempt to lure johns to the motel," police wrote in court records.

The woman agreed to let police use her phone, and mentioned that she knew a john who "once asked her if she knew any younger girls who were 15 or 16 years old."

The woman called the man, and said she and another 16-year-old girl would have sex with him for $160. His response: "I only wanna do her and I want you to take pictures." He later texted a picture of a penis to a police officer who, while undercover, told the man  she "was only sixteen and a sophomore in high school."

Undaunted, the man told the officer he wanted to set up a "regular thing" with the fictitious 16-year-old, court records say.

Charging documents say the man has previously been arrested for communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.
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