As the latest in a multiyear effort to target third party online advertisers, CEO of advertising website backpage.com Carl Ferrer was arrested in October on felony charges of pimping a minor and conspiracy to commit pimping. Mixed messaging from law enforcement and media have described this raid as an anti-trafficking effort. However, no one was charged with trafficking offenses.
Freedom Network USA’s Executive Director Jean Bruggeman clarified, “There are no trafficking charges against Ferrer. Although minors have been trafficked on internet sites including Backpage.com, it is not clear that the website operators are able to determine which ads are for trafficking victims and which are for consensual sex workers.”
Pimping and prostitution raids which masquerade as trafficking efforts, but fail to identify or protect any victims, can actually jeopardize sex workers. These efforts create barriers for consensual sex workers seeking income to support themselves and their families. Without access to websites for finding customers and negotiating terms, sex workers are forced into street-based work or reliance on pimps– the very arrangements these raids purport to end.
“This is further marginalizing those who are already marginalized,” said Kate D’Adamo, National Policy Advocate at the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center. “This stunt is a disservice to anti-trafficking work and a waste of the limited federal funding dedicated to anti-trafficking efforts.”
Anti-trafficking organizations agree that law enforcement resources should be used to directly prosecute traffickers.
“To invest the limited dollars we have for trafficking investigations, we must first ask the following questions: Are we making people safer? Are identifying victims? Are we prosecuting the actual traffickers?”, notes Bruggeman. “Any efforts that do not accomplish these three objectives are doing a disservice to trafficking survivors.”