Is Backpage Responsible for Kidnapping and Rape?

In a New York Times column that begins with the horrifying story of "Baby Face," a 13-year-old runaway forced into prostitution by a pimp who advertised her on Backpage.com, Nicholas Kristof assails Village Voice Media, which owns the classified ad site, for profiting from such crimes. He quotes Brooklyn prosecutor Lauren Hersh, who says "Backpage is a great vehicle for pimps trying to sell girls," and sums up the situation this way: "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."

The emotional punch of Kristof's opening anecdote should not blind readers to the illogic of his argument. Village Voice Media is morally responsible for the crimes against this girl, he implies, because its ad service facilitated them. By the same reasoning, Craigslist is responsible for the deaths of men who respond to employment ads that serial killers use to lure their victims. It would be neither fair nor sensible to respond to such crimes by banning job ads. Yet Kristof thinks the solution to the kidnapping and rape of girls like Baby Face is for Backpage to eliminate its "adult" section, as the attorneys general of 48 states have demanded. He is not fazed by the fact that Craigslist, responding to similar pressures, eliminated its "adult services" section in 2010, after which the world's oldest profession continued unabated. The problem, Kristof says, is that the sex ads moved to Backpage. And what will happen to the ads if Backpage follows Craigslist's example? "It's true," he concedes, "that there's some risk that pimps will migrate to new Web sites, possibly based overseas, that are less cooperative" with law enforcement agencies. But he thinks "that's a risk worth taking," because "the present system is failing." In short, nothing we've done until now has worked, so why not try more of the same?

As Daniel Fisher points out at Forbes, the reality of sex marketing is more complicated than Kristof admits. While Craigslist no longer has an "adult services" section, for example, thinly veiled sex-for-money ads have migrated to the "personals" section, where they are harder to monitor. "Want to find more professionals quick?" Fisher writes. "Search for 'Asian massage' on Google, or 'site:facebook.com escorts new york.'" Fisher argues that Village Voice Media has been unfairly singled out for criticism, especially since it cooperates with police, endeavors to make advertisers traceable by requiring credit card numbers, and "responds to subpoenas within hours." In fact, he says, that is how police identified Baby Face's pimp, who had written "a plain-vanilla personal ad for 'labor day weekend fun' with a 21-year-old."

Fisher hastens to add, "I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with trying to shut down the vigorous market for human flesh." Well, I am saying that, if by "the vigorous market for human flesh" he means the exchange of sex for money. It makes as much sense to ban prostitution because some prostitutes are forced into the trade as it does to ban agriculture because farms have been known to use slaves. Far from helping victims like Baby Face, prohibition forces the entire market underground, making it harder to enforce the distinction between minors and adults or between willing and coerced participants. Prohibition forces prostitutes to work in dangerous conditions, picking up customers on the street or covertly connecting with them online, and makes it harder for them to seek legal remedies when they are cheated or abused. These hazards, similar to those seen in black markets for drugs and gambling, are not inherent to the business of selling sex; they are inherent to the policy of using force to suppress peaceful commerce. Since these dangers are entirely predictable, prohibitionists like Kristof should be reflecting on their role in perpetuating them, instead of making scapegoats out of businesses that run classified ads.

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  • Joe M||

    In short, nothing we've done until now has worked, so why not try more of the same?

    That's pretty much government policy on all issues.

  • ||

    "Want to find more professionals quick?" Fisher writes. "Search for 'Asian massage' on Google, or 'site:facebook.com escorts new york.'"

    That's what I call quality journalism.

    Help me out here, though: Did Kristof attack the NYT for profiting from the crimes of Enron? Hell, did he attack Pauly Krugnuts for profiting from the crimes of Enron?

  • Brett L||

    I'm confused, what does Backpage have to do with the 13yo runaway ending up as a prostitute in the first place? Did her guardians sell her to the pimp on Backpage?

  • ||

    Dude, you're asking for logic and reason. This is Kristof. Come on.

  • Brett L||

    Right, sorry. NYT editorial, double the rage, fact-free bird cage liner.

  • ||

    Maybe if we legalized prostitution and regulated the hell out of it to make sure that the women doing it are of age, it would be harder for pimps to traffic in 13 year olds. Just a thought.

  • tarran||

    Maybe if we lifted the prohibition on children being paid for their labor, runaways would have better options than depending on pimps for food and shelter.

  • ||

    While I can't speak for every city in America, I can tell you with confidence that there isn't a runaway in the Twin Cities that doesn't have access to food and shelter.

  • Joe Sandusky||

    Same thing here in State College, PA.

    Boys only.

  • ||

    (I realize this was a joke) but having lived in State College I would be surprised to learn that they lack services for runaway youth. Any kid smart enough to walk into the Penn State womens studies department would get immediate help.

  • cynical||

    Yes, but at what cost to his sanity and self-image?

  • ||

    And hot showers. Don't forget the showers.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Its the hidden economy of the Pacific Northwest. Social services for runaways, I mean.

  • ||

    This is true. Perhaps we should do both. But no, better to constantly drag kids back to abusive and unhappy homes than let them work and support themselves.

  • Alan||

    Damn straight ... and here's the link:

    http://www.laweekly.com/2011-11-03/news/lost-boys/

  • ||

    In 16th Century England they would hang prostitutes and their Johns as well as pretty much anyone they caught having sex outside of marriage. Yet, prostitution and extra marital sex still existed. But I am sure taking the hooker ads out of the Village Voice will finally solve the problem once and for all.

  • tarran||

    YBut John, didn't you know? The authorities in the 16th century were supid people mired in primitive savagery.

    Modern people are smarter, because they had the benefit of modern theories of education in their upbringing.

    So the modern people can pull off what those stupid ancients could not...

  • Ice Nine||

    I see what you did there.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Backpage suggests that it is battling censors and prudes. In fact, what drives it seems to be greed. In their letter, the attorneys general said that Backpage earns more than $22 million annually from prostitution advertising.

    I noticed advertising on the NYTimes page on Kristof's piece about the "Baby Face" kidnapping. It appears they are also profiting from it. For shame.

  • ||

    We can be sure that no one ever drank any alcohol advertised in the NYT and then killed someone while driving drunk, because I'm sure Kristof would have been all over that shit.

    And those classified ads for Hamptons rentals? Nope, nothing illegal ever happened there either.

  • H man||

    Don't be silly. Alcohol is legal, prostituion isn't. See the difference.

  • ||

    As usual, everything else is to blame EXCEPT the piece of shit who actually kidnapped and raped this girl.

  • Joe M||

    Well see, the thing is, he doesn't have any money to extort.

  • ||

    That is a really good point. It is so common for these kinds of stories to do this that I didn't even notice what a fucked up assumption that is based on. Like, it is a given that left unregulated sites like Backpage will always necessarily result in child prostitution because of, what? shadowy societal forces that have to be controlled by locking things down? Not particular, criminal individuals who individually belong in jail.

  • ||

    No Dagny, the act of looking at the hooker ads in the back pages gives you the incredible urge to kidnap a 13 year old and pimp her out. It has happened to me several times with the City Paper. You can't even pick those things up. You do and before you know it you are trolling middle schools.

  • ||

    Dammit, you people force me to laugh at the most inappropriate topics.

  • H man||

    See how dangerous this is? John is forcing you to laugh. No telling what else he'll force you to do in his depravity.

  • Alan||

    Can we jail the legislators who force desperate young people into prostitution by preventing them from finding other types of work?

    http://www.laweekly.com/2011-11-03/news/lost-boys/

  • Pedobear||

    I never seem to be able to find these ads.

  • ||

    Sullum is great on this issue.

    Crazy question: would it be possible to get Kristof to debate Sullum on TV? Maybe they could debate on Napolitano's show or on Stossel's

    I know, I know: Kristof would never do it. But he should reconsider. If he cares about his issues (and he obviously does) he should try to persuade his opponents. Stossel and Napolitano, while admittedly libertarians, would each be gentlemanly enough to allow Kristof to finish his sentences. (In other words, they're not boors like Bill O'Reilly.)

    C'mon Nicholas. We know you're an Op-Ed columnist at The Most Important Newspaper in The World™ so surely you have nothing to fear from debating a bearded guy from some opinion mag you never read?

  • ||

    You know who never lets anyone finish a sentence? That little weasil Alan Combs. When I see his face, I change the channel.

  • Apatheist||

    To be fair, Colmes (I'm assuming that's who you meant) had to spend years as Hannity's personal strawman. He's just making up for all those beatings he took.

  • Brandon||

    Kristof only appears on camera or radio when he has prior approval of the script and it's a non-controversial fluff piece like the 20/20 episode from December where he appeared, got billed as an "expert," and proceeded to tell us that it is wrong for women to be beaten for trying to obtain prenatal care during pregnancy.

  • Just An Engineer||

    Wait you think that the media actually cares about the issues they report on?

  • Brett L||

    Party at the UN.

    "Sources say 30 pounds of cocaine were received by the UN in their mail room. It was delivered as a package on January 16th."

  • ||

    Paging Ambassador Episiarch.

  • ||

    Who diverted my package?!? That was a fucking diplomatic pouch, god damn it!!!

  • ||

    "Diplomatic immunity!"

    "It's just been revoked."

  • ||

    I'm not South African.

  • ||

    So you claim, but your flagrant defiance of the law and all that is good and decent, not to mention your obvious Dutch heritage, says differently.

  • ||

    Her pimp should have advertised in the NYT.

  • ||

    It's the NYT, for fuck's sake. Those shitheads had a story in it the other day lamenting Texas's plan to apportion it's Congressional seats, and how it could affect who controls the House.

    Paraphrasing it: The ruling could affect how Texas distributes it's House seats. And with the Democrats only needing to turn 25 seats to regain control, the decision could determine the House majority.

    Does anybody other than the NYT think Team Blue has a chance of taking over the House?

    And the story was above the fold on page 1, not the Op/Ed page.

  • Apatheist||

    I guess we need to ban street corners too to prevent prostitution. We should also ban buildings and vans to prevent their storage and delivery.

  • Priestess||

    Nope not comprehensive enough! We need to ban fuckable holes.

  • Killersontherun||

    When the national association of AG's roll into a town for its annual convention, how hookers wind up dead on average?

  • Killersontherun||

    inny, many, miny, mo

  • Brandon||

    "The girl, whom I’ll call Baby Face because of her looks,..."

    This line is creepy as shit.

  • Killersontherun||

    Yep. She's thirteen, most of them look like that. What was he expecting, your typical saggy face, and chain smoking twenty three year old Brit?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    I just checked out some ads, and one of them is a notification of an outstanding balance. HA!

  • patriotgal2||

    Well, to me, it seems like Fisher's the one with the illogical argument. I certainly think that eliminating the adult section at Backspace will at least cut down on some of the prostitution - which is, last time I checked, still ILLEGAL. Why should anyone engaged in prostitution in any capacity expect to be treated with the same respect, or have access to the same protections in place for LEGITIMATE businesses? That boggles my mind! Let prostitution go on unabated, as Fisher says, but it doesn't have to go on through Craigslist, Facebook, or Backspace, or any other social networking, advertising or other public website. What the laws should do is make sure it is illegal for ANY publication to accept these types of ads - ANYWHERE in the U.S. - and that includes banning any materials with that content from entering into the U.S. from another country. You know, neither France nor Germany allow Nazi materials into their countries - I presume because they know all too well how insidious that information becomes when in the hands of fanatics, etc. Perhaps it's time the U.S. started getting serious about greatly reducing, if not eliminating, these kinds of crimes.

  • ||

    circular argument is circular.

  • ||

    "What the laws should do is make sure it is illegal for ANY publication to accept these types of ads - ANYWHERE in the U.S"

    Yes, and force those exploited under age girls to work dark, inner city street corners late at night, keeping the pimps more illusive and more desperate to keep their girls in line.
    What a fucking idiot.

  • Ashlyn||

    I liked the proposed gutting of the First Amendment too. Because zomg NAZIS!!!11!!

  • ||

    We come to expect more from our concern trolls than evoking images of zombie Hitler and blank history textbooks.

  • ||

    i think any of these ad services that offer escort ads or adult service ads should be banned all they are is a catalyst for criminals.
    there are real, respectable ways to advertise that doesnt include these type of servers. when is our society going to wake up?????????

  • ||

    Well clutch my pearls and pass the rosary beads!! People I find it loathsome and abhorrent that they would use that child's rape as a ways and means of accusing all others of under age prostitution! How dare they!! And they point an accusatory finger of blame in our direction??? And yes!! I am a professional Courtesan and an exceedingly educated and very proud one at that.

    I feel terrible heartache for this 13 year old girl, why? Because I too was raped a week after my 13th birthday albeit not by a pimp but a neighbor kidnapped and raped me.

    All countries must grow up and house, tax and then apply health standards to this very lucrative business which would then all but nullify pimping and pandering. Like Nevada for example the taxed dollars generated for local economy as well would be phenomenal! Why argue the very obvious point to this day that prostitution is the oldest profession known to human kind since the dawn of time and will never be eradicated!!

    To all of you who's tie's and buttons need to be loosened up in the most serious ways I add this: Mary Magdolene was one of Jesus' most celebrated deciples and the most important woman deciple of Jesus. She was considered by the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran's Churches to be a Saint with a feast day of July 22nd. The Eastern orthodox churches also commemorate her on the Sunday of the myrrhbearer's.

    Education value for most of you may alsbe realized in Jill Nagles book entitled: "Whores and other Feminists". Never under estimate your opponent for Courtesan's conduct themselves in to all extents and purposes much more efficiently and safely than those seeking one night stands in nightclubs for example offering unprotected and unsafe sex on craigslist casual encounters also is a daily offering compared to what we offer keeping all STD's, Aid/HIV statistics lowered due to our comprehensive knowledge and attention to detail in our professions as compared.

    Signed: A much respected and honorable Courtesan!

  • ||

    nothing has changed for centuries, pimps and prostitution-all that has been tried to stop the oldest profession has not worked. why not legalize it ,collect taxes-and diminsh the demand for sex with underage children by registering working girls and severly prosicuting those that traffic the unwilling in this country

  • ||

    Ok we are letting the moral right get way to powerful. The comment that Backpages and Crigslist are responcible for crims that happen in the world is just rediculess. If this is true the I am responcible for every murder because I recycle metal. Just rediculess. Bad people do bad things. They don't need an Internet advertiser to performe their bad acts. Get reall.

  • ||

    The point is, prostitution like drunk driving is against the law.

    The problem is, law enforcement is to LAZY to do anything about it, considering they wouldn't even have to leave the comfort of their desk to be able to arrest hundreds of prostitutes on BP alone; all they have to do is "Click" on the prostitutes ad, "Call" the number listed and "Set" an appointment to arrest her.

    Oh, and calling them "Escorts" what a freaking joke!

    I'm a man and I don't know any guy who know would pay a woman $150.00 plus an hour to be with him and not have any sexual contact. We get enough of that BS with our wives or girlfriends, why pay for the same thing from a stranger?????

    BP and CL are not responsible for what other people do is a true statement, except for when these entities "provide a vehicle" to accommodate the illegal activities.

    Like with a drunk driver: An establishment that provides a "legal" alcoholic beverage can be held liable for serving a patron too much to drink when they drive under the influence and kill someone in an accident.

    And my point here is "alcohol" is "legal", "prostitution" is not, so if the law can hold someone accountable for a legal activity that caused harm to someone why shouldn't the same be true for an illegal one?

    BP apparently allowed the posting "provided the vehicle" for the illegal activity to take place.

    Had BP denied the posting of any type of illegal activity, they wouldn't be getting the attention, ridicule and bashing that they are now receiving.

    I mean let's face it BP wouldn't allow you to post an ad to sell an ounce of marijuana, would it? So why should it be any different with an ad for prostitution? Both postings for these types of transactions are illegal!

    Prostitution is the lowest form of destruction a woman can do to her self, but we must remember that because they were told they were pretty, and didn't have the ambition to go to school and receive a proper education so they could compete in the 9 to 5 world, they have to depend on lying on their backs for their lively hood.

    The really sad part is a lot of these pathetic women have boyfriends, husbands and children that they put at risk everyday.

  • Walter Tyler||

    Kristof should go to work for McLame and Feingold - he makes a convincing case to remove all campaign ads by elected officials who pimp themselves - "I'll do anything (and I mean ANYTHING) for the next x years in return for a 'donation'."

  • ||

    I am not shocked at the ignorance you express in your archaic beliefs, blatant ignorance with regard to this subject matter WTF2k12. Get an education before you accuse prostitutes of, (quote) "not receiving a proper education so they could compete in the 9 to 5 world so they have to depend on lying on their backs for their lively hood" (end quote) you have got to be kidding buddy!?!? There are women Courtesans who's education exceed most as a matter of "fact" and use their income to put themselves then through University becoming our, Defense/Prosecutor Attorneys at law, Medical Doctors, Corporate heads and such. This is an absolute fact! You go on to state that (quote) "these pathetic women have boyfriends, husbands, and children that they put at risk every day" (end quote) how the hell would you know? Do you live with a prostitute? Have you ever lived with one? What you speak is backwoods dribble. Get an education yourself prior to posting such garbage, you see when you point a finger of blame you always find 4 pointing right back in your own stuck on stoopid face!!!!

    We are not going anywhere whether any of you compare prostitution to selling drugs on the internet, murder, kidnapping, rape or underage prostitution which is disgusting and tragic and has NOTHING to do with legitimate consenting adults conducting themselves accordingly whether Canada wants them to or not because this profession is not leaving any time soon so you might as well stop God damn preaching and get a real education yourselves before you judge others!!

    All this puritanical, maniacal, self righteous b.s. is enough to make me vomit!!

    Jon

  • ||

    oh my god!!! this story has nothing to do with backpage or any site for that matter.why was a 13 year old girl in the hands of a pimp anyway? where the hell are her parents? maybe the parents should go to jail for doing this to her, or maybe it should be social services problem to deal with!
    anyone can be raped anytime or any place. grow up all of you, the only reason why you wanna ban site is because your jealous that hookers dont pay taxes! thats what where really talking about here! dumb humans u are..it says u must 18 to be on this site. punish yourself!

  • ||

    I do have a college education and nursing background but come on really? getting laid everyday and its never the same face everytime. score!!! $$$ I really cant amagine fucking the same guy everyday! take your dumb religion and marriage laws to your own planet

  • ||

    Backpage is perfect utilization of freedom of speech. Only in USA one can live his or her life as they feel happy as long as they are not any burden to others. Crime can happen anywhere. Even husbands and wives kill each other. Use common sense in everything. This website connects two people at their agreed terms without interfering in any bodys life.
    I salute packpage for this service.

  • Dan||

    Backpage is not responsible for the crime. The person who did the crime is responsible for it. The same if someone uses a gun for a crime, the gunmaker is not responsible for it.

  • JunkMan5000||

    Guns and bullets don't kill people holes in vital organs do, and there are lots of ways to make holes in vital organs.

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