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"Little Barbies" Sex Trafficking of Young Girls in America

Children are being “ targeted and sold for sex  in America every day".  John Ryan, National Center for Missing & Expl...

lunedì 8 maggio 2017

"Full Measure" Free Child Sex Trafficking

PORTLAND, Ore. - Our recent reporting on sex trafficking razed use of websites that tolerate child sex trafficking. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 73 percent of children trafficked for prostitution are found on a site it identifies as Backpage.
How can that be? In part, because of a 20-year-old law that protects internet free speech and, by consequence, websites use for sex trafficking. 

Lisa Fletcher has the story.
Andrea Benson: "There were girls that were really, really young, but, um, honestly, that's what the johns want and so, it's not something that we even thought about at all."
When Benson worked as a prostitute in Portland, Oregon, she knew that the clients wanted their girls young.
Benson: "Even when I was in the life, um, I put that my age was 19 and guys would just be, like, well, you don't look like you're 19. You look like you're younger. You look like my granddaughter. You look like my daughter."
Benson claims she was trafficked on Backpage, an online classified advertising site.
Carol Robles-Roman: "This is a business model that makes $9 million a month using this exploitive model."
Robles-Roman heads Legal Momentum, a group suing Backpage on behalf of a “Jane Doe” client who claims to have been trafficked on Backpage and two other advocacy groups that support victims of sex trafficking, including children.
Robles-Roman: "These are kids. These are young kids, these are minors and there's no justification - there's no way to defend it."
No one alleges that Backpage is running a prostitution or trafficking ring. However, in January, a Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations concluded that Backpage knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking. Among the findings: Backpage has knowingly concealed evidence of criminality by systematically editing its “adult” ads. Backpage knows that it facilitates prostitution and child sex trafficking.
Robles-Roman: "There should not be a vehicle that has made the trafficking of kids so easy, like, hey, do you want to order a pizza? Sure, let’s do that, I’m gonna get my phone. Hey, do you want to order a kid?"
A 20-year-old law has made it difficult for critics to shut Backpage or any similar site down. Tucked into the Communications Decency Act is a short provision - known as Section 230 that shields websites and internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Backpage from liability over objectionable content posted by users.
Emma Llanso: "Section 230 is really one of the cornerstones of free speech online."
Llanso works with the Center for Democracy and Technologywhich is funded, in part, by Silicon Valley to prevent restrictions on the internet.
Llanso: "If I were, for some reason, to tweet something defamatory about you, you could, of course, sue me for saying something defamatory, but you couldn’t sue Twitter for having published that defamation worldwide, and that’s a really, really key protection. If companies were vulnerable to lawsuits over the content of the speech that their users are posting every day, they would very quickly, basically, be sued out of existence."
Twitter was sued in 2016 for providing material support for Islamic extremists who killed two American contractors but the case was dismissed using protections in Section 230.
According to the congressional report, Backpage tried to appear as though it was fighting trafficking by editing out code words for minors like “fresh” and “new to town” to make the ads look “cleaner than ever,” but congressional investigators found Backpage was actively allowing the traffickers to operate and pocketing the ad revenue.
Fletcher: "What about these, this civil liberties and the free speech advocates who, say, if you were to win your case would have very significant implications on free speech, very broadly across the globe?"
Robles-Roman: "Yeah, there would be implications on free speech. You cannot sell children online for sex. That's the implication. You cannot rape children online, that's the implication. Free speech, the First Amendment does not protect criminal conduct."
Fletcher: "Critics of yours will say this is just a bunch of legal acrobatics that protects pimps, that protects traffickers while kids are being raped."
Llanso: "These are a bunch of legal standards that have existed in our country for 20 years to protect the ability for all of us to use the internet for freedom of speech and access to information. We would not have the incredible array of online publications, social media sites, search engines, other websites that we have without a law like Section 230."

PORTLAND, Ore. (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Prostitution is sometimes called the world's oldest profession but these are dangerous new times. The age-old image of streetwalkers is being replaced by cybersex hookups. The thinly veiled prostitution platforms hiding in plain sight are contributing to a rapid increase in sex trafficking, and that includes both recruiting and exploiting teenagers.
According to one advocacy group, 63 percent of child sex trafficking victims were advertised online"Full Measure's" Lisa Fletcher traveled to Portland, Oregon and found a thriving online market for pimps trafficking young American girls up and down the West Coast.
Lindsay Whittaker: "I'm in, like, the smallest, skimpiest outfit. It's freezing and it's raining outside. He’s trying to rob me and I'm just scared for my life, like I'm in somebody else’s car, like, he could have easily killed me."
Whittaker is one of the lucky ones. She was a prostitute for six years and lived to talk about it. Born in Vancouver, Washington, she ran away from home at age 12 and landed on the streets of Portland.
Fletcher: "At what point did you go from being a runaway kid with a troubled life at home to a runaway kid who was pushed into the sex trafficking business?"
Whittaker: "Mainly just being around the wrong people. There's pimps and mean, dirty people like that everywhere and they approached me. I told them what was going on because I was scared, you know, a little child in the streets not knowing where they are going to eat, where they are going to go, so when you don’t have that and somebody comes and tries to comfort you and take you in, you know, you're a kid and you fall for it."
Fletcher: "They sort of groom you?"
Whittaker: "Yeah, like, they train you, they slowly manipulate your mind and slowly say little things that just get you to where they want you."
Jeff Tiegs: "These predators out there, these terrorists out there, are looking for their prey."
Tiegs leads the Guardian Group that works to disrupt sex trafficking in the U.S. He is also a counterterrorism expert who spent 25 years in U.S. Army Special Operations.
Fletcher: "Is recruiting for ISIS similar to recruiting for child trafficking?"
Tiegs: "It is, in my opinion, identical."
Fletcher: "So, they're looking for somebody who's vulnerable."
Tiegs: "Yes."
Fletcher: "Then what?"
Tiegs: "They befriend that individual. So, they begin to groom you and give you the things that you need but, ultimately, that grooming shifts to a breaking phase where they want you to do something that violates your character. That can be something from the terror world as violent as - and final as - a suicide bomber or, in the trafficking world, they convince you to start turning tricks and having sex with men."
Whittaker’s pimp sold her through strip clubs in Portland and also posted her availability online. She looked young and that was fine for the clients or "johns."
Fletcher: "Were there johns that specifically requested you because they knew you were a kid?"
Whittaker: "Yeah. Yeah, definitely, like, that's, that's probably why a lot of them chose me anyways. Um, obviously, we wouldn't broadcast that I was a minor, but it was very clear, like, when you're a child, you look like a child, act like a child."
Fletcher: "Do you remember how old you were the first time you were raped?"
Whittaker: "Around that time, when I first got into the streets, around, like, 12, 13."
Fletcher: "If you had to guess how many times you were raped, what do you think it would be?"
Whittaker: "Oh, I can't even say a number. That's just a lot."
Fletcher: "More than 100?"
Whittaker: "Yeah. A lot. A lot. I don't know, it's a sick world, that whole part, that world, it's just horrible. And I don't want, I don't want any girls to ever have to go through that, you know what I mean? Like, I would save every single one if I could."
Det. Chad Opitz: "The main goal is if we get any minors, but the traffickers are the other things."
In Beaverton, Oregon, a suburb southwest of Portland, Opitz makes it his mission to save as many of these girls as he can. Posing as an interested client, he sets up a date.
Fletcher: "You know, I was watching you text this morning, setting up these dates, and then I was thinking, you could be booking a plane ticket or a dinner reservation, I mean, it's that easy."
Opitz: "Yes. It's, sadly, it's too easy."
Fletcher: "How many texts a day do you think these women get on average?"
Opitz: "I would say dozens. And that's probably being a safe number, it is pretty much right when they post, they get inundated with, with potential johns.
"These two have just responded for possibles …"
Opitz showed us just how easy it is to buy a girl online, through websites like Backpage, a classified advertising site.
Opitz: "Right now, we are waiting for Maya to show up, she posted as an 18-year-old here on Backpage. And she’s supposed to be showing up probably in the next 15 minutes.
"Hi, Det. Opitz, Beaverton Police Department, how are you?"
Maya ended up being 16 years old.
Opitz: "I just need to find out who you are and I need to make sure that you’re OK. OK?"
She was taken back to the police department.
Counselor: "Have you ever been in this sort of situation before?"
She received counseling and was eventually released into the custody of her mother.
While Portland’s "brick and mortar" sex shops are dwindling, the internet has only made it easier for prostitution and sex trafficking to flourish - and for men interested in young girls to find exactly what they want.
Tiegs: "Every single one of these girls is for sale right now. And you can see the time and date stamp on when they were posted, and the thing that we work with law enforcement on is there, there are clues hidden in these ads that, that help you understand who they are, where they are, and help law enforcement become more efficient. And as we move closer and closer to that capability in the United States, trafficking is going to get crushed."

HIGHLAND, N.Y. “Research tells us that on any given night in New York state more than 4,000 underage youth are victims of sex trafficking,” said Donna Linder, executive director of Child Find of America. “And we believe it’s far more.”

The Highland-based national organization hopes to alleviate some of their suffering through “collaboration and cooperation” among professionals and law enforcement.
“Making the Connections for New York’s Trafficked Youth” is a day-long conference for professionals, local and state law enforcement agencies and social service providers who serve children who are being exploited or are at risk of exploitation, Linder said.
“We hope the ‘Making the Connections for New York’s Trafficked Youth’ will support collective efforts to end the trafficking of minors and provide young survivors opportunities to heal and recover,” Linder said.
Child Find of America was founded in 1980 by Gloria Yerkovich, the mother of a then missing child from Highland. At the time, according to the organization’s website, little was known or understood about child abduction, which — as was the case with Yerkovich — is often carried out by an estranged parent.
Yerkovich was ultimately reunited with her child, Linder said.
The organization quickly gained name recognition for its milk carton campaign — “Have You Seen This Child?” — featuring photos of missing children. That campaign was halted, Linder said, after prominent pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock advised the group that it might be traumatizing for young children to see missing peers so prominently displayed.
Since then, the organization has served as a national clearinghouse to assist law enforcement in efforts to locate and safely return missing and exploited children, Linder said. They’ve also established May 25 as National Missing Children’s Day.
Its focus has expanded from abducted children to sexually exploited children, but preventing abduction — often by a child’s estranged parent — is still a primary concern.
“We know that it takes a collaborative and cooperative network of professionals, law enforcement, social service providers, educators and local and state agencies to identify and best serve our most vulnerable, at-risk children,” she said.
The organization’s website touts its “greatly expanded” scope since Child Find’s founding. Linder spoke at the 2002 White House Conference on Missing and Exploited Children, and the group’s focus has expanded to “prevention, education, conflict resolution, investigation, information and referral, and support services to families in crisis here in America and internationally in more than a dozen countries,” according to its website.
Linder said a large part of Child Find’s effort to prevent both the exploitation and abduction of children involves family conflict prevention. Divorce, Linder said, increases the likelihood of abduction and, by helping parents have safe and legal access to their children, abductions can be prevented.
Child Find’s Parent Help Hotline, (800) 716-3468, offers free and confidential services to parents in conflict who may fear an abduction is likely, Linder said, and helps families by offering multi-faceted support.
“Parent Help’s skilled professionals assist callers by addressing co-parenting challenges, parental abduction prevention, domestic violence, child abuse or neglect concerns, and parenting styles,” the website states. It offers case management, helps establish custody and visitation plans, builds communication and parenting skills and explores legal options and court system navigation support as well as mediation.
If you “can get them talking,” Linder said of estranged parents, an abduction becomes much less likely.
Additionally, Linder said, the Parent Help location department assists parents in locating missing and abducted children. “My staff is pretty resourceful in some of the techniques they use,” Linder said. “People don’t realize that we can go online too and look at profiles ... somebody always knows something.”
Linder said Child Find’s staff is sometimes willing to step in when local law enforcement is inclined to wait. “‘Don’t worry about it, she’ll come right back,’ police might say,” Linder said, adding that panicked parents are sometimes victimized by private investigators and are sometimes ignored by cops, she said.
“Even if a kid goes willingly, it’s a crime,” she said, pointing to an Iowa case where a child had been abducted by her father and the girl’s mother was getting little help from authorities. Linder said her staff was able to find the child and return her safely to her mother.
To make a tax-deductible donation to Child Find, visit
For more information about Child Find or to ask for help, email Linder at

Child Find of America: Highland-based national group aims to end trafficking of minors  Diane Pineiro-Zucker 

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