But then she goes to her closet and digs out a pair of sky-high silver stilettos. They are a glimpse into another kind of life -- the memory of which haunts her. Those shoes are a painful reminder of how she was coerced into selling her body for sex by an older man she hoped would become her boyfriend. Instead, she worked long hours in hotel rooms where she would service up to 20 men a night. Megan's pimp did not make her walk the streets, she said. Instead, he advertised her online in the adult services section of the nationwide classified website, Back.
I had no idea what they put on it. All I know is that they put the pictures that I took on there, and people started calling me," she said. It's a phenomenon that has become commonplace in the lucrative and illegal commercial sex trade of minors: using the Internet as an instrument to facilitate business. Megan is one of the thousands of American teens who fall victim to commercial sexual exploitation every year. Although sex trafficking is a major problem in the developing world, the U.
Department of Justice estimates more thanyouth are at risk domestically, and studies indicate the Internet could be making the problem worse by increasing demand. According to Shared Hope International, an anti-trafficking organization, the average age of entry for female prostitution is 13 years old.
And while there may be consensus that the exploitation of underage girls online is a problem, there is a white-hot debate over how to stop it. At the center of the storm is Back. Critics say it's also a hub for the sex trafficking of minors, and have been mounting a public campaign to pressure Back to shut down its adult services section. Despite Back screening their to look for minors, police around the country told "Nightline" they routinely find underage girls advertised on the website.
But, the company argues, while Back might be part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution, by working with law enforcement to catch the pimps who are selling minors. And we provide an extraordinary tool to do that, because we are online," said Liz McDougall, the lawyer for Back. McDougall has made this case before.
10 websites like back for posting classified
Inshe was part of the legal team that defended Craigslist when it came under fire for its adult. Craigslist eventually decided to shut down that portion of its site, at which point much of that traffic moved to Back. Because you are losing a key tool for law enforcement to get insights into this illicit activity, to get data, greater data than it's ever existed before, to locate, to identify the perpetrators, and to rescue victims.
Back disputes that figure, but despite repeated requests from "Nightline," refused to provide s for how many escort get posted or how much revenue the company takes in from them. McKenna, a Republican who is also the head of the National Association of Attorneys General, has been leading the political charge to shut down the sex on Back.
They're making it easy for men who exploit girls and women to get away with it. But McDougall said what happened in the wake of Craigslist shutting down its prostitution is evidence that McKenna's strategy won't work. McDougall is new on the job as Back's in-house counsel, a role she said she accepted only on the condition that she would be given free rein to address the problem of sex trafficking on the website. I would love to see us eradicate sexual exploitation in the United States.
I don't know if that's an achievable goal. But eradicating it online, I think is an achievable goal. And that's what I intend to lead the industry in doing. Anti-trafficking advocates say both online classified and social networking sites have made ordering sex with a minor as easy as ordering a pizza.
The cyber world provides johns with round-the-clock accessibility and provides pimps with an efficient, low-risk and anonymous method by which to recruit and sell women and children. Kyle Oki of the San Jose, Calif. Back is not the only website that sells classified escort ; there are also Eros.
But, according to AIM Group, when Craigslist famously shut down its escort in due to public pressure, Back quickly emerged as the market leader.
Back often points to the work of one scholar, danah boyd, of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, who has written that the Internet provides new opportunities to intervene in the underground sex trade because it makes trafficking more visible than it once was. McDougall lauded the systems Back already has in place to keep underage girls out of its adult .
Where did the back girls go — 10 back alternatives
Our goal is to stay the industry leader, and to set the standard for everyone else to meet," she pledged. McDougall took "Nightline" inside one of their screening rooms, the first time they have ever let reporters see how their filters function.
According to McDougall, first an automated system screens for key words. Then, a real human being looks at each and every ad that goes up in the site's adult services section.
Of course pimps and the underage girls they traffic often find ways to work around the safeguards, including using pre-paid gift cards instead of credit cards linked to an address. Back does work with law enforcement, responding to subpoenas and reporting about a month to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Law enforcement officials from across the country told "Nightline" that they'd rather work with Back than be at odds with them.
But many said the inescapable fact is that Back and other sites like it have made the buying and selling of sex exponentially easier than it was in the pre-Internet era. You had to build up the courage to make contact with someone.
You had to stop out in public view," Oki said. And he objects to the profits that Back and other sites like it are making off prostitution. But Oki said he has mixed emotions on what the solution should be, noting that when Craigslist shut down its classified sexthe traffic moved to other sites.
Like many exploited minors, Megan had a troubled childhood fraught with family dysfunction and a sense of abandonment. She said she spent her early years searching for a father figure, as she bounced from relative to relative trying to find a stable home. I was used to being, like, the troubled child," she said with tears in her eyes. It all made her an easy and vulnerable target for the pimp who first approached her after she had spent the night sleeping at a bus stop.
And so, you know, he was like, 'Take a shower. Get ready and stuff. And we can take some pictures of you.
Megan said her pimp posted the provocative photos on Back. She had never heard of the site before and did not know how to use it, but after two months, she said, she started posting the for herself. Megan said once an ad went up, the phone rang off the hook. She'd perform up to 20 or more tricks a night. I was in pain and I would just act like I didn't hear my phone ringing. If she wanted something to eat, she had to ask her pimp for permission. Then one day, he kicked Megan out, leaving her on the street in only a trench coat and no shoes.
Girls sold for sex online, back defends decision to keep up
Her family rejected her calls for help and eventually the police picked her up. StreetlightUSA, which is funded primarily by area churches, is one of the few facilities in the country where girls who have been sold for sex, ages 11 to 17, can come for rehabilitation.
In addition to food and shelter, the girls at StreetlightUSA receive counseling, mentorship, schooling and recreational activities like art classes and yoga. But in most cities recovery centers like StreetlightUSA just don't exist, and most girls end up in juvenile detention facilities. Benson said that more than 50 percent of the girls at Streetlight had been trafficked on Back. She acknowledged that rehabilitation of trafficked teens is extremely challenging, and it's not infrequent that girls run away. The center struggles with funding, but, she said, they never refuse to take in a new girl.
Recovery, though, is possible.
Jessica, now 23, said she was also pimped on Back when she was underage. She described horrific physical and emotional abuse she endured under at the hands of a pimp when she was just My pimp decided to take a potato peeler He came, grabbed me by my throat, held me against the wall, took the potato peeler, carved it into my face. Jessica lives with the scar on her face, but has turned her experience into action, working with FAIR Girls, an advocacy group for victims of sex trafficking.
Her pimp is now behind bars, due in part to her testimony against him. Jessica now has her sights set on becoming a lawyer, and is working to shut down online marketplaces that allow for adult advertisements.