I traveled to Washington, D.C. a few months ago to attend a pretty standard Congressional briefing: “Discussion of the Online Sex Trafficking of Children on Backpage.com.” Long-time allies in the movement to end child trafficking and exploitation filled the room. Welcoming sentiments were formally given, words of thanks were exchanged from the podium. Members of Congress who have championed one of the most pressing human rights issue of our time gave statements. It was a thoughtful professional briefing.
Then it got interesting.
We watched the trailer to “I Am Jane Doe,” the harrowing documentary about three families whose lives were shattered when their daughters were sold through Backpage.com. These families courageously filed suits against Backpage.com, only to be thwarted by a legal roadblock known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 basically gives online publishers, including Backpage.com, freedom to publish ads selling children without legal liability.
After the trailer, it got really interesting.
Kibukki Pride, a mother of one of the children known in the documentary as “Jane Doe,” began to speak. Kibukki Pride’s 13-year-old daughter, M.S., went missing on August 12, 2009. Kibukki’s search led her online, where she uncovered listings of her own child being sold for sex on Backpage.com.
Imagine sitting at your computer, desperately looking for a clue to your daughter’s whereabouts. You click a link… and suddenly there she is. Dressed and posing like an adult and offered for sale.
Kibukki then did something that no mother ever envisions doing… she purchased her own daughter in an effort to get her back. And she didn’t stop there. After reuniting with M.S., she set out to prevent this from happening to other children.
As a parent, you have a miraculous connection to your child unlike anything else. That connection is the fuel that propels you out of bed in the middle of the night when a baby cries, soothes tears when a child falls and scrapes her knee, or is the last one picked for the team. A thousand moments knit together the threads of that connection. And when the worst happens, when your child goes missing, it is what drives a mom to the end of the earth to find and buy back her child. When your little girl becomes someone else’s Jane Doe, sold on Backpage.com, you do what Kibukki and the mothers of the other Jane Does did. Like other fearless mothers that have gone before them (people like Karen Silkwood, Erin Brockovich, and Lois Gibbs, who exposed the toxicity of Love Canal), they harnessed the synergy of their miraculous connection and, with the help of high-powered attorneys, they put that same determination into changing… the… law.
Congress is currently considering S.1693, The Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act [SESTA], which would make it illegal for sites to knowingly assist, support, or facilitate sex trafficking.
This law would mean, for example, if a website like Backpage.com is aware that an advertisement is being placed for people to buy your child for sex, the website can’t avoid responsibility by claiming it’s their right to free speech.
SESTA addresses the virtual immunity that websites advertising children for sale enjoy under a broad free speech law passed in 1996. Additionally, it will enable state law enforcement — not just the US Department of Justice — to take legal action if these businesses violate Federal sex trafficking laws.
Human trafficking is dark, it can be hard to wrap your head, let alone your heart, around it. But when it turns the sleepy-eyed face that greets you from across the breakfast table into someone else’s Jane Doe, you stop at nothing. Nothing is too hard.
Take Action to Support S.1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act
- Contact your senators and ask them to support this bill. You can find a suggested message and key facts here. Please share this information among your friends, family & social networks.
- Educate yourself and see why we are so passionate about this issue:
- Read Love146’s Statement submitted to the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
- Read Statements in support of the bill provided to the Act’s co-sponsors, US Senators Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal.
- Watch a video of Sen. Rob Portman speaking about the Act.
- Watch the video of the September 19th hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, including powerful testimony from Yvonne Ambrose, whose 16-year-old daughter was murdered after being sold on Backpage.com. “I’m sure when this act was put into place in 1996 the internet was in its infancy and it was not intended to allow companies to legally sell children on the internet. But somehow a dollar has become more important than a human life. If you’re going to fix this problem, fix it,” she said in her testimony.
- Watch “I Am Jane Doe.” The film is available for streaming on Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo, Google Play, Amazon, and on DVD.