UNITED STATES: by Hal G.P. ColebatchNews Weekly
Justice Dept drags its feet over sex-trafficking website
, March 29, 2014
According to CNS News, U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder — long associated with a number of far-left causes and individuals — has been accused by a Republican Congressman of failing to crack down on a website, Backpage.com, that has been identified numerous times by the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies as facilitating the sexual-trafficking of minors.
If correct, this indicates once again how far the Obama administration, committed as it is to the social transformation of America, has gone in condoning illegal behaviour from certain groups. It has also refused to allow states to move against illegal immigration, and refused to prosecute the New Black Panthers for well-witnessed voter intimidation at the last presidential elections.
“I just can’t get him to do it,” Frank Wolf, a Republican Congressman from Virginia, said during a hearing on sex-traffficking by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, which he chairs.
The CNS News report said that, last July, the FBI announced that it rescued 105 children and arrested 150 alleged pimps in 76 cities after monitoring Backpage.com and other websites often used by sex-traffickers.
“At the same time, I’m concerned about actions the Department of Justice has not, N-O-T, underline not, N-O-T taken,” Wolf said. “The subcommittee directed the department to report on the effectiveness of existing laws and authorities to go after websites such as Backpage.com, not just traffickers that advertise on them. The report was due on April 25, 2013. That was 10 months ago....
“I personally have written to the attorney-general over and over (during) the last three years, urging the department to prosecute Backpage.com. I think they’re, they’re afraid of Backpage.com. I mean, they won’t even say the word, they won’t even articulate the word.
“And we’re going to submit for the record … all the letters that were sent to the attorney-general. In these letters I repeatedly wrote that if the department was of the view that current law would not support such action, then provide a legal analysis and possible legislative language for how this could be remedied.
“Many of my letters went unanswered and the responses I did receive failed to address my primary concern with respect to Backpage.com. I have even urged, to that effect, for Attorney General Eric Holder to publicly call out Backpage.com and similar sites to at least add an element of shame in the public square. I just can’t get him to do it.”
In a letter to Holder sent on December 6, 2013, Wolf said: “From now on, I’m going to hold you personally accountable for each victim trafficked on that Web site — each someone’s daughter, sister or mother. I’m asking you — not as attorney-general but as a father — to use your remaining time in office to find a way to end Backpage.com’s trafficking of young girls and women.”
Wolf said recently, “If we don’t close down Backpage, we can have all the hearings in the world and we won’t solve the problem.”
According to William Woolf, lead investigator of the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, in testimony before the hearing, child prostitution has “become disturbingly more prevalent in some of the most affluent suburbs throughout the United States”. In particular, social media sites have become one of the primary sources of victims for commercial sex-traffickers.
He testified that an estimated 100,000 American youngsters from all socio-economic groups are enticed into sexual slavery each year. Thirteen is the average age of “induction”, and the “average life expectancy of a trafficking victim is only seven years after the exploitation begins”.
Although law enforcement has increased its ability to identify victims of sex-trafficking, Woolf added that “we’re also seeing an increase in the activity itself, and the reason that is, is mostly because of the Internet”.
He said: “The ability for these traffickers to not only operate or conduct their criminal operations behind closed doors (is owing to) the mask of the Internet, but also their ability to recruit these individuals as well. They commonly exploit social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and things of that nature, to be able to target their recruitment efforts, making them a lot more effective and efficient.
“They’re going on and finding young people that may have a particular vulnerability in their life at that time that the traffickers can exploit and draw them into a life of sexual servitude.
“We see other Internet-based companies like Backpage.com that is openly and in some senses legally advertising commercial sex. It gives these traffickers the opportunity to advertise to the general public the sexual services, and to advertise essentially our children online.”
The sexual exploitation of vulnerable minors is not confined to low-income areas, Woolf pointed out. It occurs in wealthy gated communities as well.
“Trafficking is most likely occurring in plain sight,” he said. “The white work van abducting our children from street corners and forcing them into a life of prostitution is very rare. Rather, it is smooth words and empty promises that trap and manipulate children, forcing them into a life of sex with strangers.
“The reality is that our children, one of the most vulnerable and sought-after populations by traffickers, can be exploited on a routine basis by these profit-driven predators and yet may still be coming home every night for dinner, sleeping in their own beds, and going to school every day,” Woolf added.
Children from unstable, financially struggling or homeless families, victims of prior sexual abuse, runaways and youngsters with low self-esteem or a need for attention are particularly vulnerable to psychological manipulation by sexual predators on social media sites, the veteran investigator said. Traffickers also recruit minors at schools, bus stops and subway stations and shopping malls.
“The dynamics of family have changed over the past few decades, and the traffickers have taken note,” he said.
Many of the victims were wards of the state.
Another witness at the hearing was John Ryan, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a private- non-profit organisation established 30 years ago by the U.S. Congress.
Ryan told the hearing: “One out of seven of endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2013 were likely sex-trafficking victims. Not only has this number increased from the previous year, it has tripled since we started comparing missing children to trafficked children…. 67 per cent were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran.”
Once ensnared, underage victims are often given alcohol and illegal drugs and “made to believe that they consented to their own victimisation,” said Woolf, whose unit is currently investigating 42 human-trafficking cases in the affluent suburbs surrounding Washington, DC.
Woolf noted that “the victims never self-reported for fear of retaliation from their traffickers”, including threats of violence against their families.
In January, a number of agencies in northern Virginia launched the Just Ask Campaign, which is aimed at educating teens, their parents and members of the community on the tell-tale signs of human-trafficking.
Stephanie Vu said that she was just 12 years old when she was recruited at a party by a sex-trafficker while her father was fighting in Iraq.
“I met a handsome older boy who took a lot of interest in me,” she testified. “I soon learned that he was ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ with calculated designs on turning me into a product to be devoured.”
She noted that another child she met was only 10 when she was forced into prostitution.
Victims are “frequently misidentified as delinquents, runaways and homeless,” Vu told the subcommittee, leading to “a chain reaction of negative outcomes”, which often includes being arrested for prostitution even though they are by law unable to consent to the sexual acts they are forced to perform.
“The arrest and treatment of the victim as a criminal is a secondary violence committed against her, compounding the trauma of the sexual violence she has already endured at the hands of the trafficker and the multitude of buyers who have used her,” she said.
Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer.
Peter Hermann, Ann Marimow and Clarence Williams, “DC police search home of officer in investigation of prostitution ring”, Washington Post, December 6, 2013.
Letter from Congressman Frank R. Wolf to Attorney-General Eric H. Holder, Jr, dated December 6, 2013.
Barbara Hollingsworth, “Rep. Wolf: I can’t get Holder to go after website running sex trafficking ads”, CNS News, March 7, 2014.