The Internet is largely responsible for the sharp increase in young girls being sexually exploited or trafficked. Craigslist made news recently when it stopped listing adult services on September 3, 2010, after attorneys general from 17 states demanded that the company do so. (Craigslist had no way to control who viewed this material.) The attention of these state officials grew out of pressure from Craigslist users and social justice advocates.
But those who used to use Craigslist have simply moved on to other sites. I will not toss the confetti until I see Craigslist become a larger part of the solution.
There is a clash of views on how to solve the problems of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of minors online. The first amendment rights argument has been made and Craigslist (rightly or wrongly) feels unduly targeted. But there are many things the different sides agree on.
For example, there are ways to track Internet users that post ads. The Department of Justice believes that the laws already exist for prosecuting those that post child pornography or seek the purchase of the same. Operation Guardian Angel caught several people who arranged to meet with minors for sex. The sentence for such actions (depending on what is provable) is from five years to life imprisonment.
Cooperation and collaboration among law enforcement entities also needs to be expanded, and we need to decriminalize the victims in domestic trafficking; it is our moral duty to make sure young women (and young men) do not have their lives doubly ruined because they have been victimized. Removing them from the environment is required if we are to effectively save the victims.
I happen to believe that the consumer is also a victim and that counseling with treatment is as essential as preventing them from buying a child for sex through the Internet.
Women of the ELCA has made combating commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking a focus. I encourage us all to follow congress and the Department of Justice as they move forward in removing this blight from our society.
Check out Women of the ELCA’s human trafficking page for up-to-date resources. Inez Torres Davis is director for justice for Women of the ELCA.