Congressman Asks President and AG Holder to Give Congress Report On Ending Child Slave Trafficking in Virginia and USA
Well now it is affecting our Sterling and our commonwealth of Virginia.
Congressman Wolf is calling him on it. God Bless Congressman Frank Wolf."
WOLF IMPLORES OBAMA AMINISTRATION
TO STEP UP EFFORTS TO COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Says Time for Department of Justice to Look at Online Forum Backpage.com
Washington, D.C. (April 4, 2012) - Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today implored the Obama Administration to step up its efforts to stop human trafficking, including the possible criminal prosecution of Backpage.com, which is reported to be the largest online forum for sex trafficking under-age girls in the United States.
Wolf, who has raised the issue of human trafficking not only internationally but here in northern Virginia, had language inserted in the FY 2012 spending bill that funds the Justice Department requiring U.S. Attorneys across the country to establish Human Trafficking Task Forces. Among other things, the task forces should proactively investigate people, organizations and businesses that facilitate trafficking through classified advertising on the Internet on sites like Backpage.com. Wolf is the chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations subcommittee.
At a February hearing of the CJS subcommittee, Wolf asked U.S Attorney General Eric Holder for an update on the task forces. Holder said he did not know the status but would report back. To date, Wolf has not received any information and in a letter to Holder today Wolf said he wanted an update by April 25.
Wolf also asked if tougher laws need to be enacted to assist law enforcement in dealing with the issue, which is essentially modern day slavery.
Wolf's letter comes on the heels of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's March 31 piece that said Goldman Sachs is one of the owners of Village Voice Media, the company that publishes Backpage.com. Kristof also reported that a Goldman Sachs executive sat on the board of the Village Voice Media board for a number of years.
"Most Americans would be horrified to know that human trafficking isn't simply relegated to distant lands, rather it is happening right here at home," Wolf wrote. "It is happening to our sisters, our daughters and our friends with devastating implications. Just last week, in my area, five northern Virginian men with alleged ties to the Underground Gangster Crips gang were arrested and charged with sex trafficking. The local teenage girls they victimized were allegedly recruited on Web sites like Facebook and then, according to a Washington Post story that reported on the arrests, 'The teens were advertised on Web sites such as Craigslist and Backpage.com, according to court records…' Here again, we see Backpage.com in the spotlight. When will this end?"
Wolf told Holder that
the Obama administration needs to make dealing with this issue a
"The media, civil society, faith leaders and more can and must continue to shine a bright light on the activities of Backpage.com and their ilk," Wolf wrote. "Similarly, such groups can pressure their financiers, as Kristof has done by exposing Goldman Sachs. But there is a unique role for law enforcement. And as our nation's chief law enforcement officer, that responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders. This administration needs to make this a priority."
Below is the complete text of Wolf's letter to Holder:
The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave NW Rm 5111
Washington DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I am writing, again, about an issue of utmost importance - namely the blatant sexual exploitation of American girls and boys. This heinous crime is happening in plain view with little to no consequence for those involved, including those reaping massive profits from this system of modern day slavery.
With the explosive growth of the Internet, pimps, "johns," gangs, traffickers, "madams" and the like have expanded their criminal activity to dizzying new heights. They have penetrated our nation's neighborhoods, victimized our children while cloaking themselves in misguided claims of "free speech" whenever they or the Web sites they use come under scrutiny.
Backpage.com is among the online Web sites that have been found to serve as a conduit for the buying and selling of human beings - not just prostitution (which is itself illegal in 49 out of 50 states), but more specifically the trafficking of minors. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, long an impassioned abolitionist, has written extensively about Backpage.com. In a March 18 column he wrote, "Backpage accounts for about 70 percent of prostitution advertising among five Web sites that carry such ads in the United States, earning more than $22 million annually from prostitution ads (emphasis added), according to AIM Group, a media research and consulting company. It is now the premier Web site for human trafficking in the United States, according to the National Association of Attorneys General [NAAG]."
Quite simply, where prostitution flourishes it is a magnet for sex trafficking. National Security Presidential Directive-22 explicitly makes the connection stating: "Prostitution and related activities, which are inherently harmful and dehumanizing, contribute to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons." This reality has been borne out on Backpage.com. Of particular note is what Kristof revealed in his most recent column on March 31 - that household names like Goldman Sachs (until Kristof began digging) owned a 16 percent stake in Village Voice Media (Backpage.com's parent company) and that a Goldman managing director sat on the Village Voice Media board for several years.
The NAAG first raised concerns with Backpage.com in August 2011 saying that the site served as a "hub" for human trafficking, especially trafficking of minors. Shortly after NAAG sent its letter, a group of prominent clergy wrote an open letter to Village Voice Media, which ran in the New York Times expressing solidarity with the position of the 51 Attorneys Generals who had signed the original letter. These faith leaders urged the company executives to shut down the "adult section" of the web site so as to ensure that "no minor is exploited through advertisements on your Web site."
Since that time others have joined the cause in pressing Backpage.com to act. Thousands of Americans have signed an online petition "demanding that Village Voice Media-stop selling ads that others use to sell minors on Backpage.com by shutting down the Adult section of the website." On March 23 a bipartisan group of U.S. senators wrote a letter to the chairman and CEO of Village Voice Media in which they echoed "the sentiments of 51 Attorneys General, dozens of human rights and sexual assault organizations, The Seattle Times, faith leaders, and more than 90,000 Americans who signed a petition on this issue, and urge you in the strongest terms possible to follow Craigslist and remove the adult services section from Backpage.com."
And yet, in the face of public pressure and even shame, Backpage.com remains unmoved. I believe it is imperative that these efforts be complimented by the very real prospect of criminal prosecution. Law enforcement, notably the Department of Justice (DOJ), must engage.
In the consolidated appropriations bill signed into law last year, Congress directed each U.S. Attorney to "establish or participate in a U.S. Attorney-led human trafficking task force." The bill also included language indicating that "Task force meetings should focus specifically on combating human trafficking, with an emphasis on undertaking proactive investigations. Such investigations shall include, for example, the investigation of persons or entities facilitating trafficking in persons through the use of classified advertising on the Internet." This report language was largely aimed at targeting Web sites like Backpage.com.
When you testified before the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee on February 28, I inquired as to the status of these taskforces and specifically asked if you had sent a directive to the field on this issue. You replied, "I don't believe that in fact I have and I'll have to check on the status,"
To date, I have received no such update. By April 25, I want to know the status of that directive as it relates to individual taskforces, and, of equal importance, whether the taskforces have been charged with specifically focusing on classified advertising - the latest front in this ever evolving battle to combat human trafficking.
Further, if DOJ is of the mind that there are insufficient laws on the books to prosecute this activity, I respectfully request a broader legal analysis and recommendations to Congress of legislative initiatives that may be undertaken to fully equip law enforcement to tackle this problem.
Most Americans would be horrified to know that human trafficking isn't simply relegated to distant lands, rather it happening right here at home. It is happening to our sisters, our daughters and our friends with devastating implications. Just last week, in my area, five northern Virginian men with alleged ties to the Underground Gangster Crips gang were arrested and charged with sex trafficking. The local teenage girls they victimized were allegedly recruited on Web sites like Facebook and then, according to a Washington Post story that reported on the arrests, "The teens were advertised on Web sites such as Craigslist and Backpage.com, according to court records." Here again, we see Backpage.com in the spotlight. When will this end?
Kristof rightly notes that were Backpage.com to shut down its "adult services" section, child sex trafficking would not be eliminated, but it would surely be curbed. He writes, "Let's be honest: Backpage's exit from prostitution advertising wouldn't solve the problem, for smaller Web sites would take on some of the ads. But it would be a setback for pimps to lose a major online marketplace. When Craigslist stopped taking such ads in 2010, many did not migrate to new sites: online prostitution advertising plummeted by more than 50 percent, according to AIM Group."
The media, civil society, faith leaders and more can and must continue to shine a bright light on the activities of Backpage.com and their ilk. Similarly, such groups can pressure their financers, as Kristof has done by exposing Goldman Sachs. But there is a unique role for law enforcement. And as our nation's chief law enforcement officer, that responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders. This administration needs to make this a priority.