In 2012, Marquist Piere Bradford was arrested for sex trafficking of minor girls. Bradford used Facebook to find and communicate with his first victim, a 15-year old girl. After a few weeks, he sent her a bus ticket and convinced her to meet him. Bradford advertised the victim on several escort service pages and trafficked her for two weeks. Bradford continued to recruit and communicate with other victims through Facebook after trafficking the first victim. Bradford has been branded the “Twitter Pimp” because he would brag about his trafficking business on Twitter. This is just one of many cases where traffickers and pimps used social media to lure and advertise victims.
When people hear the words “human trafficking” they might visualize someone watching people walking alone at night, waiting for the most vulnerable one to pass by to lure in. While there are instances when someone searches for victims in person, traffickers are becoming more sophisticated in how they attract possible victims. With social media becoming prominent in our society, it is easier for pimps and traffickers to manipulate social media sites for their own gain. The broad definition of sex trafficking also allows traffickers to use these social media sites and escape federal prosecution. For example, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, sex trafficking is “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to lure victims and force them into sexual exploitation.” However, this definition does not include the use of the Internet or social media as a form of luring victims. This provides a loophole for traffickers to find victims without fear of being caught.
Craigslist has been a primary source for traffickers to find victims. According to an article in the New York Times, sex ads on Craigslist brought in $36 million in revenue in 2010. Under pressure from the Department of Justice, Craigslist has been forced to shut down its “Adult Services” page. However, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Backpage is now becoming the dominant page for traffickers to advertise their victims because of its convenient and inexpensive platform. Backpage also allows traffickers to remain mostly anonymous, which makes it difficult for traffickers and pimps to be apprehended.
A recent innovation called the Spotlight Tool could be the beginning of technological advances in online trafficking investigations. The Spotlight Tool is used to combine information from online commercial sex advertisements. This technology has allowed law enforcement to shorten their investigation time by 43%. While tools like this are useful, we also need the ears and eyes of millions of people who are online everyday. It is important to educate the general public about sex trafficking online so they are more aware and more likely to report suspicious activity online. Education can be a crucial step in ending online sex trafficking.