Shock­ing doc­u­men­tary on girls be­ing sold via classifieds web­sites

Her teenage daugh­ter had been miss­ing for al­most a year – then she found her be­ing sold for sex on a classifieds web­site

DRUM - - Contents - COM­PILED BY DEN­NIS CAVERNELIS SOURCES: ALJAZEERA.COM, DAILY MAIL, GUARDIAN.COM, IAMJANEDOEFILM.COM, NET­FLIX.COM, NEW YORK TIMES, PEO­PLE. COM, WASH­ING­TON POST, USATODAY.COM, VAN­ITY FAIR

SHE clicks her mouse. Click. Click. Click. She starts scrolling slowly down the page, paus­ing at a link sur­rounded by heart and flower emo­jis. This is a web­site she knows. She’s used it to buy and sell sec­ond-hand fur­ni­ture, games, clothes and ap­pli­ances in the past. But this time she’s not on the classifieds ad­ver­tis­ing site for any com­mer­cial rea­son – she’s here to find her child.

What Ku­bi­iki Pride finds when she clicks on the link sur­rounded by girl­ish emo­jis would send shiv­ers down the spine of ev­ery par­ent. It’s her 13-year-old daugh­ter – and she’s be­ing ad­ver­tised as a pros­ti­tute.

Ku­bi­iki is over­whelmed with emo­tion as she sees the shock­ingly sex­ual im­ages on the site backpage.com. Re­lief, then hor­ror and dis­be­lief flood through her as she re­alises she’s found her daugh­ter, who’s been miss­ing for nearly a year.

“My 13-year-old was starved, had her head shaved, was abused, then they sold her on Backpage like she was a used car,” the hor­ri­fied mom says.

Her story – and that of her daugh­ter, iden­ti­fied only as MA – is the sub­ject of the hard-hit­ting Net­flix doc­u­men­tary I am Jane Doe. The re­cently re­leased doc­u­men­tary tells the story of MA and sev­eral other girls from across the USA who went miss­ing, only to turn up on backpage.com, where they were be­ing sold for sex by pimps.

MA went miss­ing in 2009 af­ter she went to a party with friends to cel­e­brate the end of the school year. Ku­bi­iki had told her she was too young to go, so MA had sneaked out of their home in Ge­or­gia, USA.

She later told her mom she’d found her­self with­out a ride home and ac­cepted a lift from a woman who said she’d drop her off.

“That was the start of my baby’s de­scent into hell,” Ku­bi­iki says.

THE trau­ma­tised mom re­calls how they searched for MA for nine months, pound­ing the pave­ments, ask­ing for in­for­ma­tion and putting up posters. Please come home, they ap­pealed, in case she’d run away. “We were so des­per­ate we were try­ing ev­ery­thing, but when my hus­band said, ‘Check Backpage’, I was con­fused be­cause I thought it was a site where you sold stuff you didn’t want any­more.”

A neigh­bour had told them miss­ing chil­dren were found on an­other pop­u­lar classifieds site called Craigslist, but MA wasn’t on that one.

So Ku­bi­iki headed to backpage.com, where she’d once bought video games for her child. This time she clicked on the adult sec­tion and the third link from the top caught her eye. “It was cov­ered in hearts and these lit­tle flower pic­tures. It looked like some­thing a kid would like, so I clicked on it and there was my baby.”

The re­lief she felt at see­ing her daugh­ter again was over­whelm­ing. Re­lief washed over her un­til she be­gan to process what she was see­ing. “At first I didn’t see the naked­ness or what she was wear­ing or the poses she was in, but then it be­gan to sink in, what the ad was for, and ev­ery­thing just fell apart.”

She called the po­lice but they re­ferred her to their cy­ber­crime di­vi­sion. A des­per­ate Ku­bi­iki then called the num­ber on the Backpage web­site.

“I called and asked to pur­chase [MA’s] ser­vices my­self ”. It would cost her $200 (then R1 316).

She went to the train sta­tion where she was told MA would be. “I hid around the cor­ner as I thought the per­son was go­ing to come with her,” she re­calls.

“When I saw her step off her train I came from be­hind the car, and she just fell on the ground and started cry­ing. She looked so dif­fer­ent, she’d lost so

much weight – it had been al­most a year, and she was taller, she was dif­fer­ent.”

MA was a drug ad­dict by then. Ku­bi­iki says that af­ter she was starved and abused and they’d shaved her head, “[MA’s] spirit was bro­ken and she was ad­dicted to the drugs she’d been given”.

The woman who traf­ficked MA was ar­rested in 2010, and jailed for five years. But that wasn’t the end of the trauma for Ku­bi­iki and MA (now 22), as the ad­vert fea­tur­ing ex­plicit pho­tos of the girl re­mained on­line.

The an­gry mom called Backpage “dozens of times ask­ing them to take down those pho­tos, [telling them] that my daugh­ter was just a child and that what had been done to her was a crime”.

“They re­fused and said if I didn’t pay for it, they couldn’t take it down. In the end they just stopped re­turn­ing my calls,” Ku­bi­iki says.

Na­cole Smith lived through a sim­i­lar ter­ror when her 15-year-old daugh­ter, iden­ti­fied as JS, ran away from home in 2011. “In less than 36 hours, my daugh­ter went from be­ing a 15- year- old al­lAmer­i­can kid to be­ing sold for sex on that web­site,” Na­cole says.

A month af­ter JS went miss­ing she called Na­cole on her birth­day. “She was cry­ing, say­ing: ‘ You don’t want me, I’m bro­ken, I’m a bad per­son’,” Na­cole re­calls. “To hear your own daugh­ter say those things when all you want is for her to come back to you is be­yond dev­as­tat­ing.”

When JS left her home, she had left her mother a note say­ing she was go­ing to “find her­self ”. Soon af­ter, she met an­other run­away who then in­tro­duced her to a pimp. He beat and raped JS and ad­ver­tised her as an es­cort on Backpage.

“At one point, I fi­nally ac­cepted this was my fate and this was what I was go­ing to be do­ing for the rest of my life,” JS (now 22) says. “I just kind of gave up.”

She was res­cued in a po­lice sting op­er­a­tion – the pimp was jailed for 26 years.

THERE’S no clear in­for­ma­tion on how many chil­dren have been sold on Backpage but 73% of child sex-traf­fick­ing re­ports sub­mit­ted to the US Na­tional Cen­ter for Miss­ing & Ex­ploited Chil­dren from the pub­lic re­late to Backpage ads.

Backpage.com is the sec­ond-largest classifieds ad­ver­tis­ing web­site in Amer­ica. It op­er­ates around the world, with list­ings in over 800 cities, in­clud­ing across South Africa.

The Pride fam­ily sued backpage.com in 2011, say­ing it fa­cil­i­tated child sex traf­fick­ing, but the case was dis­missed un­der Sec­tion 210 of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions De­cency Act – an Amer­i­can law that pre­vents web­sites from be­ing held re­spon­si­ble for what is posted or ad­ver­tised on their pages.

Af­ter pro­tracted le­gal bat­tles, the web­site shut down its “adult ser­vices” list­ings in the USA this year, but they con­tinue to run in other coun­tries, in­clud­ing SA.

Backpage de­nied al­le­ga­tions it fa­cil­i­tates hu­man traf­fick­ing, but in the US ad­verts for pros­ti­tutes and ads al­legedly of­fer­ing chil­dren for sex con­tinue to run on their dat­ing sec­tion, with slang and code­words used to in­di­cate what’s re­ally be­ing sold.

Backpage ex­ec­u­tives are cur­rently fac­ing crim­i­nal charges. Three women who al­leged they were sold for sex on the site as teenagers set­tled their law­suits against them. The de­tails of the set­tle­ments haven’t been dis­closed, and other cases are on­go­ing. When Backpage was forced to close their adult ser­vices sec­tion, they said it was an af­front to the right to free speech.

But Na­cole says, “The ba­sic fact that these are chil­dren who are be­ing raped and sold on a pub­lic web­site some­how got pushed to the back­ground. What hap­pened to the rights of my child?”

The doc­u­men­tary I am Jane Doe is avail­able on Net­flix.

‘That was the start of my baby’s de­scent into hell’

Ku­bi­iki Pride’s 13-year-old daugh­ter (LEFT), iden­ti­fied only as MA, was ab­ducted and sold for sex on web­site backpage. com. Ku­bi­iki (RIGHT) is now in­volved in a cam­paign against on­line sex traf­fick­ing.

Ku­bi­iki found her miss­ing teenage daugh­ter ad­ver­tised for sale on backpage.com, a classifieds web­site where peo­ple buy and sell a va­ri­ety of prod­ucts and ser­vices. She was hor­ri­fied to see pic­tures of her miss­ing daugh­ter in skimpy lin­gerie.

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