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
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.