On Monday, January 9th, Backpage.com, one of the world’s largest classified ads sites, closed its adults ads section. Advocates against sex trafficking hail this closure as a victory, as Backpage has been accused by a scathing U.S. Senate report of hiding criminal activity by deleting terms from ads that indicated sex trafficking or prostitution, including of children.
Natalie, the fifteen-year old girl from suburban Seattle who was forced into prostitution and is featured in The Long Night, has been an advocate in this case, claiming that her pimp used Backpage to fuel his business, and her enslavement.
With the help of the ads posted on Backpage, Natalie was repeatedly raped every single day, bringing in as much as $4,000 a weekend – every penny of which would go to her pimp. With that much money on the table, her pimp became increasingly aggressive and abusive. Natalie had no way to escape.
When her mother, Nacole, an adamant anti-trafficking advocate, first learned of the ads on Backpage, she was shocked. “I live in an American town, how can my kid be sold on the Internet?”
108 days after her disappearance, Natalie’s Backpage ad was targeted as part of a sting by the Seattle Vice Squad. There, she was rescued by officers who understood her situation and have since helped her testify in the case against her pimp. Her pimp, Baruti Hopson, has been sentenced to 26 and a half years in prison for promoting the commercial sex abuse of a minor.
Natalie and Nacole, very simply, are our role models. They used their pain and tragic experience to become strong voices against the sexual exploitation of minors. In helping to close the adult ad section of Backpage, they have made the world just a little bit safer for our children. We thank you for all you have done and hope that in documenting your experiences in The Long Night, we made this fight, a little easier too.