In April 2018, Backpage was shut down.
The website allowed users to post adverts to sell items and had ads for job openings, automobiles, roommates, and much more. However, it was best known for its adult section, chock-full of sex ads and rife with sex trafficking—the predominant reason it was shut down.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children testified to Congress that Backpage was the reason for nearly three-quarters of the cases submitted to the center. And the state of California said that 90% of the site’s income was attributable to the prior mentioned adult section. To put it another way, the site was literally making tens of millions of dollars on a yearly basis due to its sex ads, many of which featured women, and children who were being trafficked.
With Backpage gone and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of demand floating around, other sites have, as one advertiser put it, “tak[en] over where Backpage[.com] left off.”
Feds shut down CityXGuide
One of those sites permitting commercial sex and child sex trafficking, CityXGuide.com, was just shut down.
On June 17, 2020, 46-year-old Wilhan Martono, CityXGuide’s operator and owner was arrested and charged in a 28-count indictment for one count of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking and one count of facilitating prostitution. He was also charged with nine counts of interstate transportation in aid of facilitating prostitution and 17 counts of money laundering.
According to Texas prosecutors, Martono allegedly made over $21 million from CityXGuide, and a number of affiliated sites like it. And, get this—he registered many of those sites just a day after Backpage was shut down. In other words, he was trying to take advantage of the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of demand that all of a sudden had lost its concentrated supply.
Related: How Porn Fuels Sex Trafficking
Martono’s sites, just like Backpage, maintained that they banned illicit trafficking and underage ads. However, according to the feds, that wasn’t even close to the truth. The sites “allegedly allowed brothels, pimps, and prostitutes to post hundreds of thousands of advertisements for sexual services, which users could then filter by geography and preference.”
U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox put it this way: “…this defendant made millions facilitating the online exploitation of women and children.”
Porn is fuel for sex trafficking
Now, you might be wondering to yourself why we’re writing an article about a sex trafficking website being shut down when we’re supposed to be an anti-porn movement. Well, the fact is that sex trafficking and porn frequently overlap.
Porn fuels the demand for sex trafficking, and it does so on a number of different levels.
Porn is often made of trafficking victims and then put online without their consent. Take the story of a missing 15-year-old who was finally able to return home after she was identified in sexually explicit videos on a number of mainstream adult websites. Authorities later discovered 58 adult videos that featured her. There’s also the story of a 14-year-old girl who, after being kidnapped at knifepoint a few years ago, was raped on camera for over 12 hours. The videos of her disturbing abuse were online for months before they were finally taken down.
Porn is also a model that traffickers use their victims to replicate. The WHISPER Oral History Project, a project run to research and educate people on prostitution, reported that 52% of the prostituted people interviewed named porn as an important teacher of what was expected of them, while 80% recounted that their actual customers had shown them actual porn in order to depict exactly what the sex buyers wanted to engage in.
Polaris, one of the top anti-trafficking organizations in the U.S., says that porn plays a massive role in sex trafficking, and based on the largest human trafficking data set ever compiled and analyzed in the U.S., they even named it one of the 25 types of human trafficking.
But it doesn’t stop there. Porn is also used to groom sex trafficking victims because it has the ability to desensitize viewers to sexual violence. Trafficked people are often shown explicit images and videos of violent sex, so they are more likely to be desensitized to and accept the violent abuse they may receive.
You can read more about the links between porn and trafficking here, too. Porn is certainly fuel for sex trafficking and, sometimes, it literally is sex trafficking.
Why this matters
Sure, the feds shut down CityXGuide, among a number of other sites selling trafficking victims, but their need to shut down such sites only exists because demand exists for illicit sex. And part of that demand exists due to porn.
The connection between sex trafficking and porn is clear, which is exactly why we can’t talk about one without talking about the other. But that also means that decreasing the demand of one can also mean decreasing the demand of the other.
This is why we refuse to click—and that choice from millions of collective individuals may just be what destroys the next CityXGuide.