LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The federal government forced Backpage.com to shut down the “adult” section of its classifieds, and a Little Rock woman calls that a “huge miracle.”
After an investigation, a US Senate panel found that employees at Backpage.com allowed listings that promoted prostitution and sex trafficking, and changed words to make the listings more subtle. Monday, the company removed the Adult category from its site in response.
“I feel so amazing,’ Ashley Hardin said in response. “It feels so good to know that even though we live in a world that is not so focused on Christ, that this can happen, and we see the work of God, because this is truly a miracle. Like, this is a huge miracle.”
Hardin understands the danger that came from Backpage.com’s Adult section. Two years ago, she listed herself. She was in a bad place at the time, but had no idea how much worse her life would get.
“For so long, I felt lonely. I felt desperate for love and affection. I kind of saw Backpage as a way to fill that need and that void in my life,” she explained.
Friends told her that she could make some money on Backpage, too, which she needed to feed her drug addiction. She and the other girls were led to believe they could find sugar daddies through the site.
“They made it sound almost like a dating website,” Hardin recalled, “that we can meet all these single guys, they’ll take us all on these big fancy dinners, and then we get caught up in that lifestyle of prostitution.”
Hardin said a man controlled her and took the money she made from encounters arranged through the site, and that she was bought and sold several times.
“It was terrible. To know that I did that, and to know that there were millions of other girls that did that, too, it just breaks my heart, you know? We were all desperate. We all have the same story. We are all connected, and it just breaks my heart.”
She found her way to PATH, a North Little Rock-based non-profit that helps victims of prostitution, sex trafficking, and sexual assault.
“In the time that we’ve been doing this, we’ve had two girls that actually worked the street,” said Louise Allison, PATH’s executive director. “All of our other girls have been sold through Backpage, at one time or another.”
Allison, too, was thrilled Backpage.com made the decision to remove its Adult section, even if it came with Congressional pressure. She hopes it curtails the sex trade, though she is unsure about its long-term impact.
“I think that girls are still going to be bought and sold some way,” she explained, “because it’s about making money, and they’re going to try to find a way to make that money. But I’m thrilled that they’ve at least stopped this venue.”
Backpage.com is similar to Craigslist, in that people can create classified listings for nearly anything, and the remainder of the website is still online. The company released a statement saying it is a victim of government censorship, and that it worked with law enforcement to find the people who posted on its site.
“I’m not fond of the ‘what about free speech?’” Allison stated. “I say, ‘what about the girl’s right to refuse to be sold?’
“I love the fact that our government didn’t take somebody’s word that ‘we’re not, we’re just going to change a few words in our ads and that makes it all clean.’ People still know what they’re up to, and people still know what they’re buying, or what to look for. And I love the fact that our law enforcement and government did not give up, did not stop, and chose to do the right thing. I’m very excited about that.”
Hardin said she, too, believes sex traffickers will find a new venue to continue exploiting women and children, though her joy at Backpage.com’s decision outweighed her worries about the future.
“We live in a world where anything is possible,” she said, “but I know that my God is bigger than all of that.”
(© 2017 KTHV)