Two Kansas attorneys general recently posted six "sting" ads for sex with children on Village Voice Media's Backpage.com. Within 72 hours, they'd arrested two men for soliciting sex with a child on Backpage. But what was even more surprising was the ease with which they were able to advertise for child sex trafficking on Backpage.com and the number of men shopping for young kids there. The law enforcement agents placed ads on Backpage.com pretending to be a 14-year-old girl. Soon after posting the ads, they arrested two men, one who allegedly drove to Kansas from Missouri to buy sex from someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl and another who allegedly solicited the same girl for sex online. In this case, the girl was an undercover agent, but there are many real children being sold for sex on Backpage. The agents who conducted the sting reported being "shocked" at how well their ads blended into a landscape of sex trafficking and prostitution. The ease with which they posted ads indicates the ease with which pimps and traffickers post ads for trafficked girls and women. And the speed with which men solicited their ad is indicative of the high demand for child sex on Backpage.com.
Demand for commercial sex with children is elastic. It varies depending on a number of factors -- price, availability, social acceptability, ease of access, perception of safety, and perceived likelihood of punishment, to name a few. Websites like Backpage.com and Craigslist, before they blocked their adult services section, help grow demand for child sex by making it easy to access and more socially acceptable. Instead of having to venture to a seedy street corner or even an escort service website, men looking to buy sex with young girls can log into Backpage.com, a site that looks and feels safe, harmless, and legitimate. While someone might balk at browsing photos on an escort site at work, that same person could browse girls on Backpage, pretending to shop for concert tickets or a sofa. And when the girl he finally orders is delivered straight to his door by her pimp, neither pimp or john risk exposure to the police.
Stopping the sex trafficking of children on websites like Cragislist and Backpage will actually reduce demand for child sex trafficking, not just displace it. There should be no safe, comfortable places for men to buy sex with children. Paying to rape a child should move from difficult to impossible.