New TV ad targets child prostitution

PHOENIX - A new campaign to shut down part of a popular website is underway. Backpage.com has been under fire in the past for its adult ads. Child welfare groups say the website is a popular place for promoting child prostitution.

"He raped me a bunch of times and eventually he sold me to four or five men a day for $100 an hour," says the girl in the TV ad, her face blurred as the heartbreaking words come out of her mouth. "My pimp advertised me online at Backpage.com. That's how these guys would buy me. I'm 13."

The 13-year-old girl in the ad is an actress but her story is based in reality, the true story of a young girl who was forced into child prostitution.

The ad was created by an organization called Fair Girls . Their mission is to end the exploitation and trafficking of underage girls worldwide.

Andrea Powell, founding executive director of Fair Girls, says Backpage.com is one of the biggest online marketplaces where underage girls are being advertised.

"We believe that by going after the most popular website where girls are being bought and sold, we can take a sizeable chunk out of the marketplace," Powell said.  "So we'll be making it harder for pimps to sell their victims and harder for people who want to buy them."

"I can tell you, with the girls we have here, 80 percent of them have been advertised through Backpage," said Lea Benson, president of StreetLightUSA , a local organization that helps victims of sex trafficking. She said ads like this one help bring awareness to the problem but more needs to be done to find a solution.

"People look at the issue and say 'this is so ugly' that they shut down. We have to move from just talking about it to solutions if we're going to do something about it," Benson said.

Powell hopes the ad, along with pressure from the public, sends a message to websites that allow advertising for sex workers.

"I hope that Backpage and Village Voice will join us and take down their site and send a message that they don't want to normalize the buying and selling of young girls and young women," Powell said.

We reached out to Backpage.com's parent company, Village Voice Media, for a comment. Their attorney sent us a reply that says in part: "While the aim of Fair Girls to rescue and stop the sex trafficking of young women is laudable, the devotion of significant resources to an ad campaign dedicated to a non-solution is unfortunate."

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