I am Jane Doe: The Funding Behind Child Sex Trafficking in America

Funders for the Center for Democracy and Technology, which filed Amicus Briefs supporting Backpage in the case of Jane Doe vs. Backpage, include Google, Facebook, Open Society Institute, Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and others.

Last night I watched I am Jane Doe on Netflix. Narrated by actress and social justice advocate Jessica Chastain, the documentary reveals the money and power behind sex trafficking of children, primarily girls, in America.

It’s a horrifying story, but one that is important to know if you are a gender justice advocate, since it gets at the reasons why child sex trafficking, aided by internet hubs like Backpage, is a large and growing business in America.

The inability to end the practice of websites like Backpage.com advertising child prostitutes revolves around the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230, which protects internet providers who publish information provided by another source. Backpage.com has been able to effectively use Section 230 to shield itself from legal challenges brought by the mothers of children who have been sex trafficked.

This screenshot from I am Jane Doe shows the growing profits of Backpage.com from 2012 to mid-year of 2015.

The biggest defenders of Section 230 are the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, both of which have filed Amicus Briefs in support of Backpage, helping that corporation continue to make millions in profits off child prostitution.

The documentary tracks the progress that advocates for ending child sex trafficking have made in the past decade, but this fight is far from over. Particularly in light of today’s political landscape, where conservatives are gaining power, it is an uphill battle for gender justice advocates who want to find a way to protect free speech while also protecting children, primarily girls, from being irreparably harmed by exploitation and sex trafficking.

The film contains interviews with both the mothers who have filed lawsuits against Backpage.com, and the middle-school daughters who suffered exploitation, partially due to Backpage.com allowing sex traffickers to use code words in order to advertise the girls. Although Backpage.com claimed they were trying to prevent child sex trafficking by “moderating” the advertisements, lawyers for the child victims argue that the moderators were coached in how to let through code words and phone numbers that would allow the practice of selling children for sex to continue.

The film is directed by Mary Mazzio, Babson College Filmmaker In Residence, and Founder and CEO of the film’s Producer, 50 Eggs Production. Many important nonprofits working to end child sex trafficking are featured in the film, including Polaris Project and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Supporters of the film include the Jeb Charitable Fund, the Lovelight Foundation, the Angel Foundation, John H. Carlson, and Babson College.

More about I am Jane Doe here.

Related:

Gender Justice Uncovered — Help Promote Sound Judicial Decisions for Gender Equality

The Free A Girl Movement: How Funders are Helping Women Go From Prostitution to Prosecution

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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